A wine novice could be forgiven for finding Gary Eberle a little intimidating. The Pittsburgh native (and former Penn State defensive tackle) is a pioneer: He was the first winemaker in the United States to produce 100 percent syrah, a wine made with dark-skinned grapes originally from the Rhone Valley. However, speaking with Eberle, of Eberle Winery in Paso Robles, Calif., is more like conversation with a jovial, patient uncle.
Eberle discovered his passion for wine while doing graduate work at Louisiana State University. "I decided I wanted to be an alcoholic and not a geneticist," he quips; he pursued a doctorate in enology at University of California, Davis. He left school to work in the wine industry in 1973, and a few years later planted California's first syrah vineyard. His passion never faltered. "Every day was a 15-hour work day and I loved it, I'm not complaining. ... Today, I'm here seven days a week," he says proudly. "People say, ‘What do you want to do?' and I say, ‘I want to go up to my winery and talk to people.'"
Eberle is an enthusiastic advocate for wine education. When he's not making wine, he's teaching people about it: He gives classes around the country and is excited by Americans' growing wine independence. On Mon., Oct. 27, he'll give a California-wine class at Dreadnought Wines here ($35; reservations required at 412-391-1709). And Tue., Oct. 28, he'll be guest vintner at the Terrace Room Dinner Series at the Omni William Penn Hotel, with food pairings by chef Luke DeBisschop ($99; reservations at 412-553-5235).
Eberle values sommeliers, considering them some of the trade's best advocates — but he's adamant that knowledge of wine is accessible to everyone. "Every American knows what their favorite beer is, what their favorite hard drink is [or] where they can get the best hamburger," he says. "It's just a bottle of wine. If you like it, it's good. If you don't like it, it's not good."