Paso Robles has over 200 wineries; 95 percent are family owned small businesses
Paso Robles is home to over 200 wineries and 32,000 acres of vineyards, 95 percent of which are family owned. Cabernet Sauvignon is a dominant grape, followed by Merlot, Rhones and other red varieties. It is the largest and most topographically diverse wine region in California; with wild temperature swings and the longest growing season. Wineries from this region produce innovative blends from Bordeaux, Rhone and Spanish grapes. The region boasts the largest coastal Syrah, Viognier and Rosanne plantings in the state. Although slightly challenging to traverse, due to its geographical spread, it is well worth exploration. A number of notable wineries produce world class wines, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon and Rhone varietals.
Paso is home to many producers who enjoy cult following, such as Saxum, Linne Calodo, Villa Creek, Justin and not the long revered Tablas Creek. Some of the more recent cult producers, such as Denner and Booker Vineyards have been gaining momentum; occupying prominent spots in many domestic Rhone lover’s cellars.
My most recent visit to Paso Robles differed from my usual wine meanderings and featured an itinerary that required closed toe shoes and a harness. It started at Barrel House Brewing, a rather charming local artisanal brewery. They knocked my socks off with concoctions such as Templeton Session Style Ale, with its seductive
gooseberry (a la New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc) and exotic aromatics. Also noteworthy was their bourbon barrel aged “Curly Wolf ” Imperial Stout, with its full body and big, bold, opulent flavors. I had an opportunity to barrel taste young beers in the cellar and to meet Bob, the resident skeleton, hunched over a table, clearly having had
a few samples too many. A fun, playful atmosphere has been created by the owners, who take their craft very seriously, but not themselves. Even though I am not an avid beer drinker, after tasting a dozen of their creative, delicious beers, I would gladly rush back.
I then moved on to a planed activity that had caused significant trepidation over the preceding few days – zip lining at historic Santa Margarita Ranch, one of the oldest continuously operated cattle ranches in the state. The ranch was established in the late 1700s as part of Father Junipero Serra’s famed Mission Trail. Father Serra planted the ranch with Spanish Mission grapes, a varietal that dominated wine production in the area until the 1880’s. The area’s Ancient Peaks Winery, Margarita Adventures and Santa Margarita Ranch are now owned by third generation ranching and grape growing dynasties: the Filipponis, Rossis, and Wittstroms.
At Margarita Adventures, an adventurer can take a break from wine tasting and zoom down five separate zip lines spanning over 3,000 feet; culminating in the 1,800 ft “Pinot Express” section that soars over a lovely Pinot Noir vineyard. Admittedly, my prior idea of extreme sport was more along the lines of tasting a few dozen wines on the same day, so this pending adventure was well out of my comfort zone. I found myself being strapped into a stout harness, outfitted with helmet and gloves, and being told to “have fun” as I stepped off a perfectly good concrete ledge into a free fall and unruly gusts of wind. I am happy to report that my fears were unfounded and I had a boatload of fun. The staff was very friendly and supportive, so novices, such as myself, felt quite comfortable.
I discovered that stepping on the ledge mimics a metaphor for life, when you just let go and let the metal cable carry you through to thrill and safety. It was a liberating experience that I would recommended to everyone.
After my adrenalin filled adventure, I moved on to the Ancient Peaks Tasting & Blending Experience at the Margarita Vineyard. The name, Ancient Peaks, refers to the mountain peaks that surround the vineyard, formed by a collision of tectonic plates. My gracious host, winemaker Mike Sinor, discussed the unique aspects of grape growing challenges of this spectacular site. He provided a mini-tutorial on blending; utilizing the examples of their flagship wines: Renegade and Oyster Ridge. As a very special treat, I was provided with an assortment of varietal components (Zinfandel, Syrah, Petit Verdot and Cabernet) and challenged to create my very own blend; which then was bottled, corked and labeled right before me. The name? Writer’s Block; of course!
My last stop was at Thomas Hill Organics Bistro and Wine Bar, a restaurant that focuses on organic produce and sustainably raised meats. They specialize in lower-alcohol, yet delicious, cocktails made with organic(!) vodka and sake. I had a great meal of stuffed peppadew peppers, rock crab cakes, seared duck breast, pistachio crusted lamb and chocolate marquise paired with wines from Lone Madrone, Austin Hope and Tablas Creek Vineyard.
The next day started with an extensive tasting at Vivant Fine Cheese, located in the heart of Paso Robles. Vivant sells cheese from around the world, however, they showcase local artisanal cheeses. My favorite was the incredibly creamy marinated chevre.
Next on my agenda was a visit to Villa San-Juliette winery, owned by former American Idol producers, Nigel Lythgoe and Ken Warwick. If you ever watched their hilarious documentary, “Corkscrewed – the Wrath of Grapes” highlighting their first hairy experiences as gentlemen farmers, you would be pleased to see just how “all right” things turned out. It’s a beautiful property which produces wonderful wines.
Summer Wine and Tapas Affair at the historic Paso Robles Inn, sponsored by Daou Vineyards, was marvelous. Daniel Daou’s wines never cease to impress. Made with passion and authenticity they emanate the winemaker’s vision and commitment to excellence. Loved his 2012 Rose, 2012 Grenache Blanc and 2013 Chenin de Fleurs – summer in a glass and then some!
A walk thru the park on my way to dinner yielded a stop at the General Store owned by three ladies on a mission to supply their customers with unique, charming, tasty and useful things from local artisans.
The Artisan Restaurant, where I had dinner, offered a interesting selection of lovely cocktails, wood fired pizzas, and an array of creative and delicious small plates. Try the “pig wings,” or a short rib with grilled peaches and bay blue cheese, or the boar tenderloin in an indulgent morel mushrooms sauce.
When visiting Paso Robles. I recommend staying at the Oaks Hotel, a new property built with the comfort and value in mind.
All in all, it was very apparent that there is much more to Paso Robles than wineries and restaurants. It’s a place that has something for everyone. Between historic hotels such as Paso Robles Inn and thrilling adventures such as zip lining one is certain to find lots to do and experience.