I fell in love with Northern California the first time I set foot in it back in 1995 with my first tech job. Specifically, I loved the ocean, rolling hills, and vineyards all in close proximity and, of course, the moderate temperatures all year round. I’ve had the great fortune to visit vineyards around many parts of this beautiful state and I continue to be amazed each time I visit. My latest smile-inducing trip (well before COVID-19) was to Paso Robles in central California, a place I saw for the first time five years ago. I loved it then for its steep rugged hills, close sea proximity, and its relaxing casual nature along with its “wild west” feel. It was fascinating to see it years later in a more “grown-up” phase but still preserving that cool rugged vibe.
If direct flights were available to San Luis Obispo (where one flies in to visit Paso Robles), one could argue that this is one of the easiest vineyard areas to visit in the United States. Paso Robles itself is only 30 minutes from the SLO (aptly named for this area) airport. Most wineries are within a 10 to 30-minute drive from the fabulous Allegretto Vineyard Resort where we stayed and there are a plethora of restaurants and quaint shops in Paso Robles itself that weren’t there last time I visited.
The Allegretto Vineyard Resort is also a newer arrival and a
wonderful place to stay. There is a small vineyard right on the property as they produce their own wines and a stunning Tuscan-style chapel for those looking for a quiet moment. Eclectic artwork dots the sprawling stone walls throughout the hotel and firepits abound for nighttime recaps of winery-filled days. The rooms are all oversized (many with terraces and patios) and overlook vineyards, lovely gardens, or the relaxing pool area. Incredibly accommodating staff are constantly smiling and looking to help and a lovely spa and brand-new fitness room meet any recreational need. Incidentally, San Luis Obispo was named happiest city in America by the “Oprah show” in 2011. That has clearly spilled into Paso Robles as everyone I encountered was unbelievably friendly.
Paso Robles is a terrific destination on its own but then there are the vineyards which are a huge draw and offer wonderfully diverse offerings within a manageable area. This is due to the Templeton Gap which contributes to the greatest day-to-night temperature swing of any of California’s wine appellations. Over 60 wine grape varieties are grown in Paso Robles ranging from Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, and Merlot to Rhone varieties such as Syrah, Roussanne, and Viognier. I also had some excellent Tempranillo and Tannat. It’s all done well in Paso thanks to the daily 50-degree temperature swing, abundant sunshine, and naturally long growing season. If you’re a wine lover, Paso Robles is a must-see once travel gets going again.
Here are some winery suggestions for your next trip. Our Mortons/Landrys wine travel group started off at Justin Wine which is one of the bigger wine names from Paso Robles. Justin is best known for their big, bold red wines (mostly from Bordeaux varieties but they also make a Tempranillo and Zinfandel). In addition, they produce full-bodied Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, and a Rosé. Try the 2017 Justification which is a blend of 65% Cabernet Franc and 35% Merlot (modeled after Right-bank Bordeaux).
Treana (Hope Family Wines) was our next stop where we did a black-glass wine tasting for breakfast. Black-glass tastings are exactly what they sound like: blind tasting from a black glass where it’s impossible to see anything about the wine.
Black-glass tastings are one of the most humbling wine experiences as it is not unheard of to confuse a red and a white wine. People scoff at this but I’ve done 5 of them and it’s happened every time (even with highly trained wine professionals in the audience). This time was no exception but we thoroughly enjoyed Treana’s fabulous wines which focus on Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, Mourvedre, and Grenache. Try the 2018 Treana Cabernet Sauvignon ($30) which is a robust red with dark fruit, earthy leather, and sweet spice notes.
The Hope family (farmers in Paso for more than 30 years) also have 4 other individual brands in addition to Treana: Liberty School, Quest, Austin Hope, and Troublemaker.
Tablas Creek Vineyard is a required stop for anyone visiting Paso Robles. This winery specializes in Rhone varieties and was founded in 1989 through a joint effort between California’s Haas family and France’s Perrin family. While looking for a site similar to the Perrin’s Château de Beaucastel, the two families settled on Paso Robles due to its Mediterranean climate and comparable growing conditions.
To guarantee quality, clones of Mourvédre, Grenache Noir, Syrah, Counoise, Roussanne, Viognier, Marsanne, Grenache Blanc and Picpoul Blanc were imported from Château de Beaucastel as well as a variety of rootstocks. Tablas Creek wines are divine ranging from a crisp, mineral-driven Rosé to elegant yet powerful Syrah. Their vine-grafting demonstration is also fascinating and their expansive, welcoming patio makes it a perfect place to while away an afternoon. Look for the 2016 Tablas Creek Esprit Blanc de Tablas ($45), a scintillating blend of Roussanne, Grenache Blanc, and Picpoul Blanc.
Epoch Estate Wines was a new find for us and an exciting one at that. An attractive juxtaposition of sleek and modern combined with rustic and casual style, this winery produces powerful Rhone-style white and red wines as well as a very unique expression of Tempranillo.
The 2018 Epoch Rosé ($30), made of 43% Mourvèdre, 37% Grenache, and 20% Syrah was one of the best rosés I’ve had. Its pale pink color defied the complex flavor menagerie going on in the glass with an array of grapefruit, honeysuckle, rhubarb, wet stone, and guava notes.
The 2013 Veracity, a Grenache-led Rhone blend, was described as “Scarlett Johansson in a straight jacket”, which seemed apt with its exuberant red fruit, lively pepper, and lush forest earth flavors. The 2012 Tempranillo (94% Tempranillo with 6% Grenache) was all things autumn. Ripe plum, dried leaves, smoky tobacco, and dusty tannins hallmarked this unusual and spectacular expression of Tempranillo.
Turley Wine Cellars is always a treat. The undisputed king of Zinfandel, Turley makes 47 wines from 50 different vineyards, the majority of which are devoted to single vineyard Zinfandel and Petite Syrah. Most of Turley’s wines are certified organic or in the process of becoming so.
We got to visit two of the vineyards which were a study in contrasts. The Ueberroth vineyard is an especially stunning site located closest to the sea of any of the Turley vineyards and also the oldest as it was planted in 1885. The vines are still on their original rootstock and the site has never been irrigated. The vineyard’s high elevation of 1300 feet and limestone soils with high pH yield amazing wines of great elegance/serenity. Look for the 2017 Ueberroth Zinfandel ($55), a beautifully regal and satin-toned wine hallmarked by dried cranberry notes.
The Pesenti vineyard, although located at a lower
elevation than the Ueberroth, is cooler in temperature due to its unique microclimate. Another steep site with labor-intensive conditions, Pesenti yields denser wines that are more floral and fruit-driven than the Ueberroth vineyard. Look for the 2017 Pesenti Zinfandel ($44).
Another new find for us was Tooth & Nail Winery. This is a truly unique place with a veritable castle and some of the edgiest artwork (and wine labels) we’d seen. On first glance, we thought it may be a bit formal, but one look at the artwork and a quick chat with gregarious owner Rob Murray immediately convinced us otherwise.
Rob has been making wine since 2007 and today has 1000 acres of vineyards and four labels all under Rabble Wine Company: Rabble, Tooth & Nail, Stasis, and Amor Fati. He started Tooth & Nail Winery in 2014 when he decided he wanted tasting room and venue space.
Beyond the intriguing castle, Rob introduced augmented reality wine bottle labels in 2018 which are just downright cool. For example, the Rabble Cabernet Sauvignon animated label shows Mount Vesuvius erupting over
There are all kinds of interesting wines to try at Tooth & Nail (which serves all of the Rabble brands) but some of my favorites were the 2015 Stasis Pinot Noir ($42) and the splurge 2015 Amor Fati Cabernet Sauvignon ($90).
No trip to Paso Robles trip is complete without a stop at the gorgeous Daou Vineyards. It remains one of the most serene and spellbinding vineyards I’ve seen in the United States. Their wines are equally compelling with riveting Bordeaux red blends as their sweet spot. Don’t miss the powerful and lush 2016 Estate Soul of the Lion.