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For today’s #WineWednesday post, TPG contributor Casey Hatfield takes us to one of California’s sunny enclaves to taste the robust reds and alluring whites they produce in Paso Robles.
Located halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles along California’s Central Coast, Paso Robles is a laid-back wine-growing region known for Rhone and Bordeaux varietals. Spanish missionaries planted the region’s first vineyards in the late 1700’s but it wasn’t until the 1880’s that growers started exploring commercial winemaking.
Zinfandel is the region’s heritage grape, however, in the latter half of the 20th century growers started to realize the climate, which includes warm afternoons and cool evenings, was perfect for growing Bordeaux and Rhone varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.
Fewer than 20 wineries existed before 1990 but now that number has ballooned to over 200. Meanwhile, Paso’s remarkably well-preserved downtown core has become a hub of all things wine-related. The streets that surround the historic town square (designed by outlaw Jesse James’s uncle) are now lined with olive oil shops, tasting rooms and excellent restaurants.
Paso is situated on Highway 101, 230 miles north of Los Angeles and 210 miles south of San Francisco. The city has a municipal airport served by charter flights but the closest commercial airport is the San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport 32 miles south of town, which is serviced by US Airways and United. The closest International Airport is in San Jose, two hours north of Paso. Major US carriers including Alaska, American, Delta, Jetblue, Southwest, United and US Airways. Paso also has an Amtrak station at 800 Pine Street.
Where to Taste
Visitors will find a variety of tasting experiences along Adelaida Road including the winery credited with bringing Rhone varietals to Paso: Tablas Creek, which is a partnership between Chateau de Beaucastel, a celebrated French winery, and Robert Haas. They decided to purchase the 120-acre organic estate vineyard in 1989 for its similarities to the Chateauneuf-du-Pape region in France. In addition to complex and well-balanced reds, Tablas Creek is a great place to try interesting whites like the Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc, a mix of Roussanne, Grenache Blanc and Picpoul Blanc as well as a Mourvedre-based dry rosé.
Villicana Winery offers limited-production estate-grown varietals like an easy-drinking Estate Cuvee permeated by ripe plum notes and hints of chocolate. The boutique winery recently started making its own vodka and gin using the saignée or excess juice created during the wine making process, so this is a great stop for spirits lovers.
Winemakers at Spanish Colonial-style Daou Vineyards are devoting themselves to creating a Cabernet Sauvignon that rivals the best in the world. You can decide for yourself whether they’ve achieved this feat but the views from the winery, which sits perched atop a 2,200-foot promontory, are some of Paso’s most stunning.
On Vineyard Drive the 100-year-old Hammersky Estate focuses on Bordeaux varietals and offers lodging in a restored old farmhouse built for a Mennonite minister and his family in the early 1900’s.
Down the road, Denner Vineyards, offers an eco-elegant winery and tasting room designed to blend into to the surrounding landscape. Denner is technically only open to wine club members and referred guests but they may take you if they’re not too busy.
Nestled amongst oak trees, Linne Calodo’s creative blends are considered some of Paso’s finest. The small-production wines consistently sell out, and with names like Problem Child and Outsider the winery with a cult-like following shows it has a sense of humor.
Available across the US, Justin Vineyards and Winery on Chimney Rock Road may be one of the most recognized labels from Paso, but even as the company has grown the quality has remained the very high. Award-winning blends like the Isosceles and Justification are available for tasting in the winery’s somewhat over-the-top European-influenced tasting room. The winery is also home to a luxurious Inn with tapestry-covered furnishings and feather beds.
On Paso’s East side, the California Mission-style Vina Robles winery is a popular tasting stop for its variety of tasting experiences like a flight of petit syrah paired with handmade chocolates and Bordeaux blends that attempt to bridge the gap between the old and new worlds. Vina Robles’ outdoor concert venue is scheduled to celebrate its grand opening this summer.
Niner Wine Estates is a beautiful rustic modern tasting room surrounded by lavender fields and on Live Oak Road L’Aventure, a quirky winery started by an experienced French winemaker, makes excellent inky reds like the Optimus-a Syrah, Cab and Petit Verdot blend.
Where to Eat
Like many wine destinations, Paso Robles has a variety of great dining options in its historic downtown city center.
Artisan showcases locally grown ingredients and draws inspiration from regular trips to the farmers market. The upscale American bistro has announced plans to move to a historic space in the former A & R furniture building across from the town square. Look for them to open in the new location in June.
The chef at Il Cortile has worked at many of LA’s most venerable Italian restaurants and serves flawless rustic Italian like fall-off-the bone tender lamb osso bucco. The husband and wife team behind this restaurant are planning to open a South American-influenced spot in Paso later this year.
Thomas Hill Organics has its own organic farm and only serves ingredients that have come from within a 100-mile radius. The restaurant is located in a quaint brick building with black shutters and the courtyard patio is the perfect place to enjoy Sunday brunch.
Where to Stay
Paso’s most upscale accommodation is the storybook-like Hotel Cheval, which offers an unbeatable location just off the town square and great perks like gourmet s’mores by the outdoor fireplace. The hotel recently started a luxury wine tour program where guests can go wine tasting with a certified sommelier that costs $85 an hour, four-hour minimum
The four-room Inn Paradiso is an eclectically sophisticated B&B with four rooms named for and inspired by famous artists, musicians and writers. They also serve a delicious organic breakfast daily.
The Mediterranean-inspired La Bellasera has 60 rooms, a pool, and a contemporary American restaurant highlighting ingredients from the Central Coast.
Paso Robles is also becoming a mecca for olive oil. We Olive‘s flagship store is in downtown Paso Robles and you can go olive oil tasting at Pasolivo, a world-class olive orchard and farm.
With gourmet restaurants, charming hotels and world-renowned wines, the pleasantly sleepy California town of Paso Robles is one of the US’s great wine destinations.