Paso Robles Wine Country, is located halfway between Northern and Central California is the state’s largest un-subdivided AVA (American Viticultural Area – a designated wine grape-growing region in the United States distinguishable by geographic features, with boundaries defined by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), United States Department of the Treasury.) with 614,000 acres. With 32,000 acres planted and over 200 wineries, it ranks fourth after Napa, Sonoma and Monterrey.
Established in 1983, it’s home to some of the most exciting wines made in the state. Well established wineries are complimented by renegades; pioneers who flock to the area in search of their viticultural voice. These folks don’t know the meaning of compromise and continue to push the proverbial envelope every day. Not tethered to traditions or steeped in symbolism, they let the land be their teacher and toughest critic.
With over forty-five soil types, the diversity of the region is mind-boggling. Elevations vary from seven hundred to more than twenty-four hundred feet. Cabernet is the largest planted grape, however Bordeaux, Rhone and Italian varieties also thrive in warm, and maritime influenced areas. The AVA’s western boundary runs just six miles from the Pacific resulting in warm days followed by cool nights. This weather pattern produces physiologically ripe fruit and ample-bodied, powerful, well-delineated wines.
Ancient Peaks Winery
Historic Santa Margarita Ranch comprised partly of Margarita Vineyard and Ancient Peaks Winery is well hidden in the ample bosoms of Santa Lucia Mountains. This vast property and was recognized as its own sub-appellation last year, the only one of its kind.
These wines boast a solid structure and elongated, lingering flavors. I’m crazy about the five hundred case, Oyster Ridge blend, produced from vineyard that is chock full of oyster fossils. The ensuing calcium rich soil produces an age-worthy wine that’s textured, opulent and well-structured.
The Booker brothers acquired 1200 acres of land back in 1920s, subsequently Eric and Lisa Jensen bought the property in 2001. Their growing prowess immediately got the attention of the likes of Saxum and Linne Calodo. After a string of wildly successful bottlings made by other brands from their fruit, the Jensens decided to bottle their own wine. Their debut 2005 vintage showcased wines of purity and brilliance, with power, grace and supple mouthfeel.
Douglas Hauck, a successful dentist turned vintner, bought the pastoral, picturesque property in 2007. Doug and his wife, Kim made over the historic site into a sustainable vineyard, working winery and farmhouse inn. Low yields, meticulous attention to the vineyard practices, and careful cellar treatment are the hallmarks of their craft. They specialize in Bordeaux varietals and are well-known for their magnificent Merlot. The wines are sublime, pure, concentrated and texturally superb.
Halter Ranch is a historic property that dates back to late 1880s. Notably, Ronald Reagan announced his second-term run for governor at the ranch in 1967. In 2000 a Swiss born businessman purchased a 1000 acre parcel with an intent to develop a vineyard, winery and wine caves. Winemaker Kevin Sass, joined Halter Ranch after eleven years at Justin Vineyards. He is dedicated to sustainability in the vineyard and low intervention the cellar. They are known for their estate grown Bordeaux and Rhone style blends .
Halter Ranch (paprikapinot.com)
Justin was started by Justin Baldwin in 1981 with the goal of crafting world-class wines. His first wines were released in 1987, a decade later Wine Spectator bestowed 1997 Justin Isosceles #6 a spot on their annual Top 100 list. Besides countless award winning wines, Justin Vineyards and Winery now features a restaurant (specializing in freshest ingredients and local wines) and a boutique hotel, cleverly called Just Inn. Well known for their reds, I particularly love their ultra low production Syrah, Focus. Also, look for their 2014 Sauvignon Blanc, it’s a superb offering and a great value. I buy it by the case.
Linne Calodo was founded in 1998 by Matt and Maureen Trevisan, and was a runaway hit from day one. The wine’s signature assertiveness wowed critics, consumers and the trade. Matt’s minimal interventionist style emphasizes fruit ripeness and results in powerful, concentrated wines with rich, opulent texture and voluptuous mouth feel. His creative blends had earned him cult status. My favorite, a Mouvedre based blend of Syrah, Grenache and Tannat, named Martyr, is an outstanding effort. Notes of wet earth and tobacco waft from the glass, baking spices and cassis tease the senses. This wine will easily lay down for decades, if you have the patience to wait.
Linne Calodo (pffaydesignstudioblog.typepad.com)
Niner Wine Estates
Niner Wine Estates founder Richard Niner, grew up on a farm in rural West Virginia. After a thirty year business career, he found himself in San Luis Obispo county and fell in love with agriculture all over again. The result is a gorgeous, state-of-the-art winery and three vineyards: Bootjack, Heart Hill and Jespersen (located in the Edna Valley AVA.) Winemaker Patrick Muran crafts wines of purity, authenticity and bright varietal character. Richard has partnered with renown chef Maegen Loring, who creates brilliant food and wine pairings for the winery.
Tablas Creek Vineyard
An iconic brand, Tablas Creek is credited with popularizing Rhone varietals in the region. The winery is the result of a partnership between Robert Haas, a famed wine importer and the Perrin family of Chateau de Beaucastel. The budwood for their vineyards was flown in from Beaucastel which took three years for USDA clearance. Today, there is a nursery on site, with a grafting program that is the source for much of the area’s plantings of Mouvedre, Grenache, Counoise, Roussanne, and Marsanne. The winemaking practices of the estate are quite traditional and focus on unique, proprietary blends.
Tooth and Nail Winery
Robert Murray has been farming the area for decades. After working with stone fruit in Hawaii, he began growing grapes for boutique wineries in Central Coast. After producing stellar fruit for others, it was only a matter of time before he launched his own brand. One of his fruit sources is the stunning Mossfire Ranch, which was originally planted in 1996 to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Tempranillo and Zinfandel. His other properties include Murmur Ranch and Tolliver. Farmer first and vintner second, Robert doesn’t take chances in the vineyard. Meticulously farmed, using low intervention techniques, his vineyards produce notable fruit. Labeled under “Force of Nature” and “Tooth and Nail” brands, their extensive portfolio of wines are invariably tasty and reasonably priced.
Tooth and Nail
Turley Wine Cellars
The Turley brand has become synonymous with California cult Zinfandel. Larry Turley started Turley cellars in 1993, utilizing old vines and producing fruit forward, unapologetic, Zins and Petite Syrah; wine that boldly reflected the vineyard’s personalities. Today, Turley’s portfolio of thirty wines, from thirty-five vineyards, is stronger that ever. Talented winemaker, Tegan Passalacqua, shares Larry’s passion for crafting wine from old vines and is a founding member of the Historic Vineyard Society. Their wines continue to enjoy cult status and are sold via mailing list by allocation only.
Turley Wine Cellars
One of the best ways to discover Paso’s Cabernet diversity is an event called Paso Cab Collective which takes place in May.
My favorite hotel in the area is the historic Paso Robles Inn, I highly recommend that you stay in one of the eighteen vintner themed suites. Indulge in a mineral springs hot tub right on your own patio, with a glass of wine from your favorite brand. My stay in the Daou Suite was most memorable.
Paso Robles is an easy three hour drive from the San Francisco Bay Area and is a must visit for any wine lover. Whether you are fan of full bodied reds or aromatic whites, you will find lots to enjoy. The area’s gorgeous pastoral vistas, rolling hills, ocean breezes and fantastic food will keep you coming back for more.