Posted: Oct 01, 2018
By Andrew Chalk
I just returned from a snap media visit to Paso Robles. And wow, has it changed. Sure, there is more of everything, but the most notable difference is the range of grapes grown, the shear number of wineries, and the quality of the resulting wine.
The Paso Robles region of California is hardly a recent discovery. I remember tasting sumptuous Zinfandels from Peachy Canyon in the early 1990s. One of the ‘anchor wineries’ in the area was Tablas Creek Vineyard, founded by one of the most respected families in French winemaking, the Perrin family (owners of renowned Château Beaucastel in Châteauneuf de Pape), in conjunction with top US wine importer Robert Haas.
The region halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles was thought too hot to produce Cabernet Sauvignon to compete with Napa or Sonoma, but planting in the right microclimates and better viticulture have addressed that.
The powers that be have also been on an orgy of appelatitis creating 11 sub-AVAs of the base Paso Robles AVA. I hope someone can taste the difference between them or they will just be a difference without a distinction.
The town of Paso Robles has thrived, exploiting its charm and centrally located City Park to offer an ever-expanding range of restaurants, breweries, tasting rooms and quaint shops.
Underpinning the growth in wineries is the still sane price of viticultural land (less than a fifth the price in Napa) and the (relative) affordability of accommodation. It makes the ‘start my own winery’ dream still viable for young people, although everyone complains about the high costs.
Below are some favorites from the tour. Bear in mind that with so many wineries to choose from, you will doubtless find your own favorites.
DAOU Vineyards is making Cabernet Sauvignon that rivals the boutique producers of Napa from what used to be the Hoffman Mountain Ranch (planted under the consultancy of the late André Tchelistcheff). Only now is it getting perennial recognition but its prices are yet to reflect the innate quality of its best wines. Soul of a Lion, an uncompromised Cabernet Sauvignon from the best vines of the estate, is the flagship. The estate is on the top of a mountain at over 2,500ft, affording temperatures ten degrees cooler than the town just 25 minutes drive away and magnificent views down the valley from the tasting room which sits perched like an eagle’s nest at the top. More details about the estate and the fascinating Daou brothers who created it can be found here.
Referring back to the sub AVA structure, DAOU is in the Adelaida District, a name that will become much more commonplace in the future as it is home to a disproportionate number of the best wineries in “Oak Pass”.
Tablas Creek, another Adelaida District AVA member, is probably the best known Paso Robles winery. The Perrin brothers, like the Daou brothers, searched for several years before settling in the area (in 1989). In the process they bought instant global credibility to Paso Robles as a Rhône varietal growing area. They grow a full range of grapes including semi-exotic varietals like Roussanne, Marsanne, and Counoise. So much can be said about this profoundly important member of the Paso Robles firmament and I covered it here.
JUSTIN Vineyards and Winery is situated near the end of a road that shows promise as a cut through to the Pacific Ocean, before abruptly ending. No problem, the winery has an excellent restaurant (and heavily in demand rooms at the cleverly named “JUST Inn”) as well as a modern tasting room. Situated deep in the Adelaida District AVA, the best wines are red and mainly based on the Bordeaux portfolio (look for Isosceles and Isosceles Reserve). With a 100% Syrah named Focus a worthy example as well.
Like DAOU, JUSTIN illustrates the importance of the use of capital letters in your name if you make wine in Paso Robles.
Halter Ranch Vineyard, just down the road from Tablas Creek and also in the Adelaida District AVA is a massive ranch of spectacular rolling hills planted with Rhône and Bordeaux varietals. A gravity-flow winery, rainwater harvesting, rock walls made from rocks cleared from the vineyards onsite are all examples of the commitment to sustainability here. To the consumer at their wine store the reasonable prices of their wines is something that they will appreciate.
Ancient Peaks Winery is the southernmost winery within the Paso Robles AVA, situated within the Santa Margarita Ranch sub-AVA. Ancient Peaks Margarita vineyard is the only vineyard within the sub-AVA with a daunting size of 779 acres. Fifteen different varieties occupy five different soil types (sea bed, alluvium, shale, volcanic, and granitic) although one might infer from the prices that the wine sells at that Rhône varieties do best. The winery and vineyard are owned by three families (the Filipponis, Rossis, and Wittstroms) who employ noted winemaker Mike Sinor to make the wines. The Margarita vineyard is SIP (Sustainability In Practice) certified and uses techniques like deficit irrigation, natural cover crops, wildfire corridors, rotational groundwater usage, and compost tea in place of synthetic fertilizers. Pests are controlled where possible by native predators.
Such seriousness about winegrowing does not preclude fun howerer, the dramatic topography of the vineyard is exploited with a zipline operated by Margarita Adventures which gives a unique perspective over rows of vines below and is an absolute riot to ride!
Vina Robles Vineyards and Winery has one of the best hospitality operations in the AVA. Not only did they host us for lunch in their restaurant where we paired the California wine country style food with their wines, but they also have an adjacent amphitheatre in which thy host live acts in the season. Among their wines, check out the estate Petite Sirah.
Another good choice for lunch, or dinner, is downtown’s Thomas Hill Organics which put an organic spin on California cuisine. Local olive oil producer Pasolivo Olive Oil Ranch is a fan.
The wineries that we visited were hardly the end of what we sampled. Every meal and visit presented us with the chance to try other Paso wineries. That included:
All with quality wines that I would recommend.
The Paso Robles region is rich with great wine, restaurants, and other attractions. It is easy to “waste” a long weekend there. Plan one now.
By Andrew Chalk
October 1, 2018
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