An overview of wine in Paso Robles (part 1 of 3)

Finally!  The Paso Robles posts!  There’s so much to say we had to break this into 3 posts.  Part 1 is an overview of the area, Part 2 is a bit about each winery we visited and Part 3 is a slew of photos from Starr Ranch Winery, where we were lucky enough to have some behind-the-scenes time with a resident winemaker.

This was our first trip to Paso (as the locals call it).  We are by no means experts.  But, we had an amazing time, were able to cover a lot of ground and I think we got a pretty good lay of the land.  We want to share with you what we learned.  Planning a first weekend in Paso can be overwhelming.  We were told at one winery that there are over 200 vineyards/wineries in the area, so as an outsider it’s tricky to know where to get started.

First off, here’s Paso on a map.  It’s about a 3.5 hour drive from our house in Oakland.

In the past, Paso Robles has played second (or is it third?) fiddle to the wineries in the Napa and Sonoma regions.  It seems like that’s rapidly changing, though.  They’ve gotten good coverage from esteemed wine critic Robert Parker and have produced some wines that have scored through the charts.  Most notably, Saxum Vineyards 2007 James Berry (a grenache/mouvedre/syrah blend) scored a perfect 100 with Robert Parker and was given Wine Spectator’s coveted position as “Wine of the Year.”  Many other wineries in the area are producing wines of similar caliper.  Booker Wines inspired a cult following with its 2008 Fracture (a syrah).

Paso Robles is primarily devoted to growing Rhone varietals sourced from the Rhone Valley in France.   Like the Rhone Valley, Paso’s soils have a high limestone content and good soil drainage.  The hills are rolling and warm, but tempered by coastal breezes and fogs.

Here’s a video of Saxum’s owner, Justin Smith, talking about the wine growing conditions in the region.  Saxum is located a bit south of Paso Robles (nearer to San Luis Obispo), but his general descriptions hold true for the western side of the main growing area in Paso.

The majority of the wines in the area are pretty big, red wines.  Occasionally there’s a rose and there are some whites (viognier is a popular grape).  If that doesn’t sound good to you there’s one winery, we’re told, that makes several good pinot noirs (Woodwind) and a couple wineries that make bubbly from Champagne grapes (Bianchi and Eberle — though we don’t know anything about the quality).  We love big reds, so Paso’s style was immediately appealing to us.

We set out to make a plan!  Or at least a vague plan.  To give you a bit of context, on our first trip to Napa, we showed up knowing absolutely nothing and we quickly learned that most of the great places require appointments or reservations.  So, even though both of us typically prefer to make spur of the minute decisions while exploring a new area, we thought it would be in our best interest to do some scoping ahead of time.

You name it, we googled it.  We spent hours researching.  What are the best Paso Robles wineries?  Must-stop spots in Paso Robles?  We scoured everything from Robert Parker to wine blogs to Chowhound and Yelp.  We also asked a couple friends who work in the wine business in Napa and a friend who had recently gone on her own wine tour in Paso.  Eventually we came up with a pretty great tour.

During our weekend in Paso Robles we made it to 11 wineries.  We unintentionally missed 1 that we planned on going to and we added 3 to our list while we were there.  Our tour evolved because, as we moved around, we asked people working in their wineries about their personal favorites.  In the end, almost all of our original choices were confirmed and the new ones we went to were all great, too.

Where did we go?  Keep reading in Part 2!

GENERAL INFO

Hours:  Generally 10a-5p, Friday – Sunday.  Double-check with your specific wineries, though.

Reservations required?:  No!  This is awesome because it allowed us to be flexible as we were touring around.

Tasting fees?:  Most places we went to.  Usually $10.  Sometimes $5.  A few places give you the glass to keep (nice Riedel glasses at Turley and L’Aventure).   Everywhere let’s you split a tasting.

HOT TIPS

1.  Split your tastings!  Then you can go more places while still actually tasting the wine.

2.  Pack snacks.  You’re going to need energy for your trip!

3.  Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.

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