Here’s a scan of the map that’s given out everywhere around town (thank you Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance).
Here I zoomed in and circled the wineries we visited. I had to write in Epoch, a new winery we visited. I also included a couple food places (see Hot Tips in Part 1).
We split up the tour into 2 days. We weren’t entirely organized. Saturday we were able to make it to a lot of different wineries and Sunday…we were moving a little slower…so we only made it to a few spots.
Before we go any further, though, it’s only fair to be clear about our wine preferences. Alex and I think that what makes for a great bottle is the quality of wine + the quality of the experience. For us, the contents of the bottle absolutely matter, but what takes a wine from good to great is related to who we’re with, how we’re feeling, the weather that day and the food we’re eating. Neither one of us would want to drink a 1961 Cheval Blanc out of a Styrofoam cup all alone at McDonald’s (yes, I made a Sideways reference…help me). What are we looking for? A high quality product plus a casual and intimate setting where we get to interact with people who are excited about what they’re serving and want to teach us a little about what they know. But, everyone’s tastes and preferences are different.
We like wine and drink a lot of it, but we’re hardly qualified to judge its finer points. Alex actually has a good enough palette that he can pick out those odd wine flavors, like “pineapple” and “barnyard,” but I definitely don’t. So, instead of talking about the details of the wine too much, we want to show you what the wineries of Paso Robles look like, tell you some of the highlights of each winery we visited, and let you know where we’re planning to go back on our next trip down there (yes, there will be a next trip!).
And we’re off!
We got going early. Most people don’t want to drink wine at 9:30a. We did. And Turley was open.
Stop 1. Turley Wine Cellars
I was so excited to hit up Turley. My dad introduced us to Turley a little while back and now we drink the wine as often as we can find it. Unfortunately, there’s only two ways to get Turley wines — you’re either on the mailing list or you show up at the vineyard. We’re not on the mailing list, so we showed up at the vineyard.
Incidentally, for anyone who is curious, there are two Turleys in the wine world: Larry and Helen. They are brother and sister. Larry owns the Turley vineyard that we visited in Paso. Helen is a wine consultant. I think, of the two, Helen may have a slightly stronger reputation as a wine savant. She turns labels to gold. But she also seems to have a lawsuit with everyone she’s ever contracted with. She was involved with Larry’s vineyard in the very beginning, but is no longer a part of it. As for Larry, he just sticks to his winery and doesn’t consult much (at least, to my knowledge).
Driving up to Turley, the grounds and tasting room weren’t particularly impressive. It was nice enough, but kind of Pier 1 feeling. Not that I have anything against Pier 1, but I was expecting something pretty highbrow, I guess. Here’s a picture of the inside of the tasting room:
After pulling up to the tasting bar, a small, darling woman named Joelle started pouring for us and chatting about Paso. Joelle grew up in Paso and worked her life as a dryland hay farmer before starting at Turley seven years ago. She talked a little about how Paso has changed since the boom in the wine industry and didn’t put any pressure on us to buy.
Turley has a strong reputation around the wine world and a very devoted following (my dad inclusive). The waiting list to join their mailing list is almost 2 years long. But, the enthusiasm of their drinkers is not reflected in their reviews on Yelp and a couple other places around the internet (and even around town…). People often say Turley is pretentious and overpriced. That was not our experience whatsoever. Joelle was as down to earth and pretension-free as they come. Also, as for it being expensive, they had a wine that we thought had the best Quality to Price Ratio we tasted that day (we very much care about price when figuring out what to buy!). It was $22/bottle. Cheap? No. But cheaper than most (maybe all?) we tasted. And it was good. We bought three bottles.
After spending more money on our first stop of the trip than we probably should have (did I mention Alex got us a free hotel room in Paso? that’s why we were able to do some wine buying!), I decided to taste an olive freshly picked from a tree outside.
This picture is from before I knew fresh olives taste terrible:
This picture was taken as I was learning (Alex gets an award for good timing on the picture):
Stop 2. Epoch
Epoch was one of our last-minute additions after a recommendation from Joelle at Turley. Their tasting room opened in early January and it’s still fairly under the radar, if for no other reason than it’s literally not on the map. Even though they’re new, they’ve already gained some notoriety for their wines. That’s in part because Justin Smith, from Saxum Vineyards (see Part 1), consulted on some of the original wine making and planting of their new vineyard. It’s also because, this year, Wine Spectator reviewed a couple of their wines at 95 points– impressive, particularly for some of the first wines produced by the winery.
We thought Epoch was among the prettiest wineries we saw. It’s also the site of the oldest vineyard in Paso Robles. It was originally planted in the 1890s. I had absolutely no idea people were drinking wine in California then. The sad part, though? The most recent owners ripped out all of the old vines. Rumor is they may have done it out of spite, since they supposedly didn’t leave the property willingly. Who knows. Anyway, even though the old vines are gone, you can still check out the old barn house (which I believe they plan on turning into a larger reception area).
The new tasting room does a nice job showcasing the view down the valley…and making use of the building footprint they were allowed to modify (the rest is protected under historic codes). What was the previous building footprint from? A single wide trailer.
While the wines were good, we thought they were too expensive. I don’t recall the prices exactly, but they didn’t meet that Quality to Price Ratio we have somewhere in the back of our heads. I’d still go back because I expect the wines to be evolving over the next several years. As I understand, they may be changing around some of their grape sourcing, especially once their newly planted vines are producing.
Stop 3. Linne Calodo
First off, what’s this name about? I thought it was Scandinavian or something before we arrived (really sorry to any Scandinavians out there — I’m clearly ignorant in this area). It turns out it’s named after the dominant soil type on the property. Here’s a description from the USDA soil survey from the county:
Linne-Calodo complex, 30 to 50 percent slopes. This complex consists of steep soils on hills. Elevation is 600 to 1,500 feet. The mean annual precipitation is 12 to 20 inches, the mean annual air temperature is 60 degrees F, and the average frost-free season is 200 days. This complex is about 30 percent Linne shaly clay loam and 25 percent Calodo clay loam.
The full description is located here along with more info on soils in the region.
Before heading to Linne Calodo we heard a bunch of good things. Some people who were tasting with us at Epoch and seemed like very Serious Wine Enthusiasts (they took careful and calculated sips, unlike us) raved about it. Robert Parker also said Linne Calodo was one of the best in the area. We had high hopes.
At the entrance to the driveway.
Up the driveway, outside the tasting room and winery.
In the end, even though I liked the labels on the wines, it was among our least favorite stops. The tasting room was crowded. The woman pouring for us took little interest in talking to us about the wine and, finally, the wines were very expensive. We liked one of the wines, but not as much as it cost. And, to top it off, there were a lot of people around with lots of plastic surgery who were talking about how fabulous their tour of the property was. It was a little too much. But, then again, it did make me intrigued about the tour.
So, if you decide to stop at Linne Colado you may want to do the tour. I was told by our wine pourer that you have to book it in advance. It’s not entirely clear from the website how to do that, though. It may be only available to members of their wine club? Worth a call.
Given how many great wineries are around, I think on our next trip I think we’re going to dump Linne Colado from the list.
Stop 4. Proulx
Proulx wasn’t initially on our list, but we added it in after another couple, whom we saw at both Epoch and Linne Calodo, told us it was their favorite stop of the day. They said they bought a case — so we decided we had to check it out.
We headed up a long driveway to a lovely property up at the top of a hill. They had some old vines and some new ones.
Up at the top of the hill was a home and a tasting room.
I was particularly fond of their ceramic sheep, so I petted them. Alex petted the dog for a while (which probably appreciated the love more than the sheep did).
When we arrived, the owner of the vineyard (at least, I’m pretty sure he was the owner) was manning the tasting counter. He was warm and friendly. He plopped down two glasses and started pouring. Somehow we segued into his kids and next thing you know, he whips out pictures of his absolutely darling, blond-headed kids on his iPad. Super sweet, family guy. The vibe here was 180 degrees from Linne Calodo.
Alex’s favorite part about Proulx was the goldfish.
We ended up buying a bottle that, when I tasted, I immediately exclaimed, “raspberries!” and started thinking about all the desserts and cheeses it would be fun to drink with.
We liked Proulx. The owner was nice, the dog (and sheep) were cute and the wine was good. But neither of us was head-over-heels with the product as a whole. We’d definitely go back, but it’s not at the very top of our list for next trip.
Stop 5. Tablas Creek
At this point in the day we were starting to get hungry and were aiming to find a place to picnic.
We arrived at Tablas Creek and — tada! — there were perfect picnic tables on a sweet veranda. So we pulled out our big bottle of water (wine tour necessity!) and a couple of sandwiches that we picked up in the morning at Nona’s deli in town.
Refreshed, we walked inside to Tablas Creek.
We drank some wine. It was good. I think they were pouring two whites, which is more than we’d seen elsewhere (the tastings were all red-heavy). But altogether the wine was pretty unmemorable to me. I’m not exactly sure why. I’m actually interested in going back because I’d like to give it another shot (maybe earlier in the day…ahem).
And maybe also buy some grapes for our front yard?! They had a whole bunch of clippings available. Alex and I started talking about whether or not we could grow syrah in the clay soils in front of our house…hmm…
One of the big upsides to Tablas Creek was that the very nice girl serving us wine was a French speaker. She helped us on our grape pronunciations. So, now we say mourvèdre with confidence! She also told us quite a lot about the different varieties of grapes being grown in the region, which I appreciated.
We picked up some extra water on the way out (note to self: next time do not forget to pack water bottles).
Stop 6. Adelaida
I immediately loved the grounds of Adelaida. The winery and tasting room are nestled among hills of old walnut trees.
The initial woman who was pouring for us was clearly sick and unenthusiastic about being there. The negative vibe rubbed off on us, so even though we liked the first couple wines, we were a little turned off of the whole place. I think she wasn’t feeling particularly chatty (not that I blame her — it was getting toward the end of the day and she needed to be home in bed!) so we started talking about the walnuts with an older man behind the counter.
He told us the walnut trees were planted 60 or so years ago. They’re currently dryfarmed (codeword for “we don’t to a damn thing to them”) and, since the trees are old and they’re not watered, they produce a nut with intense flavor. Apparently the walnuts ripen on the tree and then drop to the ground. Diamond nuts, the big nut company, then sends in a crew of people to pick up the walnuts for use in their candies. They leave a cut of the nuts behind with the winery.
In the end, we had a great time at Adelaida. We bought a beautiful bottle of wine and a big bag of walnuts (who has a recipe that showcases walnuts??). We’d love to go back.
Stop 7. Justin
Lots and lots of people recommended Justin on the internet. The woman who checked us in to our hotel room recommended it. People think the grounds are beautiful. And they are! They’re high up in the hills in the far northwest corner of the main wine growing region.
We got the feeling, though, when we asked several pourers along the way, that they weren’t that into Justin. Then we found out one of the reasons why. It was recently bought by the family who also owns Pom and Fiji water. There’s a bit of fear about big, corporate buyers moving into the valley. Maybe it will work out OK, but who knows.
Interestingly, even if little has changed since it was bought, immediately Jutin felt more coporate. There were loads of people inside and a polished faux-French interior design scheme. They had iPhone ready scan codes for each wine on the menu.
It was a far cry from rustic Adelaida and family-run Proulx. The wines were OK, but not fabulous. The wine pourers were a bit more reminiscent of bartenders, quickly pouring and not talking about the wines too much. I asked a few questions, but the people serving us were among the least knowledgeable of anyone we encountered.
I should mention, though, that I think they had the biggest store of all the wineries we went to. I overheard a woman exclaim that her favorite part of wine tasting was the shopping, not the wine, so she would have liked Justin a lot! I thought about picking up some coasters and I spent some time looking through their selection of local cheeses (yumm….).
So, all in all, a beautiful vineyard, but I wouldn’t bother going back.
Stop 8. Starr Ranch Winery
We capped off our day at Starr Ranch Winery. It’s a stunningly beautiful property and the tasting room has an intimate, rustic feel, deep in the back of a barn. We had an amazing time there, thanks to both the kind winery owner, Judy, and a wonderful, friendly resident winemaker, Ryan (who produces wines under the Crooked Road label). We liked it so much that we’re giving Starr Ranch its own post.
After a late night at Starr, I was moving pretty slowly Sunday morning. We slept in, grabbed a couple bagels, drank a load of coffee, and then headed to Trader Joe’s to stock up on snacks and picnic supplies. After a little hemming and hawing, we decided to head back to Turley.
Stop 1. Turley
Again? Well, we wanted to go buy more wine. After trying a bunch of wines from around the area, we were even more confident that we really liked the Turley wines. Their Uberroth zinfandel was probably both of our favorite bottle of wine from the whole trip. So we bought two — one for a gift and one for us to drink on a special day.
This time there were chickens hanging out under the olive tree (I wonder if they like fresh olives?).
Stop 2. Venteux
Around the corner from Turley is Venteux. We read some praise about the vineyard online and a couple people we spoke to on Saturday recommended it. So, we went.
This side of the wine region is less hilly than the northwest area, in particular. It’s certainly pretty, but it doesn’t have quite the same wild beauty. The thing that turned me off the most, though, is that the tasting room is totally weird looking from the outside. It’s in the basement of a newly constructed single family house. It doesn’t have the rustic charm of some of the other wineries we visited.
Thankfully, after stepping inside the tasting room we were transported into a cave-like atmosphere. Wine barrels were stacked from floor to ceiling and a cute cat darted between the barrels. Further inside was a small tasting bar. (And a poker room…apparently there’s tournaments using bottles of wine as the buy-in). There were two other couples at the tasting bar when we first arrived and a cheerful woman behind the counter.
I liked the wines, but Alex loved them. He said that, as a whole collection, these were his second favorite wines of the trip (after Turley). We left the winery grinning at our new bottle of petite syrah.
Unfortunately, the revelry didn’t last long. We dropped it on the sidewalk at home before we got to drink it…boo!
Guess that means another trip back to Venteux!
Stop 3. Booker
We kept on hearing about Booker as we drove around. Again and again. It’s funny, because online it didn’t have as big of a reputation as some others, but it turns out their wines are among the best rated in the area.
In the past, it’s possible that one of Booker’s biggest claims to fame was that they provide a grapes for Saxum’s Booker syrah. Any brush with Saxum seems to be a good thing. But, in the past couple years, Booker has been rapidly growing their own label. They’ve been scoring very well with the magazines and consistently selling out. I read somewhere online that Booker’s tasting room was closed at one point last year because they had nothing left to pour or sell.
While we were there, they were pouring five different wines. The first was a rosé that was possibly one of the most unique and gorgeous wines I have seen — an unfiltered rosé. The description on the tasting menu said something about how it wasn’t the average sweet, pink wine. As much as I wanted that to be true, it wasn’t. So, the rosé was a big disappointment to me.
The rest of the wines, though…wow! I felt like the winemaker had my palette in mind when he made them. Really well balanced, soft, round wines. I could imagine drinking them with food. I loved them. And I bought a bottle of a big Rhone blend that I am going to put away for a while. My first wine I’ve ever bought with the intention of saving.
Meanwhile, Alex liked the wine, but he really liked the cute, young girls working behind the tasting bar, bouncing around and pouring. They weren’t the kind of people you might imagine pouring at a high end winery…but they were warm and disarming. So, they were perfect.
Both of us left loving Booker. (More pictures from our picnic here!) We’d definitely go back.
Stop 4. L’Aventure
We read about L’Aventure in Robert Parker’s article and decided to check it out. We drove through the winding roads toward the dead end where L’Aventure is located. It’s a quiet, pretty area. Here’s a horse we saw along the way.
And here’s a view of the hills surrounding the winery.
Unfortunately, the winery and tasting room tasting room were not as peaceful and pretty as the surroundings. The building had a bizarre, big painting of a wine splash on the outside.
Looking out away from the tasting room was the better option — their sign hanging against the clouds.
Inside, the tasting room wasn’t great, either. It was cramped, with a low ceiling and a lot of untidy clutter around. Behind the tasting bar there was a messy desk, bringing back all-too-clear memories of my own messy desk, while I was hoping to forget about that part of life for a little while. The room definitely didn’t sell me on the experience of drinking wine, and certainly not the most expensive wine we saw all trip.
As for the wines itself, it was good. Really good. The last one we tried I actually liked a lot. But, not for $85/bottle. The flavors reminded me a lot of Venteux, but Venteux’s bottles were literally 1/3 of the price. We tasted and we left.
After L’Aventure we headed back to Oakland. The whole drive home we talked about what we’d do next time. In addition to the wineries we tried this time, I’d also like to check out Villa Creek (which we meant to get to this first trip, but unintentionally skipped), Terry Hoague, kukkula and Barrel 27. For our first trip, though, I feel really happy about the range of places we were able to experience. I’m glad we got to try some of the big names and a few of the smaller labels. Next time we’ll try to find more of the little, hidden gems. We don’t know which ones those are yet…but we’ll let you know when we do!
THE ROUND-UP (only includes wineries we personally tried)
Definitely, definitely next trip
Turley Wine Cellars
Starr Ranch Winery
Probably next trip
Maybe next trip
Not next trip