Hidden wineries, great food make Paso Robles special
By W. Peter Hoyne
Paso Robles is the third largest wine-growing region in California. | Supplied photo
While recognized as the third largest wine-growing region in California, Paso Robles remains an obscure and secluded portion of California’s Central Coast. Lying midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, it was never popularized like the North Coast wine-growing regions of Napa or Sonoma. But this distance has allowed it to retain a fabric of rural charm along with a vibrant and genuine personality.
Paso Robles remains one of California’s hidden jewels. It has become more than a grape-growing region, offering an infusion of culinary creativity and diverse winemaking personalities passionate about producing some of the finest Rhone varietals in the world.
An excursion to Paso Robles begins with strolling the quaint downtown square near the city’s central park, which is centered around two blocks of boutique shops, tasting bars and upscale restaurants. The essence of Paso’s nouveau fine dining experience is all Villa Creek offers original California cuisine, while Bistro Laurent presents a prix-fixe menu of French country character.
Artisan Restaurant, under the direction of chef Chris Kobayashi and his brother, Michael, presents a skillful interpretation with a synergy of local ingredients and contemporary California cuisine. The ambiance is chic and relaxed, yet always energetic.
Offering a menu with a rustic Italian flair is newcomer Il Cortille Ristorante. Within a short walk of the ristorante you can retire to Hotel Cheval, with its understated elegance and boutique luxury feel.
Because of the efforts of Andrew York, commercial winemaking began in the late 1800s. Today, Paso Robles has grown to more than 200 wineries encompassing 26,000 acres of vineyards. Although Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are the most widely planted varietals in the region, the intriguing Rhone blends crafted from Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre are the reasons wine enthusiasts frequent this destination.
The climate in Paso Robles can have dramatic fluctuations, from summer daytime highs in the 90s to breezy, cool evenings near 40 degrees. As you look around, you’ll notice calcareous shale, sandstone and limestone soils. It is this distinct soil mixture and the moderate temperatures that define the intriguing and balanced style of wines from this region.
Paso Robles is a diverse viticultural growing region, so it is best to separate your visit into three areas: the eastern sector, the southwestern hills of the Templeton Gap, and the northwestern elevations of Adelaide Hills.
The Salinas River runs parallel to Highway 101, and from it you can draw distinctions between the more barren rolling hills of the east and the steeply terraced and oak-lined slopes of the west. While J. Lohr Vineyards and Meridian are large-scale production wineries in the east, it is essential to visit with Gary Eberle at Eberle Winery. Eberle is an icon, educator and pioneer, frequently referred to as “the godfather of Paso Robles,” who started producing Syrah in 1973. His cozy wood-toned tasting room offers many distinguished Paso varietals. Other wineries of merit are Robert Hall, Vina Robles and Bianchi, which are modern and eclectic in their design and wine styles.
The Templeton Gap, where a contrasting landscape of rolling hills draped with lofty oaks and a fog line of cool breezes defines this region as the ideal location for Rhone varietals. Here reside the intellects and visionaries Stephan Asseo of L’Aventure, Justin Smith of Saxum, Matt Trevisan of Linne Calodo, Neil Collins of Lone Madrone and Tablas Creek, along with Terry Hoage and others. Each pursues his interpretation of these distinct varietals. As you visit these hidden wineries, you will fully understand the passion behind their intriguing labels. For a brief afternoon lunch and respite, Farmstand 46 offers imaginative local-ingredient and organic sandwiches, and specialty items. Near all these wineries is the Tuscan-themed La Bellasera Hotel and Suites, offering the quality of a four- or five-star resort with large beds, baths and bountiful amenities for your comfort.
In the northwestern range of Adelaide Hills, you gradually move closer to the ocean and to an elevation of nearly 1,900 feet. In 1989, the Perrin family of Chateau de Beaucastel fame formed
a joint venture with importer Robert Haas, establishing Tablas Creek Vineyard. Using rootstock from the Rhone Valley in France, Tablas Creek introduced Paso Robles and the world to a new era of winemaking. Adelaide Cellars and their expansive property are along these winding roads. Nearby is Pasolivo Olive Oil, worth a visit for its exotic extra virgin and citrus-infused oils. At 1,600 feet elevation, and six miles from the ocean, is Justin Winery and Just Inn. Justin Baldwin and his wife, Deborah, set up residence and an ultra-premium winery in these volcanic ash and limestone soils, with a focus on meticulously crafting Bordeaux-style wines. The Justin Isosceles and Justification are testaments to why this region is ideally suited for Cabernet Sauvignon and Franc.
Since you’re nearly 16 miles from town, it is worth making overnight accommodations at the romantic and well-appointed rooms of Just Inn. At night, a fine dining and award-winning degustation experience can be shared in the intimate setting of Deborah’s Room Restaurant, under the direction of chef William Torres.
As you descend the mountain returning home, you will reminisce about Paso Robles and remain hopeful that it will never relinquish its innocent and creative identity that has made it a truly special destination.
Chris Taranto of the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance provided assistance in developing this story.