I spent the first 5 months of COVID daydreaming about when I’d be able to “get out of dodge”. Finally, just after my birthday (in late July) I took a weekend trip up to wine tasting Paso Robles. Shockingly, I had never been there. Crazy how I have been all around the world, but never to a place essentially in my backyard. It was the perfect 2-night trip from Los Angeles. A trip that I’d highly recommend!
Paso Robles lies halfway between LA and SF. It’s near San Luis Obispo and is within the larger Central Coast AVA, which covers a large portion of California. Paso is home to 200+ wineries and over 32,000 acres under vine. The vibe there is casual and low-key. Some describe it as what Napa/Sonoma used to feel like in the 70s. What’s unique about Paso is that this is how they want to stay. They have no desire to become like Napa or Sonoma. They want to keep their distinct, chill vibe.
Paso Robles has historically made sunbaked wines and wines with high degrees of alcohol and high tannins. Yes, some wines still fall under this category, but there ARE balanced wines coming out of Paso. The grapes grown tend to be Rhône varieties (Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Roussanne, Marsanne, and Viognier. But you can also find Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay, among others. Zinfandel is the heritage grape of Paso and came here from European missionaries.
The first stop on our trip was to check-in to the Peachy Canyon Vineyard Cottage, which sits on a hill above the Peachy Canyon Winery property. 50 stunning acres of vines surround the cottage. The house has two bedrooms, two and a half baths, a full kitchen, dining area, living room, and family room with a pool table. Laundry, BBQ, and a patio compliment the property! Sleeps up to six. The cottage was so comfortable and perfect for those practicing social distancing and who want a place of their own, without having to worry about other guests. We grabbed groceries from the local market and stayed in each night to enjoy wine and dinner on the patio to watch at sunset. It was absolutely glorious. Rates: Sun–Thu: $325/nt. Fri & Sat: $365/nt.
For my first visit to wine tasting Paso Robles, I wanted to try broad styles of wines and wineries. At the time of “printing”, all indoor California tasting rooms are closed, and tastings are only allowed outdoors in socially distanced small groups. For this trip, the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance set up some lovely visits for me, including:
Founded in 1988 by Doug and Nancy Beckett, Peachy Canyon is truly a family affair. Nancy and Doug live on the vineyard property, where it all started. Sons Josh and Jake, who run the day to day operations, live not too far. Both the tasting room and vineyard settings are about as peaceful as you can get. I highly recommend a visit, especially if you’re in a “let’s get out of dodge mood”. Once your eyes catch sight of the rolling hills of vineyards your blood pressure is bound to come down.
Wine tastings happen in their expansive lawn area, as their indoor 1880s schoolhouse tasting room is currently closed due to COVIF. They have picnic tables and Adirondack chairs set up in small socially distanced groupings. The seated outdoor tasting includes a pre-poured (COVID friendly!) flight of 5 wines in a touchless tasting format. The tasting fee is $15 and is waived with a 2-bottle purchase.
On our visit, we got a private tour with Josh and Jake. We heard stories of growing up in Paso, and even heard how they recently shot a wild pig and got about 65 pounds of meat from it! Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore! After the stories and a lovely romp with Rosie, the winery dog, we visited the wine production facilities and got to enjoy some killer barrel samples, including the D-Block Zinfandel, which was stellar. It was so bright, you never would have guessed it was a Zin.
On our visit to Alta Colina, we toured the expansive property with Maggie Tillman (owner /sales & marketing) and Molly Lonborg, winemaker. Another family-run business with Bob and Lynn Tillman at the helm, this property was planted from scratch in 2003. They have 31 acres now under vine, and 13 of those acres are Syrah, their #1 planted grape.
Due to COVID regulations, they are only doing seated tastings on their outdoor patio, with reservations only (groups of 6 or less). The tasting fee is $25 per flight, which is waived with a 3-bottle purchase. Alta Colina is off the beaten path and as you are driving into the property, it feels like you are a world away from everything. Which is quite appealing these days!
We were lucky enough to get a private tour with Maggie and Molly. First, we drove our cars through the property as they pointed out specific blocks and beautiful vista points. Then, we arrived to a wooden deck that provided the most spectacular views of the property and beyond. So incredibly peaceful. From this spot, we enjoyed a lovely flight of wines and had the pleasure of Maggie and Molly’s company. The standout wine was the 2018 12 O’clock High Viognier ($38). A delicious, and pretty wine, but not too pretty. Sometimes Viognier can show too many perfumed notes and be a bit overwhelming. This one was pretty, but not too precious. Wildly balanced.
For a totally different experience of wine tasting in Paso Robles, may I suggest a visit to Daou Vineyards? Daou is the epitome of a family-owned winery, but maybe not what you’d expect. The property is expansive, impressive, and built with no expense spared. When you arrive on Daou’s property, you know you will be taken care of. Hospitality is at the top of their list. It also just happens to be stunningly gorgeous.
Georges and Daniel Daou’s story begins in Lebanon, where one day changed the trajectory of their whole lives. A rocket hit their house and as they described it, they went to bed as boys and woke up as men. Their family left Lebanon for France, which was an important phase in their lives. They lived around that Mediterranean joie de vivre, including a love of life and wine.
Fast forward to Daou Vineyards in Paso Robles. While everyone else has focused on Rhône varieties, the Daou brothers focus on making the best Cabernet Sauvignon in the area. And they are succeeding. Their DiscoverDAOU Experience is a $40 tasting fee per person. Currently, tastings are outside only due to COVID. But that is not a bad thing, as their outdoor patio and tasting area are stunningly beautiful and where you want to be. My highlight was the Eye of the Falcon Reserve 2018 ($75). A Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot blend that brings strength and structure. A strong, muscular wine. They also offer a small menu of culinary pairings that did not disappoint. May I recommend the Onyx Mezze platter to share, featuring: local produce and artisan products from Alle-Pia Fine Cured Meats, Windrose Farms, Stepladder Creamery, and Mt. Olive Organic Farms.
I first heard of Carl Bowker and Caliza Winery from a friend. Then I ordered some of their wines and enjoyed a virtual Zoom tasting lead by Carl. So, now I am hooked! Hawaiian born Carl is (as you can expect) laid back and easygoing. His wines speak for themselves, though I thoroughly enjoy tasting them as Carl is describing what’s in my glass. There’s something about hearing the story of a wine from the mouth of the person who made that wine.
Caliza is a small, modest operation with less than a handful of employees. If you stop for a visit, you are very likely to meet Carl himself. A true boutique producer in Paso, his total case production is around 3,000 cases. The tasting experience is modest, yet comfortable, with the wines taking center stage. Tastings are all seated and outdoors (due to COVID) with a tasting flight running $25 per person. On my visit, the highlight was the 2017 Kän-krēt Grenache. This wine ages in concrete and delivers bright, crunchy red fruit. By far, one of the most interesting wines I tried while on this trip to Paso.
A visit to Tin City in Paso is really stripping it down. This is the industrial, winery area with no vineyards insight. No rolling hills, no fancy tasting rooms, and no grapevines insight. This is where you come for one thing, and one thing only: good juice. And that I did find on my visit to Giornata Wines. Between the two of them, Brian and Stephanie Terrizzi, owners, hold two enology degrees. Not too shabby. Their goal with Giornata is to make balanced, true to variety wines, with a focus on Italian grapes. Wondering if we enjoyed the wine? We walked away with a mixed case of vino! I’d say yes, yes we did.
Focusing on Italian varieties in Paso is such a departure from what most others are doing. And that’s what I love about Paso: anything goes. My standout wine here was the 2017 Sangiovese ($35). I found this wine to be more Italian style, than California style with notes of sour cherry and herbs. A tasting flight at Giornata will set you back a whopping $10, so there is NO reason to not make a visit.
Tin City is also home to beer, cider, and spirits producers. As well as a few food purveyors, including Etto, an Italian market with pasta fresh-made onsite daily. Also owned by the Terrizzi’s, this was a great spot, bringing back memories of my father’s Italian market/deli, Pergola’s, in Seattle in the 80s. I have vivid memories of that deli, standing on a milk crate, and pretending to run the cash register. We bought some Italian cold cut sandwiches for the road and Brian gifted us with some freshly made pasta to take home.
That’s the kind of vibe you get in Paso. Good people. Good wine. And a casual, low key vibe to make anyone feel comfortable. I highly recommend a trip to go wine tasting in Paso Robles. You will not be disappointed.
If visiting wine country is not possible for you right now, consider booking a private Virtual Vino with me. You and your guests will enjoy a shared tasting experience as you are virtually transported to wine tasting in Paso Robles. A small-format tasting set of wines is shipped to your homes and through the magic of Zoom, we can all come together and share smiles and some wines. Pricing starts at $65 per person. Book a virtual vino class today!
A special shoutout to Chris Taranto at the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance for putting together such a special visit. As a member of the press, I received complimentary tasting experiences and lodging. The opinions presented are mine, and mine alone.