As you all know, my favorite vacation is a wine-tasting vacation. What is available at the source is so much better than what distributors choose to bring to our wine and grocery stores back home. At the winery, the variety is greater, the limited production wines are available, the scenery is beyond beautiful, and you always get to try before you buy. I could keep the list going, but there is no need. I am sure you get the drift. Recently, Gary and I traveled to Paso Robles for an annual wine writers event.
The “deets” on our trip
After two years of Covid delays, The Paso Robles Wine Writer’s Education Tour (WWET) finally happened on April 19-21, 2022. In addition, the world-renowned Hospice du Rhône (HdR) wine festival, an international celebration of Rhône varietal wines, also occurred that weekend, April 22-23rd. As WWET participants, we received media passes to attend the HdR opening and closing tastings.
Lastly, each morning before the HdR tastings, we added two more winery visits. On Sunday, we added one more before heading home. Whew!
Throughout the conference, the festival, and our own scheduled winery visits, we tasted over 225 wines in six days. And yes, that is A LOT. In fact, it is a crazy amount of wine. So to answer your question, most of it was swirled, swirled again, sniffed, sniffed again, sipped, sniffed again as the wine sits in our mouths, sloshed around, slurped, pushed through the teeth, and then back onto the tongue, and then spit out. This would occur several times with each wine. As you can imagine, the wines selected for the various seminars and tastings were top-notch. I hated having to spit, but we would have been, let’s say, “not in our best form” by noon of each day.
The stats for our entire trip, including the WWET Conference, Hospice du Rhône, and visits on our own:
- Visited 19 wineries and tasting rooms
- Sampled wines from 80+ different wineries
- Sampled over 225+ wines
I know, I know, it is a tough job, but someone had to do it.
And what we now know is that Paso Robles should be on top of your wine travels bucket list.
Getting to the Paso Robles Wine Region
When planning a trip to Paso Robles wine country, the first thing you realize is that this central coast destination takes some effort and time to get there. As an out-of-state wine tourist, you have to fly to a major California airport and then fly to San Luis Obisbo airport, ending with a forty-minute drive. Or the other option is to rent a car at the major airport you fly into and then drive 2.5 to 4 hours to Paso, depending on your arrival destination airport. We chose the latter, arriving at San Jose airport because it had the shortest drive time.
Wine Paradise for every palate and price point.
But once you get there, it is a wine lover’s paradise. Here, the big four red varieties (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, and Zinfandel) are omnipresent. Additionally, over 60 other grape varieties are also grown in the region. Rhône varieties are the second most planted, with Italian and Spanish varieties on the rise.
In Paso, the typical price for a wine tasting is $20.00. I estimate 20-some wineries that cost less than $20.00 per person and three with no tasting fee for an introductory tasting. Yes, you will also find some whose tasting fee is $30.00 to $50.00 and worth every penny). Lastly, don’t forget that tasting fees are refunded with a minimum purchase (sometimes as low as just two bottles)
Now let’s look at the average price of a bottle of wine. Pulling data from a few sources, I estimate that most of the Paso Robles winery’s average bottle retails in the $25-$44 range for whites, rosés, and some Rhône variety reds and the $45-$65 range for the Bordeaux variety reds. There are a few in the $25 and under price point, and about 20-ish whose average bottle price is over $65.00. All in all, I found the bottle prices were very affordable and, in many cases, quite the value.
SIDE NOTE: If you are not into the nerdy details of the AVA, be sure to skip down to the winery section that made our journey possible.
Defining The Paso Robles AVA (Wine Region)
Paso Robles AVA (PR AVA) is 614,000 total acres with 40,000 planted to vine. For a comparison, Napa Valley has approximately 45,000 acres under vine. Within the Paso Robles AVA, there are 11 sub-AVAs (or nested AVAs). These sub-AVAs were only recently designated in 2014, while the larger encapsulating AVA was first created in 1983. It was expanded in 1997 and then again in 2009. The Paso Robles AVA’s western boundary is just six miles from the Pacific Ocean. The appellation lies on the inland side of the Santa Lucia coastal mountains in San Luis Obispo County and roughly forms a rectangle that is 35 miles from east to west and 25 miles from north to south¹.
Remember, to be designated an AVA, the region must have defining climate, weather, and soil types within its borders.
In this case, what defines the region as a whole is:
- A Mediterranean climate.
- The most significant diurnal temperature shift (day-to-night temperature swing) than any other wine region in California. The shift can be as little as 20 to 30 degrees in some nested AVAs. Yet, in others, the shift can be as wide as 30 to 50 degrees¹. Thanks to the cold winds from the Pacific Ocean that blow through the valleys.
- A long growing season.
- The predominance of calcareous soils with high soil pH values of 7.4 to 8.6. (not typical of California’s other viticultural areas)¹.
The last three features (above) create the preservation of acidity levels in the grapes as they ripen. And as we all know, acidity is critical to achieving delicious and balanced wine.
Other Paso AVA Facts¹
- Most wineries have tasting rooms to sample their wine
- Many also have restaurants on site
- As well as villas, cottages, farmhouses, etc. where guests can stay.
- Established in 1983 with 17 wineries and 5,000 vineyard acres
- 50%+ of wine made is Cabernet Sauvignon and other Bordeaux varieties
- California’s “Rhône Zone” – More Rhône varieties are grown in Paso than anywhere else in the USA
- Known for proprietary, non-traditional blends
- Zinfandel was the first winegrape planted in the 1880s
- The western boundary is just six miles from the Pacific Ocean
Paso Robles on The Label
Similar to Napa Valley and Sonoma County, wines produced within the Paso AVA require conjunctive labeling. This means that “Paso Robles” must appear on the wine label even when the wine is made within one of the 11 nested or sub-AVAs. This is, of course, to build “brand identity.”
Over 200 wineries within the Paso Robles AVA…
… and we visited only nineteen. But those few were instrumental in the success of our tour and the experience we had. These wineries pulled out the red carpet for us. And they poured some fantastic wines. So should you make a trip to Paso wine country, please visit as many of these wineries as possible. The first six wineries we visited are below. The remaining wineries will be highlighted in the next post, Paso Robles Part 2.
Vina Robles’s first vines were planted in 1997. They currently have 24 different wines available on their website as well as limited-edition wines that are club only. Their wide range of offerings sells for $19 to $65 per bottle. In the tasting room, they offer the Estate tasting for $25pp or the Vineyard Select Tasting for $40pp. They also have limited distribution in select states around the US, including SC. However, they do not ship to SC.
Ron Denner scoured the state looking for his ideal property and founded his Paso Robles property in 1997. He began planting the first few acres in 1999, which has grown to a total of 130-acres, consisting of 20 different grape varieties and counting. Denner currently has eight wines available on their website. The prices range from $40 to $85. The tasting fee is $30.00. Unfortunately, they currently do not ship to SC.
Gary Eberle is a living legend in the Paso wine industry. Eberle moved to Paso Robles in 1973, co-founding the Estrella River Winery. After several successful years as the winemaker, Eberle refocused his attention on producing premium, small-production wine. You will often find Gary sitting by the front door greeting his guests. There are three tasting options at Eberle. The Vineyard Tasting is complimentary. The Cellar Club Tasting is $25pp and the VIP Tasting and Cave Tour is $50pp. There are currently 15 wines available on the website. Most wines fall in the $30.00 to $58 range with the flagship Cabernet Sauvignon selling for $125.00. Eberle ships to SC and has limited distribution in SC.
Opolo Wines is a story of two friends that started in 1997 and are still going strong. They made their first wine in 1999 and opened a tasting room in 2001.
Opolo offers two tastings. The Inside Bar Tasting for $20pp and the Patio Tasting for $30.00. They currently have 14 wines available on their website. These wines range in price from $24 to $40.
And they do ship to SC. Opolo also has limited distribution of select wines throughout the US.
Halter Ranch Vineyard and Winery on the westside of Paso Robles dates back to the 1880s. The current owner, Hansjörg Wyss, purchased the original property in 2000. He has expanded the estate to over 2,700-acres, with 200-acres of sustainably produced wine grapes, 15-acres of walnuts, and 17-acres of organically certified olives.
Tablas Creek is a pioneer in bringing Rhône wine varieties to the California landscape through a partnership between two families. The Perrin family, proprietors of Château de Beaucastel in Chateauneuf du Pape, France, and the Haas family of Vineyard Brands, an international importer and exclusive to Château de Beaucastel. This equal partnership began in 1987 and remains today with the next generation of Haas and Perrin family members.
The number of wines they offer is colossal, with 20 single-variety wines, 18 blends, and 6 “members only” limited production blends. Their price range is equally colossal, starting at $28 to $195. The vast majority are in the $30-$50 range. They offer tastings for $25pp. Tablas Creek ships to SC and most other states. They also sell selected wines thru distribution throughout the country.
Paso Robles, Part 2 will include the remaining wineries we visited as part of the WWET conference.
Thanks for reading. Until next time….