You’ve heard of Napa and Temecula, you’ve seen Santa Ynez in the movie Sideways, but there is a hidden wine tasting gem nestled in the heart of the Central California Coast. I won’t tease you any longer, it is Paso Robles.
Paso Robles is an enormous wine producing region, where there are over 200 wineries and new ones are opening every year. There are large wineries serving dozens of wines as well as family-run vineyards with an emphasis on quality over quantity. Relaxed and rural, the vibe is as unpretentious as it gets. Don’t expect fancy (jeans are common) but do expect a place where you can have a real wine education and wear a pretty dress surrounded by vineyard covered hillsides.
GETTING TO AND STAYING IN PASO ROBLES
Paso Robles is a 3-hour drive from San Francisco, 2.5-hour drive from Santa Barbara, and 3.5-hour drive from downtown Los Angeles. The nearest small airport is San Luis Obispo (SBP), with a 30-minute drive to Paso Robles. Although there is a town square with delicious places to eat, the area is sprawling. I recommend having a car, not for your wine tasting day, but to get around easier. It is not the easiest wine tasting region to get to, but it feels like a real break from life in San Francisco or Los Angeles.
There are a few hotels in the area, but I recommend staying at an Airbnb. Each time we visit, we have found darling, spacious Airbnb’s with a very home-decorated vibe (think doilies and framed animal images). Since you have your car with you, why not stay a little out of town in the picturesque hills? We also enjoy having an Airbnb with a kitchen, so we can cook a tipsy-meal after a day of tasting.
It does get quite warm in Paso Robles during the summer time, but early and late summer are delightful times to visit. In the early spring, the grasses between the vines will be green with the actual vines being barren. In the summer, the grasses turn yellow and the vines are full of big green leaves. The fall is harvest season and the leaves begin to turn yellow in November.
THE BEST WAY TO GO WINE TASTING
The beauty of Paso Robles is that the tasting rooms are at the vineyards. You can walk outside each tasting room and see the grapes that produce the wine you taste. Such a lovely experience comes with the logistical challenge of how to get from place to place when tasting wine. This is where the Wine Line comes in. Not like a normal wine tour, the Wine Line allows you to choose the wineries you visit (within a reasonable distance). This freedom to choose the wineries and not having to select a designated driver is my favorite way to experience wine country. This is not a sponsored post, I want everyone to be safe and have a good time!
Here’s how it works: for $70 per person the Wine Line will pick you up from your hotel or Airbnb (extra charge for a distant pickup location), and drive you to taste at about 4 or 5 wineries. Book online and let them know which wineries you want to go to. You will be in a van with a variety of other people, who will not necessarily be going to the same wineries.
Your driver will drop you off, introduce you to a tasting associate inside, and leave you to taste for about 40 minutes. If you decide to buy wine, your driver will carry your bottles to the van and it will be safe for the rest of the day. You can order a picnic lunch through the company, have your driver drop you off downtown, or bring a picnic to eat at one of the scenic wineries (my favorite option!).
Other ways to taste wine include driving yourself, doing a wine tour with pre-selected locations, or hiring a personal driver. If driving yourself, please be safe and spread your wine tasting out across many days. If you are in a large group, a personal driver might end up being less expensive, so do a little research.
After several trips to Paso Robles, there are a few stand-out wineries. Be sure to do some research ahead of time as there is turnover of wineries and a few of my favorites have already disappeared. Some of my favorites are:
- Vendeux: The wine at Venduex was simply good wine. I liked every wine that they poured, save for one. The location is also lovely.
- Kenneth Volk: Another location with very good wines. Their location might not be quite as picturesque as the others, but we had the small tasting room to ourselves.
- Niner: I loved a couple of their white wines at this location and my friend even purchased an Albariño. Out back there is a hill with bushes in the shape of a heart. Can it get more adorable?
- Caliza: I had a very nice experience at Caliza. The tasting room was not crowded and the wine was just right. The vineyards are right out back.
- Turley: Zins, zins, zins. To be completely honest, I am not the biggest fan of Zinfandel wine, but I am a big fan of learning about wine. Turley only has Zinfandels on the tasting list, so you can compare the years of the grapes, discuss locations and soil composition in a single varietal. Come here to learn.
- Peachy Canyon: Peachy Canyon is one of those places that had dozens of wines to choose from. Paso Robles is a red-heavy region, so if you like white wines, make sure to add Peachy Canyon to your list. They had a rosé a couple of years ago that was almost too easy to drink.
As for tasting prices, you should expect about $10 per person. There are some wineries that charge $5 and others that are at $20, but this is still a far cry from the outrageous prices of the Napa Valley. The Wine Line also has partnerships with some of the wineries, where you can taste for free.
My other tips are for those out there who are beginning their wine journey and developing their palette. If you fit into this category and are going wine tasting for the day, have a big breakfast and do not go to more than three wineries before lunch. Also, don’t be afraid to ask questions to your tasting associate. Good ones to ask include: what kind of barrels was this fermented in? Are all the grapes in this wine grown on property? I know California has had some drought years lately, how has this affected this wine? Think about the smells and flavors you are tasting and over time you will get a feel for what kind of wine you enjoy.
Also, do not be afraid to pour out your taste if you do not like something. I almost always pour out the heavy, peppery cabs because I don’t enjoy the overwhelming flavor. Think of the tasting fee as paying for the experience and chance to learn, rather than paying for a drink, because if you feel guilty about drinking every drop, you won’t be tasting by the third or fourth location.
We hope that this article has inspired you to go wine tasting. If you have any questions about the destination please leave these in the comments below.
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