A visit to Paso Robles, just over three hours from San Francisco, reaps huge rewards: gorgeous vistas, verdant hillsides, delicious wines, farm-fresh ingredients, and terrific people.
In 1828, the town was named El Paso des Robles (The Pass of the Oaks) for the ubiquitous oak trees. Rebuilt after the 2003 earthquake, Paso Robles — friendly and down-to-earth — is an increasingly popular destination.
Paso is a burgeoning wine area, so my stay began outside of downtown among the vineyards at the classy and luxe SummerWood Winery & Inn. The contemporary living room and dining room-kitchen are open and airy with a country feel. Each of the nine spacious guestrooms has a patio, fireplace and modern amenities with yummy bath products featuring cinnamon and basil and black pepper and fennel. Guests are treated to SummerWood wines and appetizers in the afternoon, coffee and dessert each evening, and a farm-fresh breakfast in the morning. Favorite wines included two blends: the 2010 Vin Rouge and the 2008 Diosa (805-227-1365, www.summerwoodwine.com).
The next night, I chose the Paso Robles Inn, site of the original hot springs and steps from town center. The inn has partnerships with local vintners, so some rooms are winery-themed and have a hot-springs tub on the patio overlooking the lush gardens, koi ponds and towering oaks. After a long day of wine tasting, there’s nothing more spectacular than to soak in the warm thermal waters from the Paso Robles hot springs in the privacy of your room (800-575-1713, www.pasoroblesinn.com).
PLAY & SHOP
Paso Robles wine country is the third largest in California, featuring more than 200 wineries (often delineated by their location east or west of Highway 101). With diverse soils containing an abundance of limestone and favorable growing conditions, find everything from Zinfandels to Rhône and Bordeaux varietals and “crazy blends.” Growers in Paso are committed to sustainability in how they grow their grapes (many are dry farmed) as well as their commitment to their workers. Driving the countryside, I visited:
Lone Madrone: The unique tasting room is a converted barn that sits among the vines with patios adorned with sculptures and games and knockout views. Discover blends and rare single varietals like the 2012 La Mezcla (Grenache Blanc and Albariño) and the 2006 Bollo. The grapes are from the limestone hills of Paso’s west side (805-238-0845, lonemadrone.com).
Adelaida: Just across the street, savor wine at picnic tables under a pergola. Enjoy hillside views while getting up close and personal with vines and sheep, which are part of the sustainability plan. The estate wines have a loyal following, including these 2010s: HMR Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir and Michael’s Estate Vineyard Zinfandel (800-676-1232, www.adelaida.com).
PasoPort: Located in a restored barn with panoramic views of Paso, dessert wines take center stage. Whether it’s the 2008 Brandi, a traditional ruby blend of Portuguese varietals; the 2009 Ruby made with California Zinfandels; or any of the tawny blends, all are rich, aromatic and flavorful (805-239-2229, pasoportwine.com).
AmByth: The owners of this east-side certified biodynamic hilltop winery and farm — chickens, bees, cows, and olive, fruit and nut trees — are passionate about whatever they do. The name means “forever” in Welsh, and it’s the way they look at the land they tend. Stand among the amphoras and barrels and try delicious estate 2010 olive oil and wines, like the 2010 Venustas, a Sangiovese-Tempranillo blend, and the 2012 Roussanne (805-305-7355, ambythestate.com).
Wild Horse: Named for mustangs that wandered the hillsides, this east-side winery has vegetable gardens and pet llamas alongside the vines. On the patio, take in the surrounding beauty as you sample wines from Central Coast grapes. Favorites include the 2012 Viognier and the 2010 Cheval Sauvage made with Pinot Noir from the winemaker’s best barrels for each vintage (805-788-6300, wildhorsewinery.com).
Pasolivo: Before heading downtown, this olive grove and tasting room are a must-see. With 11 varietals of olives grown here, it’s fun to match the oils with spices arranged for you as you taste. Find great products to buy (805-227-0186, pasolivo.com).
Downtown, it’s a quick walk across the park to unique shops and the downtown winery trail. Be sure to stop at Firefly Gallery (805-237-9265), Reminisce Antiques (reminiscepasorobles.blogspot.com) and Your Intentions (805-238-7949). On third Thursdays, retailers and the wine industry donate a portion of their proceeds to charity.
Inspired by art and ancient philosophies of India, the wines of LXV Wine Lounge use grapes from small-lot west-side vineyards. Interesting blends include Crimson Jewel and Rising Tempo, both 2010 Reserves (805-296-1902, lxvwine.com).
Paso Underground features the wines of Aaron, Clos Solene, Edmond August, and Turtle Rock Vineyards. It’s a cool converted garage space with an outdoor patio to sip wines from up-and-coming small (around 500 cases) west-side winemakers (805-237-0799, pasounderground.com).
Burbank Ranch was just opening a tasting room when I visited; now, the bistro is in full swing, too. Don’t miss the 2012 Zinfandel Estate “Fall Colors” and the 2010 Syrah Estate “Sunset” (805-227-4538, www.burbankranch.com).
Just steps away from Burbank Ranch is We Olive, the Paso outpost of the popular Chestnut Street location in the Marina. Their tasting room offers a central location to taste the olive oils produced by the many Central Coast growers in addition to delicious olive oil pestos, tapenades, jams, vinegars, and more (805-239-7667, weolive.com).
Bistro Laurent and Wine Shop has been host to wonderful French cuisine and international wines for 16 years. It’s an intimate, yet informal dining experience both inside and out. Don’t miss the crispy fried shrimp wrapped in phyllo dough, seafood fricassee with a luscious clam stock, and succulent lamb sirloin with garlic jus. Wines included a 2010 Zenaida Cellars Zephyr, a 2008 Clavo Cellars Proprietary Blend Collusion, and the 2011 Castoro Cellars Reserve Syrah (805-226-8191, bistrolaurent.com)
La Cosecha Bar & Restaurant is a local hotspot with large open windows, outside seating, and lots of reclaimed wood. From pan-seared scallops over saffron rice with mushrooms to beef and potato empanadas to the braised beef short ribs in red wine sauce, the Spanish-Latin-American-inspired cuisine is dynamic in its use of local ingredients and kicked-up flavors. Wines included the 2012 Jada XCV, the 2010 Minassian-Young Estate Zinfandel, and the 2009 Stanger Reserve Tempranillo (805-237-0019, www.lacosechabr.com).
Villa Creek Restaurant prides itself on local connections — their ingredients and its frequent Paso regulars. The family-style servings add to its casual style. The chanterelle mushroom risotto and the bone-in rib chop with fork smashed potatoes were great. Wines included the 2011 Nicora GSM, the 2010 Law Estate Intrepid Syrah, and the 2009 Degher Cabernet Sauvignon (805-238-3000, villacreek.com).
Special Events: Wine 4 Paws, April 26–27, woodshumanesociety.org; a portion of purchases from over 75 participating wineries (including Adelaida, PasoPort and Wild Horse) will benefit the Woods Humane Society.
Visitor information: travelpaso.com
Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance: pasowine.com