Paso Robles – The Hip New Wine Country!
Home to one of the greatest wine growing areas along California’s central coast in San Luis Obispo County, Paso Robles is an up-and-coming wine region centrally located between San Francisco and Los Angeles. And, the number of new wineries taking residence in the area is staggering! Though, it wasn’t until just the past decade that California’s “new wine country” has really sprouted. Ten years ago, Paso was home to just 8 wineries – these days there are over 150 of them!
Established in the late 1800’s, Paso Robles was named for its local oak trees, “El Paso De Robles”, or “Pass of the Oaks”. Today, Paso Robles doesn’t just boast great wine, the area offers the charm of a classic rural community, along with culture and early California heritage.
Paso Robles historic downtown district is also worth a visit when in town. Just remember… whether strolling to a park, stopping in for a java, catching a new movie at the town theatre or window-shopping at the many eclectic boutiques, make sure to pop-in for a wine tasting at Silver Stone Wines, where winemaker Dan Kleck may very well be the one pouring your glass.
All in all, the area encompasses more than 600,000 acres, and the Paso Robles appellation is the largest stand alone American Viticultural Area (AVA) in California. Having diverse soils combined with warm days and cool nights have therefore made Paso Robles the optimal area for producing more than 40 wine varieties – from Cab Sav, Merlot, and Cab Franc to Zinfandel. It also doesn’t hurt that the area boasts healing waters too!
journeyPod had the chance to experience the perfect California Wine Coast getaway to Paso Robles, and here’s a little taste of our visit:
The Carlton – Located in downtown Atascadero – just 12 short miles from the heart of Paso Robles – this hidden gem is not to be missed. Classy is the best way to describe The Carlton… from the moment you walk into your room. In addition to boasting spectacular views of the rolling hills, The Carlton’s guestrooms offer state-of-the-art amenities, enormous accommodations (you should have seen the size of the bed!) and balconies that overlook the property’s terrace below. Get ready: You’ll feel like a VIP!
La Bellasera Hotel & Suites – The newly opened (Summer 2007) La Bellasera is a luxury boutique property influenced by a blend of Mediterranean and Italian architecture that is quite apparent when you catch even a glimpse of it from the roadway! It almost seems out of place… like it should be in Tuscany (though we’re happy its right here in good ol’ California)! The hotel is focused on quality and customer service, and that definitely came across during our visit. A perfect mix of elegance and comfort is also featured in the hotel’s opulent suites – which offer fireplaces, plasma TV’s, whirlpools, wet bars, kitchenettes, elegant bathrooms, deluxe spa amenities, pillow top bedding, exterior patio and Thin Client Computers! That’s right… no need to lug that laptop of yours around! At La Bella Sera – you simply won’t need it. And, to top it off: each room has its own doorbell… how fancy is that?!
Hotel Cheval – Talk about personalized service! This gorgeous 16-room boutique hotel will have you feeling like you’re the only guest visiting and that you’re somewhere in Europe. Located in downtown Paso Robles, Hotel Cheval is a recent addition to the area, having opened its doors in April 2007. All guestrooms at the property center around an open, but intimate courtyard – which poses as a quiet and serene place to relax beside the outdoor wood-burning fireplaces in the evenings. Worth mentioning is the gourmet breakfast that is discretely delivered to your door by 7:30am (we loved the cute little basket!). The attached Pony Bar at the property another spot to check out during a visit, serves local wines–and a generous number by the glass–so you can “sample” before you splurge.
DINING IN WINE COUNTRY
It wasn’t that long ago that a gourmet restaurant was nowhere to be found in Paso Robles. Thankfully, that’s not the case today. Home to some wonderful gustatory delights, here’s a taste (pun intended) of some we had an opportunity to savor:
Villa Creek Restaurant – Located in the downtown, this top-notch restaurant offers seasonal menus offering local, organic and sustainably-farmed products in simple (yet absolutely delicious) rustic preparations. Go for the mouth-watering ceviche and plantains, mushroom risotto, and the buffalo with spoonbread and zucchini. Just make sure to leave room for the peach cobbler!The menu also boasts an impressive selection of wines straight from the region, particularly its own from Villa Creek Cellars. And, whether you decide to dine in the restaurant’s mission-style dining room or the outdoor garden, Villa Creek offers a truly deliciously decadent meal!
Enoteca Restaurant & Bar – La Bellasera’s Enoteca Restaurant & Bar provides a great meal without the hassle of leaving this beautiful property! This is a spot where your anti-carb diet should go out the window – particularly since all the bread is baked fresh daily – just make sure to watch your intake and leave enough room for the seasonal menu, which features “globally eclectic” contemporary cuisine that’s masterfully paired with wines from the region.The restaurant boasts lush booths and bistro tables – and though it wasn’t quite cool enough to cozy up to the restaurant’s outdoor fireplace – be sure not to miss it if you find yourself here in the Fall!
Deborah’s Room at JUST Inn – This quaint and romantic vineyard is the only one in the area to have an Inn, a restaurant and a tasting room – all on the same property. During your visit, check out some of Chef Ryan’s best dishes: sesame-seared Hawaiian Ahi, Braised Snake River Farms Pork Belly and Truffle Encrusted Lamb Chops. For dessert, make sure you indulge in the Strawberry Shortcake (we did!). What’s even better is that at Deborah’s Room, each dish can be paired with a Justin wine. Fortunately, we were lucky enough and had the rare opportunity to sample (the already sold out) Isosceles (a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot) – their flagship wine. Just make sure to make a reservation – its only a five-table restaurant. (See our review of Justin Vineyards and Winery below).
Artisan – Located in downtown Paso Robles, Artisan takes classic comfort food and injects it with fresh and innovative ingredients and techniques. Chef Chris Kobayashi shops daily at the farmer’s markets and uses only organic foods and hormone-free proteins. With that in mind, for starters, go for Seared Yellowfin Tuna Tartare, served with fried green tomatoes, frisée and rémoulade. Follow that with the Pan Roasted East Coast Dayboat Scallops served up with potato risotto and maine lobster or the Colorado Lamb Chops served with pea risotto, prosciutto and mint salsa verde. In the case you still might have room for dessert, check out the Coconut Sorbet with chocolate sauce – light but satisfying enough to finish the dining experience off just right!
VINEYARDS & WINERIES
This small community along the central coast has unassumingly risen and established itself as major force in the wine industry of California. Often praised as an equal to any great growing region of the world, Paso Robles offers quality wine that’s not to be underestimated! Since the early 90’s, its wines from the small boutique, medium-sized and large production wineries have proven to be consistent gold medal winners and have been featured regularly in the top rankings of national and international wine reviews. A milestone in the worldwide recognition of Paso Robles as “a premier wine region” came in 1997 when Justin Vineyards & Winery’s Bordeaux-style Isosceles was named “one of the top 10 wines in the world” by the Wine Spectator. With that in mind, Paso Robles is an absolute must for all who enjoy handcrafted wines selections:
Justin Vineyards & Winery – Founded in 1981 and sitting amid 160 acres of oak-studded rolling hills and vineyards, this is one of the first original 8 wineries – and the only one that hasn’t changed hands! When visiting this lovely property, you’ll feel a million miles away from the hustle n’ bustle of a big city – and, we all need that break! Though, when you drive out to this “remote” mini-destination, you may feel a tad like you’re lost — but as we were told, “just keep driving.” We promise: it’ll definitely be worth the miles and your time!
The WineYard at Steinbeck Vineyards – journeyPod received its education at this spot . also located in the heart of the central coast! Owner Cindy Newkirk, gave us a first-class tour (on a 1958 Jeep Willy), which also included a walking tour with the opportunity to experience the vineyard firsthand! The experience gives the opportunity you the chance to drive through the fields and sample freshly picked grapes… everything from Merlot to Zinfandel. The tour culminates with a 360-degree view of Paso Robles Wine Country. This unforgettable experience is not to be missed!
Eberle – After sampling all the grapes at Steinbeck, we can promise you’ll definitely be ready to whet your palette with some wine! Upon arrival at the Eberle (translated from “small boar” in German) Tasting Room, guests are greeted with a bronzed boar and quite an impressive wine selection to sample – from Viognier and Chardonnay, to Sangiovese and Muscat. The Winery – which we highly suggest – also offers tours that commence in the caves. Additionally, Gary Eberle (who is quite witty) makes a “special” blend, with limited production – so make sure to ask for that when you visit. (For all you sport trivia and Penn State fans out there: Gary played for JoePa as defensive lineman in the 1960’s.)
Now, fellow jet-setters and wine lovers, what are you waiting for? Go experience this small town that is quickly turning into a hip and fascinating wine-country destination!
Check out our Podcast from Paso Robles- The Hip New Wine Country!