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SLIDESHOW Paso Robles: California Wine Country’s Next Big Thing

Posted on 28 September 2012

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Paso Robles: Photos by Karen Glenn, Words by Tom Passavant
Paso Robles: Photos by Karen Glenn, Words by Tom Passavant

Paso Robles is California’s third largest wine-growing region, where deals are still struck with handshakes, and where winemakers gather to share gossip and loan equipment to the guy whose tractor broke down. Visitors who drop by a tasting room are likely to run into the winemaker, the owner, and probably their dog.

Paso Robles now includes over 200 wineries. At Halter Ranch, Winegrower Mitch Wyss (opening photo) oversees 20 grape varietals, most bound for the ultramodern winery tucked into a hillside.

Paso’s rolling hills used to be under the sea (the ocean’s just a few miles west), and some vineyards are famous for soils composed of marine fossils. Some west side Paso vineyards even have fossilized whale bones.

The area is famous for Rhone varietals like syrah and grenache, as well as cabernet, made by such illustrious labels as Saxum, Tablas Creek and Justin. That said, Paso’s “heritage grape” is zinfandel, like these at Steinbeck Vineyards.

Despite its recent boom in winegrowing, Paso Robles is still firmly devoted to traditional farming and ranching. Everything from almonds and figs to strawberries and tomatoes flourishes here. This tomato salad features local goat cheese and mint

Paso’s flourishing new food culture extends to goats and goat cheese. A morning or afternoon at Happy Acres, where you can milk the goats and blend your own fresh goat cheese, is a hit with kids—and grownups, too.

Happy Acres counts some 200 goats in its flock, and they all seem to love nibbling on peanuts. Or possibly your shoelaces. Their milk, by the way, is turned into some spectacular ice cream, available at the dairy.

Where grapes grow well, can olive trees be far behind? Pasolivo’s orchards, set in a beautiful shady dell among the twisty roads of west side Paso, yield excellent oil.

Going to the source is always best. Visitors to Pasolivo can watch the olives being crushed in the fall, and then sample some oils blended with other local products.

Some people (including famous chefs) think that Bill and Barbara Spence grow the best tomatoes in California at Windrose Farm. We won’t argue, but don’t miss their apples and spectacular semi-dried smoked tomatoes, either.

California’s Central Coast is not all rustic farms. Hearst Castle is just 45 minutes from Paso Robles. Try to sign up for an evening tour if possible, or go late in the afternoon when the fog starts swirling around the Moorish towers.

William Randolph Hearst’s modest swimming pool is just like the one you inflate for your kids in the back yard. Too bad no one is allowed to jump in anymore, though it certainly is tempting after a glass or two of pinot noir.

Sunset Magazine’s Western Wine Awards were held on the pier at Pismo Beach, and showcased wines from all over the West Coast. This dish of local lamb on a risotto cake helped all those cabs and syrahs slide down easily.

The main event was Sunset’s Savor the Central Coast, a food and wine extravaganza that should be on every hungry (and thirsty) traveler’s fall schedule. Not only can you sample dozens of wines, you can also buy them on the spot

Savor the Central Coast differs from other top festivals in its emphasis on food production, with a two-acre kitchen garden, gardening demonstrations and a produce showcase selling local vegetables.

Savor the Central Coast is held at the historic Rancho Santa Margarita, which dates to 1787, when its produce helped feed the nearby Spanish mission. This beautifully restored barn is used for cooking demos at the festival.


Cat Cora was one of the high-profile chefs offering cooking demos at the festival. Local beef, oysters, cheese, and even beers made guest appearances in the dishes.

Paso’s dining scene naturally focuses on beef, but there’s lots more, with restaurants like The Artisan and Villa Creek joining Thomas Hill Organics and the historic dining room at the Paso Robles Inn.

The Paso Glow dinner, held outdoors on the town’s shady central square, evokes a kinder, gentler era. Winemakers at each table—we struck gold with Adelaida Cellars’ Terry Culton– offered generous pours of their best bottles.

How to enjoy both the stunning scenery and the abundant wines in the hills around Paso Robles? Book a tour with The Wine Wrangler, Coy Barnes. The Wine Wrangler

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One Response to “SLIDESHOW Paso Robles: California Wine Country’s Next Big Thing”

  1. MaryJane Ruiz says:

    We LOVE Paso! My husband and I have been going up there for the past 10 yrs and every year it just keeps getting better. The town still has the slow paced country feel, the people are all so wonderful to meet and talk to and yes,you still can meet the owners and wine makers and they will even take you on a personal wine tour in the off season if your lucky like we’ve been. The wineries have grown so much and have come such a long way with quality and taste beyond beliefe. You can experience a peacful time or a wild and crazy time in Paso Robles, it’s just fun all around. They have everything to offer,from wonderful places to eat, great B&B’s along with hotels and vacation rentals. Look for up and coming wine makers (Jacob Toft) and beautiful wineries to visit along with the country side.

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