When you think of wine country, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Odds are that you think of Napa and Sonoma. We don’t blame you: Those used to be top of mind for us, too – at least until we discovered Paso Robles.
Paso Robles, located in San Luis Obispo County, California, lies roughly halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Home to 200+ wineries and 40,000 vineyard acres, Paso Robles offers plenty of wine-related activities for you to enjoy. A big reason for that: optimal growing conditions.
The first thing you’ll likely notice when you arrive is the diurnal temperature swing. From day to night, the temperatures change drastically. You might find yourself wearing shorts and a t-shirt during the day and layer upon layer at night. Throw distinct microclimates and diverse soils into the mix, and you have yourself Paso Robles.
Flying to Paso Robles
Before you get to enjoy all these great traits, you have to get to Paso Robles. First, the bad news: At this time, there are no direct flights from Miami to San Luis Obispo, the closest airport to Wine Country. Traveling to California can eat up a good chunk of your day, and even more so when your flight has a stop or two.
Don’t be deterred, though. Daily flights to San Luis Obispo from Miami are available with layovers as short as 40-ish minutes, so travel time is kept to a minimum. Our flight, in particular, had a 50-minute layover in Phoenix; typically, we’re fearful of a layover that short, but PHX’s terminals are fairly close to one another, and we made it with time to spare despite a small delay.
Uber and other ride-sharing services are spotty here, as cell phone reception can be iffy. Your best bet for getting to your hotel: private transportation or a car rental.
Where to Stay
Paso Robles — outside of its vineyards and wineries — isn’t that big, so you’ll likely be staying Downtown. If that’s indeed the case, then look no further than Paso Robles Inn. This homely establishment’s history dates back to the late 1800s; the original property was rebuilt after a devastating fire.
Rooms run the gamut in rates, with Garden Rooms being the most affordable; these overlook the property’s gardens or city park, and they include wifi, a flat screen television, mini fridge and other amenities. We suggest, however, that you treat yourself to one of the hotel’s more upscale Spa Rooms. These deluxe guest rooms include all the usual amenities plus the opportunity to relax in a private spa rub — perfect for enjoying with a glass of wine in hand. These rooms are also themed after specific wineries in the area and peppered with items recounting their histories; it’s not only a relaxing experience here at Paso Robles Inn but educational as well.
What to Do
Since drinking and driving is a no no, leave the transportation to the professionals aka Uncorked Wine Tours. Katie Hayward and her comfy fleet of vehicles will get you around in style (and air conditioning). Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance and her company teamed up to show us some of the best spots in town.
Should you need a sample itinerary for your trip, here’s ours:
Day 1 Stops:
On paper, this first day seems short and sweet. But despite just visiting three places, our group got to learn a lot. At ETTO Pastaficio — located in the area’s Tin City — we had a chance to enjoy the shop’s delicious pasta paired with refreshing Giornata wines, while listening to the owners share their stories about getting into the business; a recurring theme throughout our trip were the passionate individuals who make Paso Paso.
Over at Vina Robles, we sampled viognier, rose and (and a lot) more of the winery’s attractive selections; their Estate series quickly became a personal favorite. Our night culminated at Thomas Hill Organics, a local eatery known for its regionally produced food. The evening featured three things we loved: good food, good wine and good company. Winemakers from Hearst Ranch, J.Lohr, JUSTIN and Tablas Creek all joined us for dinner and generously poured their wines throughout the evening.
Day 2 Stops:
An earlier start to our day meant an earlier start to the wine. Case in point: a morning visit to Eberle Winery. The tasting room here featured no shortage of wines; during our visit, the menu offerings included the likes of a 2017 zinfandel, 2017 syrah, and a 2018 muscat canelli among many more. The winery has been around for 40 years, and based on our awesome tasting, we’re not surprised at their longevity.
Should you visit DAOU on your trip — and you should — prepare to have your camera out the whole time. The place is BEAUTIFUL; photos and words can’t do it justice. It’s a place that has to be seen for itself, due to its panoramic mountain top views. Oh yeah, the wine is good, too.
Our final two stops — Halter Ranch and Denner — gave us an up close look at some spacious vineyards. At the former, Assistant Winemaker Molly Lonberg (Halter Ranch) took us out into the fields to try some tasty 2017 grenache blanc and then showed us around the facilities (so many barrels!). And at Denner, we sipped syrah and the brand’s popular Ditch Digger on top of some hills with the winemaker, vineyard manager and cellar master. Getting to hear from these people firsthand and ask questions is truly enlightening.
Foodwise, be sure to check out Jeffry’s Wine Country BBQ. It’s a bit hidden in an alley, but eagle-eyed guests will find themselves in for a feast. Expect heavy, delicious fare like grilled cheese, smoked brisket, mac and cheese, nachos and the kitchen sink. During our meal, we had four up-and-coming Paso wineries — Barr Estate, Full Draw, 13th & Third, and TOP — discuss their products and the local scene. BBQ and wine seems like a strange mix, but we gotta give it to these guys: Their pairings were on point.
Day 3 Stops:
The last day of our trip ended on a high note. The day began with a stop at Epoch Estate Wines, where we were greeted by three local winemakers: one from Epoch, one from Thacher and one from ONX. This stop showed us how close the whole community is; there may be over 200 wineries in town, but everyone seems to know each other and promote each other. Here at Paso, it’s nice to see collaboration — not competition.
That collaborative feeling extended to our next stop, Barton Family Wines, where we also enjoyed lunch. Barton’s Kitchen, the property’s namesake eatery, cooks up hearty sandwiches with smoked turkey, pulled pork and more; they’re even dog-friendly if you want to bring your pup. In between noshing, we washed everything down with Baron’s clairette blanche and picpoul blanc. Our host invited a winemaker friend to join us, too: Victoria Schmitt, owner of Volatus. Needless to say, we needed a nap after all the wining and dining.
Before dinner, we made a quick stop to Castoro Cellars for wine … and disc golf? Yes, that’s not a typo. The 100-percent sustainable and organic vineyard is home to an 18-hole disc golf course. Part of their informational ranch tour, the disc golf course can be enjoyed by all skill levels. We had never played before, but managed to hold our own. When we weren’t exercising, we were drinking. Life is all about balance, and Castoro Cellars understands that.
Alas, all good things must come to an end — including this press trip. Our last night in Paso Robles concluded with an all-female winemaker dinner at the jaw-dropping Niner Estates. It’s here that we spoke with Molly Bohlman (Niner), Kim Mulligan (Harmony Cellars), Meegan Huff (Cass Winery) and Amanda Wittstrom-Higgins (Ancient Peaks Winery) and got one final look into the ins and outs of Paso Robles wines.
Full disclosure: Our wine knowledge isn’t the best. If you asked us for wine recommendations before this trip, we’d likely look at you like a deer in the headlights. Not so anymore, as this press trip educated us on a bit of everything: varietals, wine barrels, vintages, microclimates, diurnal temperature swings (something you’ll definitely hear when you visit), and so much more.
That’s the beauty of Paso Robles. Everyone is happy to help you learn — the passion these winemakers display is unlike anything we’ve ever encountered. If you show an interest, they’ll share that passion, that knowledge and their stories with you. And trust us: Everyone has a story here.
Thinking of visiting and not sure where to start? The Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance has you covered. The Alliance has a helpful website that highlights the region and offers resources on accommodations, transportation and other important information. You can visit it here.
Photos courtesy of Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance unless otherwise stated.