Travel: My Paso Robles
Julie Albin selects the best places for wine lovers to visit and shares her tips on things to do
RADIANT SUNSHINE GRACED by cooling winds, hillside vineyards on calcareous terrain, and a backdrop of peaks tracing the horizon. Believe it or not, this isn’t the northern Rhône. This is Paso Robles. And for travellers who are seeking picture-perfect landscapes, dynamic wines and local culinary gems, all with the warmth of California hospitality, this world-class destination should rank high on the list.
Halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco along Highway 101, Paso Robles refers to both the town and wine region within California’s sun-kissed Central Coast AVA. Originally named El Paso de Robles, ‘The Pass of the Oaks’, winemaking was introduced by Franciscan friars during the 1790s. Over the years, the region went on to become the land of Zinfandel and became an official American Viticultural Area (AVA) in 1983.
Now more esteemed for Rhône and Bordeaux-style wines, it was both foreign investment and inspired winemakers of the 1990s that birthed the region’s celebrated Rhône movement. When the Perrin family of Château de Beaucastel in the southern Rhône Valley partnered with the Haas family to establish Tablas Creek Vineyard, they pioneered this movement, importing vine cuttings and establishing a nursery that supplied grafted vines all over the region.
Wine-growers benefit from numerous environmental factors, including abundant sunlight, a diurnal range of up to 10°C, and a diversity of more than 30 soil series. With the Salinas river acting as a natural divide between east and west, the topography exposes drastic variances in average temperatures, coastal wind and elevation, with some sites reaching up to 730m. But what truly sets Paso Robles apart from other California regions is calcareous soil with high pH levels comparable to the Rhône Valley.
The rolling hills of the east contain granular forms of calcareous soil as loam layers over the watershed areas. It was this particular terroir that caught the attention of Jerry Lohr in the 1980s when he recognised the immense potential for Bordeaux varieties and became an early pioneer of the region’s commercial era. Bring provisions with you to J Lohr Vineyards and Wines ( www.jlohr.com), and enjoy a tasting of Cabernet Sauvignon and juicy Merlot from the picnic area, with no appointment necessary.
Accessible by snake-like roads, the rugged hillsides of the west extend all the way to the coastal Santa Lucia Mountains. This area, especially the Adelaida District, charmed winemakers with its maritime terroir of steep slopes and calcareous shale soils that retain moisture like a sponge. This allows some producers such as Tablas Creek Vineyard ( www.tablascreek.com) to dry-farm. Taste its biodynamic Rhône-style wines by walk-in or by booking a tasting experience. A short walk from the tasting room is the original nursery and vineyards where the estate’s herd of sheep and alpacas can be spotted.
A drive up Peachy Canyon Road will lead you to Law Estate ( www.lawestatewines.com), where you can taste limited-production Rhône and Priorat-style blends. The property’s towering elevation, modern design and stunning views make a utopian ambience. For a bit of adventure, continue west to Adelaida Road for an excursion tour at Halter Ranch ( www.halterranch.com). Cruise around its lofty vineyards in a restored 1984 Land Rover Defender 110 and taste wines against scenic backdrops before stopping by the Victorian farmhouse, which was the filming location for the movie Arachnophobia.
Then retreat from the afternoon sun in Willow Creek District by exploring L’Aventure Winery’s caves, carved into the limestone hillside ( www.aventurewine.com). A renowned winemaker from Bordeaux, Stephan Asseo’s medley of Bordelaise origins and west Paso Robles style can be tasted in his Paso blends of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot.
From its viticultural renaissance in the late 20th century to now having more than 40 different grape varieties planted throughout the region, Paso Robles is now home to yet another new wave of experimental winemakers. Launched by Phillip Hart, just east of Templeton, AmByth Estate was the region’s first Demeter-certified biodynamic wine producer ( www.ambythestate.com). The family continues its focus on head-trained, dry-farmed, unfiltered and unfined wines with zero added sulphites, aged in barrel, clay eggs or terracotta amphorae. Their natural style is well demonstrated by an eclectic range: from Sauvignon Blanc orange wine to a bottling of 100% Counoise.
1 Highway 101 2 Halter Ranch 3 Tin City 4 the caves at L’Aventure Winery 5 J Lohr Vineyards and Wines 2 1 3