Travel: My Paso Robles

Decanter - - CONTENTS -

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.

Unique land­scape

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.

New wave

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

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