As much as we love Napa and Sonoma, our palates are occasionally wont to wander.
Paso Robles is on the tips of wine connoisseurs' tongues these days, so we headed south to check out what's being touted as California's hot wine region du jour.
Just a three-hour drive from San Francisco, Paso Robles is prime for a weekend road trip with friends. And, at least in terms of wine, it has a little something for everyone.
Because of the region's various microclimates, Paso Robles vineyards grow about 40 different varieties of grapes—cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah, zinfandel, chardonnay, viognier, and roussanne are the most widely planted—all waiting to be blended by both American and international winemakers.
But perhaps the best thing about Paso (as it's often called by the locals) is its semi-secret status: While Highway 29 in Napa remains clogged with tour buses of Midwesterners thronging towards Rubicon, you could be careening carefree through Paso's pretty and relatively untouched hills toward a tasting room with virtually no crowd.
Psst: To get the fullest experience, visit during Paso Wine Fest (May 19-22, 2022) which promises a grand tasting of 500 wines plus live music, winemaker dinners, and seminars; many of the wineries will also host their own events during this time.
So, recruit your designated driver, or book an Uncorked van tour, and check out some of our favorite Paso wineries, from historic favorites to trending hot spots.
Morning light at Clos Solene. (Courtesy of Clos Solene Winery)
A piece of Bordeaux in Paso Robles, Clos Solène was founded by French winemaker Guillaume Fabre and his wife Solène. The landscape and the winery itself recall the countryside of France. Here, you can enjoy savory Rhones and cabernet sauvignon–based blends on rustic communal tables while overlooking 28 acres of vineyards. The winery also has a wood-fired brick oven where Solène bakes her homemade bread that's served with tastings. By appointment only, Clos Solène offers an hour-long tasting of five wines on the patio overlooking the vineyards. Elevated experiences are also on offer (with advance reservations) including the Cheese & Wine Sensory Experience, where you can indulge in their bottles like L'Improvu or Fleur de Solene paired with a variety of hard and soft cheeses from Fromagerie Sophie ($90 for non-members). The Terroir Tour isa private Polaris tour of the property followed by a tasting that includes barrel selections and limited releases ($140 for non-members).
// Open daily 10:30am to 3:30pm by appointment; 2040 Nidener Rd. (Paso Robles) clossolene.com
Named for the area west of Paso Robles and selected for its similarities in climate and terrain to Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Tablas Creek, a must-visit here, is the result of a partnership between local wine importer Robert Haas and the family behind Chateau de Beaucastel in France. Tablas Creek is a certified organic estate specializing in such Rhone varietals as mourvèdre, counoise and marsanne, and was one of the region's first wineries when it opened in 1989. Tastings are available at private tables on the outdoor terrace or inside at the bar.
// Tastings ($25 for non-members, fee waived with a two-bottle purchase) are available daily with advance reservation; 9339 Adelaida Rd, tablascreek.com.
Formerly the well-known horse breeding farm Kentucky Ranch, this 52-acre winery (just down the road from Tablas Creek) is now known for excellent Rhone varietals as well as its picturesque setting—a favorite among brides. Tastings are offered outdoors every day of the week but, if you're wanting something special, book the weekends-only Thacher Stables Tasting ($60/person), a two-hour experience with a knowledgeable host who will guide you through exclusive selections in the recently renovated old horse stables.
// Tastings ($10/person) are offered daily 11am to 5pm, walk-ins are welcome but reservations are recommended; 8355 Vineyard Dr., thacherwinery.com.
Adelaida's rustic midcentury feel blends seamlessly with the surrounding 150 acres of scenic landscape including an organic walnut ranch and intentional wildlands. After tasting the signature cabernet and blends, ask the team to take you up to the hilltop to witness a panoramic view of the westside of Paso Robles. Then, pick a bottle and picnic under the canopy of oak trees. For a more specialized experience, make an appointment for the food and wine pairing in the library room ($75/non-members) or the private hilltop tasting of the most current vintages of Signature wines accompanied by artisanal cheese, charcuterie, and views of the Adelaida District.
// Tastings ($25/non-members) are available by reservation only 10am to 3pm Wednesdays through Mondays; 5805 Adelaida Rd. (Paso Robles), adelaida.com
(Courtesy of Daou Vineyards)
Sitting atop the rolling hills of the the Adelaida District, Daou is a luxurious sanctuary with floor-to-ceiling windows and terracotta tiles reminiscent of an old Spanish estate. Founded by two brothers from France, Daniel and Georges Daou, the winery specializes in cabernet sauvignon in a number of varieties, from pure to blends with merlot or cab Franc grapes. Indulge in tasting flights with a selection of cheese and charcuterie. Note: the best spot to sip a glass of reserve rosé or Estate Soul of a Lion cab is on the comfy armchair on the lawn terrace, overlooking the vineyards. Prefer something a bit more adventurous? Sign up for the two-hour off-road vineyard excursion ($150/person) for a history-filled tour followed by wine and snacks.
// Tastings ($45/person) book up to six weeks in advance and are available daily from 10am to 5pm; 2777 Hidden Mountain (Paso Robles), daouvineyards.com
Anyone who's ever bought a bottle of wine at the store is likely familiar with Justin, which was once named Winery of the Year by Wine Enthusiast. Justin offers several places and ways to experience its Bordeaux-style wines, with tastings at the vineyard estate, in a downtown tasting room, and at their great restaurant overlooking the vineyard—wine tastings, after all, are best paired with lunch. But that's just the beginning: Justin features plenty of unique takes on tastings with options including a cave tour and e-bike ride ($250/non-members), the members-only hidden cellar tasting, a glimpse at winemaking activities, and more. If you're planning to get tipsy, book a suite in advance at the Just Inn (get it?).
// Tastings are available by reservation only 10am to 4:30pm daily; 11680 Chimney Rock Rd, justinwine.com
(Courtesy of L'Aventure Winery)
When Bordeaux winemaker Stephan Asseo found himself wanting to create more innovative wines than what was allowed under French AOC law, he set out on a yearlong search for a new place to practice his craft. After visiting South Africa, Argentina, and Napa Valley, Asseo came upon Paso Robles. As the story goes, he fell in love with the unique terroir and relocated his family to the region. His L'Aventure Winery has a cult following of fans who appreciate its high quality and limited distribution of red blends and estate rosé. Step up your tasting with a cave tour and in-depth educational experience ($150/non-members).
// Estate tastings ($45) are available 10am to 4pm daily by appointment only; 2815 Live Oak Rd., aventurewine.com
Situated along the historic 1,200 mile Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail, Tin City is a great way to get a taste of the region with a collection of boutique tasting rooms all in one spot. If it sounds like an industrial complex, it is, but don't be put off. There are some must-try tasting rooms here, including Desparada(3060 Limestone Way), known for cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay, and Giornata(470 Marquita Ave.), which specializes in Italian varietals. If you get tired of drinking wine (it's possible!), grab an extra-dry or a Polly Dolly (a weirdly wonderful blend of rosé and cider) at Tin City Cider Co., or a pilsner at Barrelhouse Brewing Co. (3055 Limestone Way), which celebrates its ninth anniversary with a music and beer fest on May 21, 2022. Keep the balance with farm-to-table fare and ice cream from a few indie eateries.
// For directions and a full list of producers, go to tincitypasorobles.com.
If you're on a quest for that perfect Burgundian pinot noir, Windward winemaker Mark Goldberg is your man. Here you will find nothing but estate-grown pinots handcrafted in the style of the French masters. Enjoy a game of pétanque in addition to tastings teamed with cheese and charcuterie.
// Appointments are recommended for tastings 10:30am to 5pm daily; 1380 Live Oak Rd., windwardvineyard.com
Table spread at Ancient Peaks Winery. (Courtesy of Ancient Peaks)
Enjoy some vino in the renovated tasting room at Ancient Peaks in Santa Margarita. Between sips of cabernet sauvignon, notice quirky details such as bovine taxidermy and pre-historic clam shells. If you're looking for a flight and a nosh, you'll appreciate the a la carte cafe menu of shareable small bites, entree salads, and sandwiches that can be enjoyed with a glass of wine on the patio or in the tasting room. Sample current releases, including the limited-edition Pearl Collection reserve wines. You can also book a zip lining tour.
// Walk-ins are welcome (reservations recommended) for tastings 11am to 5:30pm daily; 22720 El Camino Real (Santa Margherita) ancientpeaks.com
Just down the street from Windward, former NFL player Terry Hoage and his wife Jennifer are making Rhone-style wines from their organically farmed estate and serving them up in a swank tasting room and on the patio overlooking the pond and vineyard. Feeling fancy? Book the reserve tasting of specially curated aged library wines ($60/non-members, Friday through Sunday). Say hi to Terry! Mark your calendar for the 20th anniversary party on June 18, 2022 featuring exclusive library wines, tacos, and games.
// Tastings ($30) are available Wednesday through Monday, 11am to 4pm by reservation via Tock; 870 Arbor Rd., thestatewines.com.
Lose track of time entirely on the stunning veranda at Cass, one of the few wineries that serves a full meal in the all-day everyday cafe. Enjoy a crab cake salad or the signature Benny burger, and pair it with anything from their list of wines produced from 12 varieties of grapes grown onsite. For the full experience, make a reservation for Cass Library, where instead of books you'll be immersed in shelves filled with hundreds of bottles of wine. Led by owners Steve Cass and Ted Plemons with winemaker Sterling Kragten, this tasting includes a cheese and charcuterie plate with six to eight bottles.
// Tastings ($20-$30) and lunch are available by reservation via Tock; 7350 Linne Rd. (Paso Robles) casswines.com
The outdoor tasting pavilion at Eberle Winery. (Photo by Anna Volpicelli)
Amid vineyards and gardens, Eberle's pagoda-style patio feels like a piece of eden in Wine Country. Considered a pioneer in Paso Robles, Gary Eberle was one of the first winemakers in the region. Now, over 25 years later, the winery is known for the quality of its cabernet sauvignon, syrah and zinfandel; and Eberle still greets guests during daily wine tastings. Don't miss out on a tour of the caves, which stretch nearly 17,000 feet underground, say hi to the poodles, and look out for regular winemaker dinners and even travel expeditions.
// Tastings are available daily by appointment; Eberly Winery, 3810 Hwy 46 East (Paso Robles), eberlewinery.com
Known for estate-grown cab, pinot, and chardonnay as well as its flagship Fog Catcher blend, family-owned Niner Estate is a LEED-certified winery that also has a yummy restaurant where dishes incorporate ingredients from the half-acre onsite chef's garden. Go all in with a private, off-road tour of the solar-powered, gravity-fed winery followed by a flight and optional lunch ($100/person, 10:30am daily).
// Tastings ($40/person) and lunch 10am to 5pm daily by reservation via Tock, 805-239-2233 or firstname.lastname@example.org; 2400 Highway 46, ninerwine.com
This family-run winery offers five great Rhone labels, including Austin Hope and Treana, each best enjoyed in the vineyard's cool picnic area. Go for the lively vibe, charming people, and gorgeous views. Book a deep dive in the special aromas of the wines ($60/non-members) or go for a seated tasting in the cellar ($25/tasting).
// Tastingsare available10am to 5pm daily by reservation; 1585 Live Oak Rd, hopefamilywines.com