Halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco along the legendary historical El Camino Real trail is the still under-discovered wine region of Paso Robles. Hot days and cold nights offer an ideal climate for this region specializing in Syrah and also known for growing outstanding Zinfandels, Cabernet Sauvignons, Chardonnays, and Merlots.

Gentle rolling hills, valleys and sharp cliffs ensure a variety of micro climates ideal for wine-growing. Set amidst bucolic back roads and rolling hills, a wine tasting tour of Paso Robles blends visual pleasures and culinary feasts.

Ten years ago there were about 35 wineries in the area and today there are over 170 wineries and 80 tasting rooms to choose from ranging from boutique artisan family operations to grand and sumptuous estates. Rustic or refined, unpretentious or sophisticated each winery offers up its own unique style.

Begin your wine tasting experience by heading west of town on Highway 46 to the Four Vines winery. The three irreverent young owners affectionately refer to their tasting room as the ‘biker’ room. Four Vines specializes in Zinfandels named Zins Biker, Sophisticate and Maverick and a rogue Rhone blend “Anarchy.” My favorite though is their no-oak “Naked” 2006 Chardonnay. The fruit is fermented in 100% stainless steel and not put through malolactic fermentation, in order to maintain the natural acid balance. The result is clean, crisp and citrusy.

You won’t have to travel far for your next tasting. In the same building, the Rotta Winery offers a very different, more rustic experience. An unpretentious country tasting room, founded in 1908: it’s the only remaining family owned “original” winery in San Luis Obispo County. Kim, a long time friend of the family, pours the wine and entertains with stories such as in the 1970’s when she drove from Los Angeles to Rotta Winery to load up her VW with huge jugs of wine to bring back to the city. Their flagship wine the 2004 Giubbini Vineyard Estate Zinfandel was a favorite here.

Before leaving visit the country bakery located on the premises. It entices with fragrant aromas of freshly baked bread and crisp pastries. It’s the perfect mid-morning interlude before making your way to the Windward Winery perched on a hill off a winding country road lined with aged oak trees. They specialize in two Pinot Noirs, labeled “Monopole”. Their more ‘feminine’ 2005 blend is sensuous and exquisite and their 2006 ‘teenage’ version explodes with complexity. Before leaving, check out their natural-made cosmetics and spa products produced by the owners’ daughter and sold at the store.

On the road between the wineries, you’ll pass fields of horses and cows as spectacular views open up of entire hillsides and if you happen to visit in spring you’ll have the chance to see the rich splendid hues of yellow from California poppies that are in bloom.

Make your way to the Vina Robles Hospitality Center, styled after nearby historic California missions: Mission San Miguel Arcangel and Mission San Louis Obispo de Tolosa. Multiple indoor and outdoor event areas, sun-drenched terraces and courtyards are available for weddings, and corporate events. Their tasting room offers pairings of cheese and wine. Try the Gorgonzola Dulce with their Syrah, it’s out of this world. Art exhibitions, a gift shop and cooking classes round out this experience.

At the Firestone Vineyard take a tour of the wine making process. If lucky, catch a glimpse of the Firestone’s eligible heir who recently acquired substantial fame as the “The Bachelor” on the television reality show. Should you miss him you can always console yourself with stocking up on a supply of their pinot chocolates dips and chardonnay mustards before heading back to town.

Spend the late afternoon exploring Paso Robles’ old fashioned town square ringed by fine restaurants and wine tasting galleries, antique stores and the town’s central park. Visit the the Anglim Tasting Room where the owners mix their own unique signature blends of wines from the grapes grown in the region. For added picturesque visuals admire the trains that come to a stop right outside Anglim’s quaint back store window and feel transported back a 100 years in time.

For dinner, try Artisan: a local’s favorite and the highest-quality restaurant in town. The owners focus on serving local, sustainable ingredients and regional American cooking. There is a farmers market in Paso Robles every day of the week to ensure the freshest ingredients.

Everything we tasted was prepared with masterful attention to detail and executed to perfection. The crab cakes are crisp and tender. The filet of duck breast, caramelized on the outside and pink inside, melt on the tongue. The sea bass is just the right texture over a fragrant risotto. The menu is paired with the local wines, picking up the flavors of the region. The open kitchen and pleasant but subdued ambiance leave no doubt: food is the absolute focus here and every meal is a work of art. Even on a week day evening every table taken and reservations are highly recommended.
If you are making it an overnight experience, check in to the elegant and historic Paso Robles Inn, walking distance of the downtown square. The Inn has a long history including a stint as a renowned bath house and where Jesse James and his gang once hid out. Choose among the historic guest rooms or the more recent, modern suites fitted out with their own hot mineral spas on a private patio overlooking a landscaped garden courtyard.

It’s been a glorious day in the quaint town of Paso Robles and the enchanting surroundings of its wine country. A perfect blend of simplicity and sophistication, of the historic past and promising future, the unpretentious and the upscale, the region makes your senses come to life with its very own joie de vivre.
What & Where:
Four Vines Winery
(3750 Highway 46 West, Templeton; 805-237-0055)
Rotta Winery (3750 Hwy 46 West, Templeton; 805-237-0510)
Windward Winery
(1380 Live Oak Rd, Paso Robles; 805-239-2565)
Vina Robles Hospitality Center (3700 Mill Rd, Paso Robles; 805 227-4812)
Firestone Vineyard (2300 Airport Rd, Paso Robles; 805-591-8050)
Anglim Winery (740 Pine St, Paso Robles; 805-227-6813)
Paso Robles Inn (1103 Spring St, Paso Robles; 800-676-1713)
Artisan Restaurant (1401 Park St, Paso Robles; 805-237-8084)

Helpful Hints: If you don’t have a designated driver use one of the local wine-touring companies such as Wine Wrangler Wine Tasting Tours (805 238-5700) or Grapeline Winecountry Shuttle(888-8-WINERY).

Wineries tasting fees range from $ 3-7 per person.