Travel Bites: Wine Adventures in Paso Robles, California to Honor National Wine Day

Paso Robles Pomar Junction

May 25th is National Wine Day and in honor of the day that has us immediately craving a glass (okay, fine — a bottle), I’m going to finally share some of the magical time I had in Paso Robles a few weeks ago as I explored central California’s most incredible wine making town.

While you’re most likely familiar with Napa and even Sonoma — there’s a chance you aren’t as aware of Paso Robles which is about four hours south of Napa. If you’re making wine in Paso, then you’re living in Paso. Home to over 300 wineries, Paso is almost exactly three hours north of Los Angeles and three hours south of San Francisco, so there’s not a lot of driving back and forth on work days, in the way you may find winemakers in Napa going home to San Francisco as part of their regular commute.

ONX Wines.jpg

I was lucky enough to be one of the few Florida writers who was invited to Paso Robles for a three day adventure, that had me thinking I may never leave. The Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance put together a killer itinerary that kept our group on the move and never thirsty.

After a long morning of travel we hopped right into our first day of exploring which included:

ONX Wines is located in what’s known as “The Templeton Gap,” an area that because of the way the hills and valleys fall, the ocean breeze comes through much more often causing the area to be noticeably cooler than it is even a few miles away.

As far as first wines go, ONX was a winner. We tried several of their wines but my favorite was the Mad Crush, a red wine made from Grenache 38%, Tempranillo 37%, Mourvedre 25% grapes. Luckily, they ship to Florida so I can be sure to never be without a bottle or two of it. 

After visiting ONX we headed to downtown Paso for a little history lesson and dinner at Thomas Hill Organics where we were met by four winemakers who all brought bottles on bottles of their best wines. Austin Hope of Hope Family Wines, Joe Barton of Barton Family Wines, Janell Dusi of J Dusi Wines and JoAnn Cherry of Villa Creek Cellars were our special guests for the evening. It was like sitting at a table with your oldest friends, everything ran so smoothly, the wines were amazing, and the chef's pairing with each wine just kept getting better and better. 

 ONX Wine fields 

ONX Wine fields 

Day two was filled with adventures to:

We started the day driving through Tin Cityan newer area filled with industrial makers markets from local artisans featuring craft wine, beer and spirits and foods by some of the most talented people in Paso. Next we made our way to Pomar Junction where we went straight to the top of the mountain to sip wines under the California sun. Special guests included neighboring vineyards Cass Winery and Clavo Cellars. We spent the morning sipping some of their best white wines, before they each gave us a taste of their own favorite reds.

Once we had our fill of the mountain top (I never wanted to leave), we excitedly headed over to Tobin James Cellars for lunch where we tried 14 different wines, including some of the special Blue Label Reserve wines that are only available for members. The man himself, Tobin, joined us for lunch and gave us a rundown of the area's rich history including how his water tower was used decades ago by UPS workers to store packages for people in the area.

Once we stumbled out of lunch, we hopped over to San Antonio Winery's newest tasting room to check out a state of the art winery that has so much cool technology and machinery, there's only four people needed to operation the property and all the work is done by noon each day. The 100 year old brand owned by the Riboli family really has things figured out. We weren't done yet, next up we visited Le Vigne Winery who is also home to Peacock Cheese Company for a wine and cheese pairing session. Fun fact: 5 wine/cheese pairing is only $15 and available for walk-ins. 

After a quick stop at the hotel to freshen up, we were off to ON Bar Restaurant in downtown Paso Robles for dinner with four more wineries whose common theme was wine making and cattle ranching. Our guests were Amanda from Ancient Peaks Winery and Santa Margarita Ranch, Jack Creek Cellars who have Jack Creek Ranch, Laird from Rangeland Vineyards who operate Adelaida Springs Ranch, and Jim from Hearst Ranch Vineyards & Wineries and home of the Hearst Castle. These were some of the boldest wines of the trip, and probably some of my favorites. It was really cool learning how each place is able to balance cattle and wine, how long their families have had ranches, and how they turned into wineries as all of these locations were ranching focused long before there was any wine in the area.

 Cass Wines on top of Pomar Junction's mountain

Cass Wines on top of Pomar Junction's mountain

Day three was just as full featuring:

There was no slowing down when it came to our last day in Paso Robles. Our first stop was Tablas Creek Vineyard where we were greeted by the vineyard pups who made for the perfect welcoming committee. Here, Jason Haas gave us a tour of the area and showed us how the vineyard grafts each planting and walked us through their harvesting process from start to finish. After our tour and time spend sipping their delicious juice, we were off to JUSTIN Vineyards & Winery for lunch. The menu featured a burger and wine pairing, which obviously made for an easy choice. After lunch we were given a private tour of the wine caves (that are naturally 60 degrees all day long) that go deep into the mountain where the wine barrels are kept and is home to one of the most beautiful tasting rooms I've ever seen.

Next stop on the itinerary was Chronic Cellars with appearances by Peachy Canyon and Vines on the Marycrest, both of which are located right across the street. Chronic Cellars was definitely the most unique experience, not only did we play cornhole and drink really awesome wine, but we got to experience a winery that's making wine their own way. Owners Josh and Jake Beckett are actually the sons of Doug Beckett, the founder of Peachy Canyon Winery. They took the love of the family business and put their own spin on it with colorful skull coovered labels and tongue-in-cheek names like Love Insects, Spritz and Giggles, Giant Oak, and their flagship wine Sofa King Bueno. They aren't the only rebels in the area, as Vines on the Marycrest got its name when founder Victor Abascal used a hidden area of land owned by a nunnery to plant his first grapes until he got in trouble with the nuns and consequently name his wine after them. As much as we wanted to stay and hang out with these winemakers forever, there were more places to visit and more wine to drink.

We took a technical break from wine as we ventured to Re:Find Distillery were Alex and Monica Villicana have been distilling saignee (refers to the process of bleeding or pulling juice from a tank of red must that is just beginning fermentation, these juices are usually discarded) to make grape based spirits including vodka, gin, and whiskey. It was really neat to learn about a process that uses a part of the winemaking process to create a completely different spirit. 

It was almost time for our adventures in Paso Robles to end, but not before visiting the gorgeous Niner Wine Estates for one last dinner — this themed dinner being women winemakers. At Niner we were joined by the ladies of three other local wineries who came to share their tales of the area and what it's like to be a woman in the wine industry. It was great to hear that women are held in a very high regard in Paso Robles and really hold their ground in the industry. We spoke to Maeve Pesquera of DAOU Vineyards & Winery who left her Los Angeles life and position with a national restaurant chain after attend an industry wine trip to Paso a few years ago (she may inspire me to someday do the same). Janis Denner, the owner of Pelletiere Estate was once a high powered corporate mogul who sold her company and wasn't ready for retirement so she decided to start making wine. Molly Lonborg of Halter Ranch Vineyard grew up a few towns away and always knew she wanted to be in the agricultural world, but after a summer of interning at a vineyard, so discovered her calling as a winemaker. The company, food, and delicious wines were an absolutely perfect way to end such a wonderful trip and always the best possible way to kick off my birthday!

 Heart Hill at Niner Wine Estates

Heart Hill at Niner Wine Estates

One of the most common themes I found while spending time in Paso Robles is how everyone feels like part of one big family. There's so much camaraderie and the winemakers work together and genuinely enjoy each other's company. It wasn't at all uncommon during our trip for someone third generation in the family business but married to a winemaker or someone who does the marketing for another vineyard. There were also moments where one winemaker would say, "Ah, if you like this wine then you're going to love the one over at my friend's spot that you're headed to next!" Paso Robles really creates an atmosphere that's so refreshing — and I'm not just talking about the wine! 

As cliche as it sounds, time really does fly when you're having fun. If you enjoy wine, even just a little bit, Paso Robles is a destination that you must add to your list! There's something magical in the air that instantly makes its visitors feel like they belong. 

Huge thank you to the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance for an such a well executed adventure. Protip: when you head to Paso, be sure to check out Grapeline Wine Tours because no one should be driving while enjoying that much wine and it’s just not fun being the designated driver when Grapeline Wine Tours can do it for you!