Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Paso Robles: The Basics

What do you know about Paso Robles?

My own knowledge is limited, so as preparation for my upcoming trip to that region, and per my usual routine, I have been researching the region, learning more about it before I arrive there. I recently discussed the issue of Ignorant Travelers, and my own usual habits prior to a journey. I also wanted to share some of the fruits of my efforts with my readers, as well as seek your own input. I'll start with some basics.

Paso Robles, more formally known as El Paso de Robles ("pass of the oaks"), received its name because of all the oak trees scattered through the region. It is located in San Luis Obispo County, along the Central Coast area, and situated roughly halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. It is approximately 2660 miles by plane, from Boston to Paso Robles. The city is almost 20 square miles and has a population just under 30,000.

The Paso Robles AVA (American Viticultural Area) was established in 1983 and expanded in 1997 and 2009. It now forms a rough rectangle of about 35 miles east to west, and 25 miles north to south, with over 26,000 acres of vineyards. Back around 1990, there were less than 20 wineries in this AVA, but it has since become California’s fastest growing wine region and now there are over 200 wineries. About two-thirds of these wineries produce less than 5,000 cases and more than 95% of the region’s brands are family owned and operated. I really like the fact that so many of the wineries are small, family-owned operations.

More than 40 wine grape varieties are grown in this region, and the most widely planted are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah and Sauvignon Blanc. Bordeaux blends, Rhône-style and Zinfandel wines are very popular in this region. Interestingly enough, about 58% of Paso Robles grapes are sold to wineries outside the AVA. So you might be drinking wine from Paso Robles grapes and not even know it.

I have previously enjoyed a number of wines from the Paso Robles region, from wineries including Victor Hugo Winery, Clautiere Vineyard, Tablas Creek Vineyard, Justin Vineyards & Winery, Changala Winery, and Tobin James Cellars. I am excited to try even more Paso Robles wines, especially from the smaller, artisan wineries.

Several large wine festivals are held in this region, including the Hospice du Rhône, a celebration of Rhône variety wines; the Zinfandel Festival; and the Paso Robles Wine Festival. Unfortunately, I will be in Paso Robles just after the Zinfandel Festival has occurred.

Paso Robles also possesses several producers of olive oil from locally grown varieties, which seem to do very well in the region. You can visit some of the olive farms, and partake of a number of olive oil tastings. There is even an annual Olive Oil Festival.

What experiences have you had in Paso Robles?

Forthcoming: The History of Paso Robles


Hampers said...

Wow! this is a very good entry i like it. Will certainly visit your blog more often.

Anonymous said...

Hi Richard. Have been perusing your blog for about a year or so now. Thought I would leave a comment on your upcoming trip to Paso. I am a great fan of wines from the area; particularly the Rhone varietals. I think this area and parts of Edna Valley to the south (where Alban & Sine Qua Non reside) are the most promising areas for these varietals outside the Rhone. I've visited the area a few times and while I know you will have something of a set itinerary due to the nature of your trip, I would suggest you try to stop into a few excellent wineries if you get the chance. Specifically: Villa Creek (if open - they also have a great restaurant downtown where they serve their wines too), Denner (fantastic tasting room & they give tours now, I believe), Booker, and Linne Calado. If you're into Zins, Turley is located very near Linne Calado. Best of luck and have a great time!
--Brad Valenti

Richard Auffrey said...

Brad, thanks very much for recommendations. I will have a little bit of free time and may see if I can stop by any of these wineries. I have not previously had wines from most of the wineries you mentioned, so it will be exciting to try them.