Top Fifteen Wineries of Paso Robles
Paso Robles Wine Country is located halfway between Northern and Central California is the state’s largest un-subdivided AVA with 614,000 acres. With 32,000 acres planted and over 200 wineries, it ranks fourth after Napa, Sonoma and Monterey.
Established in 1983, it’s home to some of the most exciting wines made in the state. Well established wineries are complimented by renegades; pioneers who flock to the area in search of their viticultural voice. These folks don’t know the meaning of compromise and continue to push the proverbial envelope every day. Not tethered to traditions or steeped in symbolism, they let the land be their teacher and toughest critic.
With over forty-five soil types, the diversity of the region is astonishing. Elevations vary from seven hundred to more than twenty-four hundred feet. Cabernet is the largest planted grape, however Bordeaux, Rhône and Italian varieties also thrive in warm and maritime influenced areas. The AVA’s western boundary runs just six miles from the Pacific, resulting in warm days followed by cool nights. This weather pattern produces physiologically ripe fruit and ample-bodied, powerful, well-delineated wines.
In my previous appellational articles, I have listed my “top ten” wineries. However, this appellation boasts a huge number of stellar producers, I have added five more to my usual format. In alphabetical order, my top fifteen Paso Robles wineries are:
Historic Santa Margarita Ranch, comprised partly of Margarita Vineyard and Ancient Peaks Winery, is well hidden in the ample bosoms of Santa Lucia Mountains. This vast property was recognized as its own sub-appellation last year, the only one of its kind.
These wines boast a solid structure and elongated, lingering flavors. I’m crazy about the five hundred case, Oyster Ridge blend, produced from vineyard that is chock-full of oyster fossils. The ensuing calcium rich soil produces an age-worthy wine that’s textured, opulent and well-structured.
The Booker brothers acquired 1,200 acres of land back in 1920s, subsequently Eric and Lisa Jensen bought the property in 2001. Their growing prowess immediately got the attention of the likes of Saxum and Linne Calodo. After a string of wildly successful bottlings made by other brands from their fruit, the Jensens decided to bottle their own wine. Their debut 2005 vintage showcased wines of purity and brilliance, with power, grace and supple mouthfeel.
A relatively new venture, the 108 acres of Denner Vineyards were planted in 1999. Farmed sustainably, with minimal irrigation, the vineyards are planted to seventeen varieties, with Cabernet Sauvignon occupying a third of the plantings. They use roughly half of their own fruit, the rest is sold to wineries such as Justin, Linne Calodo and Villa Creek. They make small lots of delicious wines. The fifty-six case Palea, a dessert wine made from Marsanne, is especially noteworthy. One of my favorite bottlings is Ditch Digger that is larger than life blend that exudes exotic spice fills and big black fruit.
Daniel and Georges Daou sold their wildly successful tech start-up to dedicate their lives to viticulture, winemaking and hospitality. They found their dream atop a majestic 2,200 foot mountain, where they built a Spanish style winery and planted their 212 acre estate. Georges takes care of marketing, while Daniels’ sole, single-minded focus is on growing world-class grapes, and producing outstanding wines. Daniel deeply believes that the region is capable of transcending the stereotype of “under $40” Cabs. His magnificent Soul of the Lion, priced at $100, is the best Bordeaux blend from the area and sells out quite quickly. I am also a big fan of Chemin de Fleurs, a white Rhône blend that is a floral and citrus paradise.
Read more about the Daou brothers here.
Douglas Hauck, a successful dentist turned vintner, bought the pastoral, picturesque property in 2007. Doug and his wife, Kim made over the historic site into a sustainable vineyard, working winery and farmhouse inn. Low yields, meticulous attention to the vineyard practices, and careful cellar treatment are the hallmarks of their craft. They specialize in Bordeaux varietals and are well-known for their magnificent Merlot. The wines are sublime, pure, concentrated and texturally superb.
Halter Ranch is a historic property that dates back to late 1880s. Notably, Ronald Reagan announced his second-term run for governor at the ranch in 1967. In 2000 a Swiss-born businessman purchased a 1,000 acre parcel with an intent to develop a vineyard, winery and wine caves. Winemaker Kevin Sass, joined Halter Ranch after eleven years at Justin Vineyards. He is dedicated to sustainability in the vineyard and low intervention the cellar. They are known for their estate grown Bordeaux and Rhône style blends .
Russell P. From’s unorthodox approach is well-known and long admired by his peers. A rebel with a cause, he has sourced fruit from over thirty stellar vineyards, include such prestigious sources as Bien Nacido, Larner, Shadow Canyon, Stolpman, and White Hawk. His wines are hugely expressive, beastly creatures. They are exhilarating in a way that had to be experienced. With personality to spare, From doesn’t do anything halfway. I believe that if he and another Russell, (a winemaker from North Coast with similar approach of “no holds barred”) Russell Bevan, had a love wine child it would spontaneously explode in the glass.
Justin was started by Justin Baldwin in 1981 with the goal of crafting world-class wines. His first wines were released in 1987, a decade later Wine Spectator bestowed 1997 Justin Isosceles a #6 spot on their annual Top 100 list. Besides countless award winning wines, Justin Vineyards and Winery now features a restaurant (specializing in freshest ingredients and local wines) and a boutique hotel, cleverly called Just Inn. Well known for their reds, I particularly love their ultra low production Syrah, Focus. Also, look for their 2014 Sauvignon Blanc, it’s a superb offering and a great value. I buy it by the case.
Linne Calodo was founded in 1998 by Matt and Maureen Trevisan, and was a runaway hit from day one. The wine’s signature assertiveness wowed critics, consumers and the trade. Matt’s minimal interventionist style emphasizes fruit ripeness and results in powerful, concentrated wines with rich, opulent texture and voluptuous mouth feel. His creative blends had earned him cult status. My favorite, a Mouvedre based blend of Syrah, Grenache and Tannat, named Martyr, is an outstanding effort. Notes of wet earth and tobacco waft from the glass, baking spices and cassis tease the senses. This wine will easily lay down for decades, if you have the patience to wait.
Niner Wine Estates founder Richard Niner, grew up on a farm in rural West Virginia. After a thirty year business career, he found himself in San Luis Obispo county and fell in love with agriculture all over again. The result is a gorgeous, state-of-the-art winery and three vineyards: Bootjack, Heart Hill, and Jespersen (located in the Edna Valley AVA.) Winemaker Patrick Muran crafts wines of purity, authenticity and bright varietal character. Richard has partnered with renowned Chef Maegen Loring, who creates brilliant food and wine pairings for the winery.
Justin Smith began his journey as a vintner humbly in 2002 with planting of a single block of Syrah. Years later, having earned the #1 spot on the Wine Spectator Top 100 list, Saxum enjoys a cult following. Justin produces small lots of handcrafted, highly allocated wines. He practices low intervention methodologies in the cellar and sustainable farming techniques in the vineyards. The fruit comes from the area’s most famous vineyards: Broken Stones, James Berry, Bone Rock, Booker, Paderewski, Heart Stone, and Terry Hoage.
An iconic brand, Tablas Creek is credited with popularizing Rhône varietals in the region. The winery is the result of a partnership between Robert Haas, a famed wine importer and the Perrin family of Chateau de Beaucastel. The budwood for their vineyards was flown in from Beaucastel, which took three years for USDA clearance. Today, there is a nursery on site, with a grafting program that is the source for much of the area’s plantings of Mouvedre, Grenache, Counoise, Roussanne, and Marsanne. The winemaking practices of the estate are quite traditional and focus on unique and proprietary blends.
Robert Murray has been farming the area for decades. After working with stone fruit in Hawaii, he began growing grapes for boutique wineries in Central Coast. After producing stellar fruit for others, it was only a matter of time before he launched his own brand. One of his fruit sources is the stunning Mossfire Ranch, which was originally planted in 1996 to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Tempranillo and Zinfandel. His other properties include Murmur Ranch and Tolliver. Farmer first and vintner second, Robert doesn’t take chances in the vineyard. Meticulously farmed, using low intervention techniques, his vineyards produce notable fruit. Labeled under “Force of Nature” and “Tooth and Nail” brands, their extensive portfolio of wines are invariably tasty and reasonably priced.
The Turley brand has become synonymous with California cult Zinfandel. Larry Turley started Turley cellars in 1993, utilizing old vines and producing fruit forward, unapologetic, Zins and Petite Syrah; wine that boldly reflected the vineyard’s personalities. Today, Turley’s portfolio of thirty wines, from thirty-five vineyards, is stronger that ever. Talented winemaker, Tegan Passalacqua, shares Larry’s passion for crafting wine from old vines and is a founding member of the Historic Vineyard Society. Their wines continue to enjoy cult status and are sold via mailing list by allocation only.
In addition to sourcing fruit from their own, soon to be launched estate, named Maha, Villa Creek purchases fruit from such prominent vineyards as Denner, James Berry, Luna Matta, Bassetti, and Gibbs. Their own vineyard, planted to Rhône varietals, is farmed organically and bio-dynamically. They produce a wide variety of uncommon varietals such as Aglianico, Mouvedre, Fiano, Roussanne and Grenache Blanc. A visit to Paso isn’t complete without a meal at their namesake restaurant, Villa Creek which features one of the area’s best wine lists.
One of the best ways to discover Paso’s Cabernet diversity is an event called Paso Cab Collective which takes place in May.
My favorite hotel in the area is the historic Paso Robles Inn, I highly recommend that you stay in one of the eighteen vintner themed suites. Indulge in a mineral springs hot tub right on your own patio, with a glass of wine from your favorite brand. My stay in the Daou Suite was most memorable.
Paso Robles is an easy three hour drive from the San Francisco Bay Area and is a must visit for any wine lover. Whether you are fan of full bodied reds or aromatic whites, you will find lots to enjoy. The area’s gorgeous pastoral vistas, rolling hills, ocean breezes and fantastic food will keep you coming back for more.