Three perfect days in Paso Robles 5 min read

Paso Robles is home to over 200 wineries, 95 percent of which are family owned. The area is home to many cult producers, such as Saxum, Linne Calodo, Villa Creek, Justin and the long-revered Tablas Creek. Some of the area’s newer boutique producers, such as Denner and Booker Vineyards, have been gaining momentum, occupying prominent spots in many domestic Rhone lover’s cellars.My most recent visit to Paso Robles differed from my usual wine-focused schedule. It featured an itinerary that required closed-toe shoes and a harness! This trip’s purpose was to explore other riches of the region in addition to wine. My day started at Barrel House Brewing Company, a rather charming artisanal brewery. They knocked my socks off with concoctions such as Templeton Session Style Ale, with its seductive gooseberry and exotic aromatics that was reminiscent of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Also noteworthy was their bourbon barrel-aged “Curly Wolf ” Imperial Stout, with its full body and bold, opulent flavors. 


The owners have created a playful atmosphere. They take their craft very seriously, but not themselves. I had an opportunity to barrel-taste young beers and to meet “Bob,” the resident skeleton.  Hunched over a table, Bob clearly had a few sips too many! I am not an avid beer drinker, however, after tasting a dozen of their delicious and creative beers, I would gladly rush back.


Bob the Skeleton

Barrel Houses’s very own skeleton named Bob.


I then moved on to an activity that had caused me significant trepidation over the preceding few days—zip-lining at historic Santa Margarita Ranch.


Santa Margarita is one of the oldest, continuously operated, cattle ranches in the state. The ranch was established in the late 1700s as part of Father Junipero Serra’s famed Mission Trail.  Father Serra planted the ranch with Spanish Mission grapes, a varietal that dominated wine production in the area until the 1880’s. The area’s Ancient Peaks Winery, Margarita Adventures and Santa Margarita Ranch are now owned by third generation ranching and grape growing dynasties: the Filipponis, Rossis, and Wittstroms.


At Margarita Adventures, an explorer can take a break from wine tasting and zoom down five separate zip lines spanning over 3,000 feet, culminating in the 1,800 foot section that soars over a lovely Pinot Noir vineyard. Admittedly, my prior idea of extreme sport was more along the lines of tasting a few dozen wines on the same day, so this adventure was well out of my comfort zone. I found myself being strapped into a stout harness, outfitted with helmet and gloves, and being told to “have fun” as I stepped off a perfectly good concrete ledge into a free fall. I am happy to report that my fears were unfounded and I had a boatload of fun. The staff was very friendly and supportive, so novices such as myself felt quite comfortable.


Stepping off of the ledge is a metaphor for life. Just let go, embrace the thrill, and allow the cable to carry you to safety. It was a liberating experience.


After my adrenaline-filled adventure, I moved on to the Ancient Peaks Tasting and Blending Experience at the Margarita Vineyard. The name, Ancient Peaks, refers to the mountain peaks that surround the vineyard, formed by a collision of tectonic plates. My gracious host, winemaker Mike Sinor, discussed the unique aspects of grape growing challenges of this spectacular site. He provided a mini-tutorial on blending; utilizing the examples of their flagship wines: Renegade and Oyster Ridge. As a very special treat, I was provided with an assortment of varietal components  (Zinfandel, Syrah, Petit Verdot and Cabernet) and challenged to create my very own blend, which then was bottled, corked and labeled right before me. The name for my blend? Writer’s Block, of course!




My last stop was at Thomas Hill Organics Bistro and Wine Bar, a restaurant that focuses on organic produce and sustainably raised meats. They specialize in lower-alcohol, yet delicious, cocktails made with organic vodka and sake. I had a great meal of stuffed peppadew peppers, rock crab cakes, seared duck breast, pistachio crusted lamb and chocolate marquise paired with wines from Lone Madrone, Austin Hope and Tablas Creek Vineyard.


​Peppadews at Thomas Hill Organics

​Peppadews at Thomas Hill Organics


The next day started with an extensive tasting at Vivant Fine Cheese, located in the heart of Paso Robles. Vivant sells cheese from around the world with emphasis on local artisanal purveyors. My favorite was the incredibly creamy marinated chevre.


Next on my agenda was a visit to Villa San-Juliette Winery, owned by former American Idol producers, Nigel Lythgoe and Ken Warwick. If you ever watched their hilarious documentary, “Corkscrewed – the Wrath of Grapes” highlighting their first hairy experiences as gentlemen farmers, you would be pleased to see just how well things turned out. It’s a beautiful property that produces very good wines.




Summer Wine and Tapas Affair at the historic and haunted! Paso Robles Inn, sponsored by Daou Vineyards, was marvelous.  Daniel Daou’s wines never cease to impress. Made with passion and authenticity they emanate the winemaker’s vision and commitment to excellence. Loved the 2012 Rose, 2012 Grenache Blanc and 2013 Chenin de Fleurs – summer in a glass and then some!


Daniel Daou

Daniel Daou


All in all, it was very apparent that there is much more to Paso Robles than wineries and restaurants. It’s a place that has something for everyone. Whether you choose to take in the lovely grounds, or introduce yourself to the resident ghost at Paso Robles Inn, partake in thrilling adventures such as zip lining or simply stroll around the square, checking out the fascinating local shops, you are certain to find lots to do and experience.

Ilona Thompson

Ilona Thompson is Editor-in-Chief at PalateXposure, a destination site for oenophiles, gourmands and luxury travelers. She also recently launched #Wine, a site dedicated to wines and spirits reviews, and #Photography, a site devoted to high-quality wine, food, and travel related photography.

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