Kirk and Cathy get a break today because Ed (from Yuma) wants to take the reader on a wine tasting experience in Paso Robles.
About 30 years ago when I moved to California, I discovered tasting at wineries, one of the true pleasures available to Californians who enjoy wine. Don't worry, this blog post will not be full of pictures of wine bottles and glasses of wine. Most wine in a glass looks like most any other wine in the same glass. And no one goes wine tasting just to look at the bottles. I will also try hard to avoid wine babble as much as I can.
Instead, I just want to share a recent wine tasting adventure up in Paso Robles.
Tina and I had left the San Gabriel Valley munching on banh mi around 11 AM and arrived in Paso around 3 PM. We met up with Steve and Helen (old friends from Monterey) and decided to head out to do a little tasting. I wanted to start at J Dusi:
The tasting room for this winery, located on Highway 46 south of Paso Robles and a little west of Highway 101, has only been open about a year, but I wanted to visit because I had had a wonderful bottle of Zinfandel from Janell Dusi’s winery with a dinner at Artisan Restaurant on my last visit to Paso. I was surprised that she herself was in the tasting room on that Monday:
Her great-grandfather originally planted Dusi vinyards in the 1920s, making them truly old vine, and Ridge winery, which has focused on making wine from classic, high quality, old vine vineyards, has made limited edition zinfandels from the fruit for dozens of years now.
Janell pointed out the differences between the two zinfandels. 2011, a cool year, produced a wine that is spicy, smooth, and complex. 2012, having warmer weather, gave a wine with a bolder more intense berry fruit flavors. OK, yeh, we could taste that.
We left that winery at around 4:30 PM, so we simply drove to Vineyard Drive and looked for tasting room that was still open. We found Jada, a winery I had never heard of previously:
We had a good time chatting with the pleasant young woman running the tasting room, and we learned that most of the grapes come from the estate vineyards which are all managed biodynamically. Almost every bottle of wine exhibited a unique blend of classic varietals. We enjoyed our visit.
The next morning, Steve, Helen, Tina, and I decided to start at Calcareous vineyards, just a few miles west of the town Paso Robles itself. This was another new winery that had been receiving a lot of favorable mention. Clearly the tasting room is a modern construction:
Kurt who was pouring in the tasting room that morning, called our attention to the white wine that began the tasting, explaining how one could taste each of the three types of grapes used in the blend – the viognier with its flowery aromas hitting the palate first, the grenache blanc providing clean smooth dry mineral flavors, and the roussane finishing with richer more buttery mouthfeel. He was right, I could taste all those things, so we made it a point to buy a bottle of this wine at the end of the tasting.
The winery also stressed that most of their grapes were grown in calcareous vineyards, the limestone stressing the grapes and producing more flavorful grape clusters. There was even a chunk of limestone rock in the tasting room:
We all felt this was a good beginning to our day of wine sampling, but it was time to go back and into Paso Robles and have lunch.
When I first tasted in the Paso Robles area in 1985, there were less than 10 wineries with tasting rooms if memory serves. I couldn't find any place for an interesting dinner. There was little to distinguish Paso Robles from other rural California towns. Now there are over 200 wineries and a vibrant restaurant scene. Our tasting theme for this year's visit was to seek out places where none of us had tasted before that we had heard good things about – or just happened to run across.
However, after lunch on Tuesday, we headed north on Highway 101 to San Marcos Road, turned left, and drove along small two-lane road for a few miles until we came to Caparone winery, two very nondescript buildings at the end of a gravel driveway. The exterior of the tasting room looked like this:
This is true old school Paso Robles. Dave Caparone started making wines in his home in the early 1970s, and began Caparone vineyards in the late 70s when he purchased the property on San Marcos Rd., planted it to Zinfandel and Italian grape varietals, and built his modest winery and storage buildings on the property.
I do not believe I have ever done a wine tasting in the Paso Robles area without stopping in at Caparone winery.
The winery, now operated by Dave's son Marc, is a family operation that focuses on producing traditional unfined and unfiltered red wines that can age for years. Look at the list for the tasting in June 2014:
A couple things stand out. First, most of the other wines we tasted on our Paso Robles adventure retailed at over $30 – that seems standard for boutique wines in the area these days. All Caparone bottles were $16 with case and half case discounts. Caparone was also the only place we went that did not have the tasting fee. Gotta love the prices.
Second, look at the vintages. At every other winery we visited, the oldest wines that were served were from 2010, and most of the bottles came from 2012 or 2011. At Caparone, the newest wine was from 2010; in other words, Caparone is now selling wines that are aged so that they they don't have to be stored to achieve their peak flavors. I know of no other winery that does that – certainly none that sells aged wine at a basic price.
Caparone was also the first winery to bottle some traditional Italian grape varietals and cultivars. For example, the Sangiovese comes from cuttings obtained from one of the outstanding vineyards in Brunello di Montalcino and, with a little bit of aging, exhibits characteristic reddish brown tones:
After tucking a few cases of Caparone wines into the car, we drove south to Lone Madrone winery, a very new winery that showcases wines made by Neil Collins, the talented winemaker at Tablas Creek – the large Franco-American winery connected with Château Beaucastel in Châteauneuf-du-Pape:
As you can see, quantities of these wines are very limited and the prices for them are pretty expensive, but the tastes were very pleasant. The four of us discussed how the blended white wine here, dominated by the roussane grape, had a distinctively different flavor profile from the one that had started our day at Calcareous.
After Steve and Helen headed back to Monterey on Wednesday, Tina and I had time to try a couple of other wineries. This time we headed south and west, taking Highway 46 westward toward the ocean, then turning right on York Mountain Road. Up there we found Epoch winery, another new boutique winery operating out of the new building:
As well as being scenic, York Mountain was the first winery in the Paso Robles area dating back to the 1880s.
Some of the grapes come from a vineyard begun by Polish statesman, pianist, and president, Ignacy Jan Paderewski.
The last winery we went to during our stay in the Paso Robles area was KennethVolk Vineyards on Highway 46 a few miles east of Epoch. After parking, a visitor walks down a little trail through the entrance:
Each of us could choose tastes of six of the wines for $10, so we were able to sample some unusual varieties (blaufrankisch or cabernet Pfeffer) , and some from unusual vineyard locations, such as San Benito County or Lime Kiln Valley. It was a nice change from the other tasting rooms we had been in and a pleasant conclusion to our tasting adventure.
All in all, Steve, Helen, Tina and I had fun exploring the Paso Robles wine region. We tried to be moderate and responsible in our consumption, particularly Tina who did most of the driving. Of course tasting the wines was fun, but just driving around the hills outside of Paso Robles, enjoying very pleasant weather, and talking with friends was a good time. Except for our visit to Caparone, we purchased very few bottles at the tasting rooms – those are usually the highest prices (outside of restaurants) that a person would have to pay for the wine. Many people spend several days in the Paso area sampling the wines and then make their purchases at the supermarket in town where many of the local wines are available at a discount price.
I realize this was a terribly long post, so if you've gotten this far, thank you for reading and I hope I have been able to convey some of the pleasures of wine tasting in Paso Robles.