When I think of Paso Robles, California, I visualize rolling hills with giant oak trees scattered throughout the countryside. The nearby Pacific Ocean provides an accommodating breeze, and variations in elevation offer the perfect atmosphere for entrepreneurial families to create new wineries and distilleries. The explosion of new wineries and distilleries has surprised even locals. A recent count revealed 300-plus wineries are now dotting the area.
During a recent sponsored visit, a phenomenon revealed itself repeatedly. Instead of wineries competing, they help each other in every way, believing they will thrive together. Frankly, from my visit, it appears to be working well, for nary a negative word was uttered about others. It was amazing how often I was referred to another winery to taste a newly released wine or directed to see the spectacular grounds I may have missed had I been exploring on my own.
Here are the experiences that made my time in Paso Robles wine country so delightful.
1. A Great Reservation System
We have all been there, standing at a long bar in a tasting room, vying for the server’s attention to refill our glass and regale us with the information about what she was about to pour. Often the longer the bar, the longer the wait to get attention.
Now Paso Robles wineries use a reservation system. You go to the winery’s site to make a reservation for the day and time you plan to arrive. Thus, they know the number of staff members they will need. As a result, you are often called by name when you walk in the door and are escorted to a seating area.
2. Bountiful Private Seating
With noon rapidly approaching and the sun shining brightly, I pulled into the Hope Family Winery parking lot and noticed a nondescript building. Alongside it were barista tables with umbrellas dotting the entire building length.
Since I had a reservation, I was greeted by the wine steward and escorted down a path around a hedge and into a lovely seating area. Think outdoor lounge sofas with comfy gray cushions and red umbrellas.
Sitting down, I noted a wineglass and bottle waiting for me. Even more impressive was a table sign: “Welcome, Kathy Condon.” The wine steward shared the history of this 23-year-old winery that produces high-end hand-crafted wines. Once again, it came up that they work with their neighbors by renting/loaning their land and sharing varieties of grapes to enable wineries to develop new blends.
Alas, it was time for me to go. The steward smiled and revealed that because of the individual seating areas, their biggest issue now is getting people to move on so they can invite others to have the same experience. Thus, the reason for the barista tables I saw coming in. After an individualized wine tasting, people can move to them and continue their winetasting adventures. As for that non-descript building, it is a well-appointed wine-tasting room used during cooler days.
3. Lunch Overlooking The Hills And Valleys
Sometimes when an organization puts an attraction on your schedule, you wonder about their wisdom as you wind your way on a narrow two-lane road through Salina Valley. Then Google Maps tells you to make a right up a road that appears to go straight up. Thank goodness, at 1,500 feet, the area flattens out, and before me lay a beautiful Calcareous Vineyard tasting room building perched near the edge of the hill.
With lunchtime rapidly approaching, and after browsing the menu, I asked to be seated outside in the beautiful landscape gardens. An umbrella kept the noon-time sun off me while I enjoyed their 2020 Chardonnay. My New Zealand lamb lollipops, marinated and grilled, topped with a mint pesto, and served with a garden salad, were the perfect accompaniment to the wine and stunning view.
4. Wine Shine And Tin City Distillery
Located near Paso Robles, Tin City is one of the most unusual purposedly designed developments I have ever experienced. The Tin City sign loomed before me as I turned into the complex. I drove around and soon realized I was hopelessly lost, for buildings looked much the same, and narrow passageways were everywhere. Hundreds of cars lined the streets in front of the similarly-looking buildings. Apparently, Tin City was not such a hidden treasure as I thought.
After receiving directions from a deli owner, I found Wine Shine and Tin City Distillery and was happy to discover it had its own parking lot. With its roll-up door wide open in a building built of tin material, I approached and found the tasting bar lined the opening. Lined up like bowling pins, bottles of hand-crafted spirits seem out of place in this building, made entirely out of tin and holding large stainless vats.
The whole experience can be best summed up by a local who revealed she stops by here every Sunday. She enjoys the casual atmosphere and the ability to talk to the actual makers of the spirits and craft beers. My only regret: I did not have time to wander through the area. Thus, I’ll plan at least a half day to explore next time.
5. Opolo Vineyard
Little did I know when I pulled into the driveway of 300-acre Opolo Vineyard what adventure lay before me. After parking the car and walking up to the main building, I found myself on an expansive covered patio. Lining the edge was a large counter, watched over by enthusiastic staff taking food orders. Unfortunately, I wasn’t hungry, for the word is their wood-fired pizza is outstanding.
A former barn has been repurposed as their gift shop, and the tasting room is off to the right. They have retained a long tasting bar to the right of the entrance. It was noticeable how visitors tended to strike up conversations with each other as they sipped the various wine flights.
Management has developed unusual events to draw people to the vineyard instead of resting on the laurels of its wine and newly developing spirits line. They understand the need to keep friends accompanying wine aficionados involved, so they all will walk away with either new knowledge or an experience they never had before at a vineyard.
One of the events Opolo has perfected is a wine blending evening. A large room lined with barrels is the backdrop for an evening of dining and creating your wine blend. Barrels of wine ready to be bottled are equipped with a spigot. Using provided glasses, you can taste wine from each of the barrels. Then you decide if you want to blend one, two, or more wines. Once you decide on your blend, you name it. Then it is bottled and professionally labeled. I will leave it up to your imagination the names on the bottles as patrons exit the room!
Seating options at Robert Hall Patio and Event Center
Photo credit: Kathy Condon
6. Robert Hall Vineyard
Robert Hall had a successful career, yet his passion for wine kept him envisioning a world-class winery. Once he found the land in Paso Robles, he left Minnesota to implement his vision. Today, this beautiful vineyard is a gathering place for the community. A patio touches the vineyards, and superb food and award-winning wines pair perfectly with the farm-fresh food. Check their calendar for the events showcasing local musicians.
As previously mentioned, the Paso Robles community shares its land, vines, and information with other vintners. However, this vineyard also makes an impact on our environment. Robert Hall Winery has received the prestigious California Sustainable Vineyard Alliance Certification. They take education to a new level as they hold seminars and have become an authority on Regenerative Viticulture, which uses biodynamic farming techniques and compares results with other sustainably farmed vineyards. In addition, the vineyard has installed solar so that the sun provides 92 percent of the energy needed during the harvest season. As for the wine, oh my, no wonder they are known worldwide for their award-winning wines.
7. Disc Golf
A beautiful vine-covered archway greets you as you walk to the tasting room of the Castoro Cellars Vineyard. The expansive patio sits beside the vines where you can have lunch and slowly sip your wine on a sunny California afternoon. If you prefer to sit inside, barista tables with tall stools offer a place for intimate conversations with your friends.
Have you heard of disc golf? If not, here is your chance to learn about this competitive sport, though beginners are welcome. Through the vines is an 18-hole course. Instead of golf balls, players throw a disc (frisbee) into an elevated basket. You can expect lots of laughter from novice players. Professional players from throughout the world come here for disc golf tournaments, for it is considered one of the best courses in the world.
Yes, the experiences listed are heavy on wine and distilleries. Paso Robles proudly accepts its role as a destination where people come to relax and play. Do you need a weekend away with your partner? Are you planning a girls’ or guys’ getaway? Decided to have a reunion with college friends? Consider Paso Robles, where you are assured you will be drinking great wine in a variety of atmospheres that show off California’s Central Coast Wine Country at its best.
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