Four Days of Wine Tasting in the Central Coast

If you read my last blog, you know that we spent the first two days of our tasting in the Edna and Arroyo Grande Valleys. Staying in San Luis Obispo made for a great central location to reach as far south as Santa Barbara County or as far north as Paso Robles. Either direction was only about an hour drive to get to a wine tasting region.

Tasting at Lone Madrone
When we do our trips, we are pretty structured for Friday and Saturday, but Sunday is the day we roll the dice, and see where we end up. On this Sunday, we decided to drive north to Paso Robles. During our Friday tasting with Ryan Deovlet, he suggested that we visit McPrice-Meyers Winery on Adelaida Road, in Paso Robles. So, we headed north, and got to the winery about 10:30, only to find out they don’t open until 11:00am. After a quick search on the phone, we saw that Lone Madrone opened at 10:00. Just a few more minutes up the road, and we were at the tasting bar. It has been a few years since I was last at Lone Madrone, and this is a new location for them, versus my last visit. One of our objectives was to find some Rose, late in the season. No luck here. Their Rose is very good, but sold out over a month ago. Since our group was small, and there was no one else in the tasting room, we got all the attention from the staff, and basically tasted whatever was available. Lone Madrone has a mix of wines, from single variety to blends. There is a nice gift shop and outdoor area that overlooks the rolling hills.

Tasting room at McPrice-Meyers
We next headed back down the road to McPrice-Meyers. When we arrived, we were surrounded by a number of dogs, who “escorted” us into the tasting room. Once again, we were the only ones in the tasting room. McPrice-Meyers specializes in Rhone varieties from Santa Barbara and Paso Robles, as well as Zinfandel.. All the wines were well-balanced, fruit forward, and complex. Some will make great wines for cellaring, while others were ready to drink now, or at least within the next couple years. As was the case with many wineries this weekend, they had been up early, harvesting grapes, so we were invited into the winery and tasted some of the freshly picked grapes, among the stacks for wine barrels.  Great wines from a winery I had not heard of prior. We’ll be back.


We decided to take the long route to our next wine stop, driving down Vineyard road to get back to Hwy 46. We passed so many good wineries along the way: Daou, Adelaida, Halter Ranch, Thacher, Whalebone, etc. We made a quick stop at Niner Winery, to see if Dick Niner happened to be around (I used to work with Dick back in the 90’s).We found out that Dick is spending most of his time in Jackson Hole, and his son has taken over most of the operations.
ONX tasting room
We made a stop for lunch at the Firestone Brewery. Lunch and a beer were on order before we headed south to “Tin City”. Now I spend a lot of time in Paso Robles, but I had never been to “Tin City”. It is a warehousing complex with numerous wineries and breweries. You can park in one spot and walk to around. My first impression was that this was an answer to Lompoc’s Wine Ghetto. It is somewhat off the beaten path, but there is somewhere around 20 wineries, breweries and distilleries located in this compact area. Most of the wineries are producing their wines on site, so there is an opportunity to meet the winemaker at the tasting room.

Our first stop was at ONX Winery. I had been seeing some reviews of these wines in Wine Spectator magazine, so wanted to give them a try. The tasting room is very modern, and the tasting staff was willing to pour whatever we wanted to try. The ONX vineyards are located not too far away in Templeton. The grape varieties range from Rhone to Pinot Noir, to Bordeaux blends and even Tempranillo and Zinfandel. These are mostly big wines. Lots of concentrated, extracted fruit, and full bodied. But not all….they had a wonderful, light Rose of Tempranillo…the only rose we found on this trip. Each of the wines are given unique names and labels. This is a very modern feeling tasting room, versus the previous wineries that were more an extension of the vineyard.

Powell Mountain Cellars with Bill Powell
At the suggestion of the ONX tasting staff, our next stop was just one the next road up in the Tin City area. We met with Bill Powell, the owner/winemaker for Powell Mountain Cellars. Bill was getting ready to shut down for the day, when we walked in, but he was happy to share his wines, and his passion, with us. He was also happy to tout his wines, and tell us about each one. These are all handcrafted, small production wines, ranging from single variety, to Rhone and Bordeaux blends, as well as Tempranillo and Primitivo.  Powell Mountain wines are more terroir driven versus next door at ONX.  It was a nice contrast between the two wine styles. Bill is also quite the salesman, as I think we all walked out with at least five bottles of wine!

Just a quick recap of Tin City…if you want to do one stop tasting, and hit a lot of wineries, this is a good option. If you prefer to taste where the grapes are grown, and see the vineyards, this might not be your spot. I prefer to taste at the vineyard, but in most cases, this is the only place where you can try some of these wineries, as they don’t have tasting rooms at their vineyard.

Powell Mountain Cellars tasting room
We ended the day at Novo Restaurant Lounge. This was one of the top rated restaurants in the area. We all met back up and shared our tasting “finds” for the day, and recapped stories. As it turned out, everyone in our group headed north to Paso Robles. Novo is a unique restaurant. I did not realize that it was outdoor seating, when I made the reservations. It just so happened that this night was the only night that we got a little bit of drizzle. The outdoor heaters did help. The setting is great. The food was good, but not what I expected. There was a mix of different items, making it hard to determine what I would describe their cuisine as. Lots of noodle dishes. I guess I would call it Asian fusion”, but the menu is really all over the place.

Bladder press at Dragonette Cellars
On Monday, we headed back south. We had scheduled a stop at Dragonette Cellars winery (not the tasting room). Due to the odd weather we were experiencing, John and Brandon were unable to meet with us, but Steve Dragonette was there. We tried some of the freshly press juice, and went through a full tasting of wines, including one library wine, with Jessica guiding the tasting.. What can I say? I always enjoy Dragonette Cellars. I have been a fan since I first tried them around 10 years ago, and have written about them many times.

Our last stop was in Solvang, where we stopped at Eco-wine furniture. They make a number of items out of used wine barrels. Their prices are better than what you find on line, and they can even personalize any item, if you want to give it as a gift. A great little find.

A final toast to our friend Manny at Talley Vineyards
My hope with these four day weekend recaps is that it gives you some ideas, some suggestions, and maybe some new places to visit. There are lots of great places to visit in the central coast. Good restaurants, good hotels (expensive and inexpensive) and obviously good wine, and the great winemakers that go along with them.

Wine Tasting in the Edna Valley

We left early on a Friday morning, hoping to avoid the Los Angeles traffic. No luck. The drive to the California Central Coast is always a nice one, particularly once you get past the traffic in the San Fernando Valley. As we reached Santa Barbara, we head up over the San Marcos pass, and down into Santa Ynez. The recent fires in the hills above the valley were scorched and burned, all the way down to Lake Cachuma. We continue up the coast to San Luis Obispo, and arrived in time to grab lunch at Pluto’s, before getting to our first winery of the 4-day weekend. This was the beginning of our annual wine club trip, and the focus was on the Edna Valley and Arroyo Grande Valley.

Before checking into the Best Western Royal Oak, we drove out to Edna Valley in search of some of the oldest vines in California. While the vines are actually located in Arroyo Grande Valley, the tasting room for Saucelito Canyon Wines is in Edna Valley. My intent was to try the Zinfandel from the Ditmas Vineyard at Rancho Saucelito, which were planted in 1880. They claim these are the fourth oldest vines still remaining in California. Unfortunately, there is such limited supply of the 1880 Zinfandel, it is not available for tasting. But, you can purchase it, which I did. The tasting room at Saucelito Canyon is a quaint little building off of Biddle Ranch Road, with a little Pug dog running around the tasting room. There is plenty of outside seating with views of Islay Hill.

with Ryan Deovlet
Our next stop was a specially arranged tasting with Ryan Deovlet of Deovlet Wines. I met Ryan through some other winemaker friends of mine. They told me about what he was doing, and that I had to meet him. They have never steered me wrong, and this time was no exception. Deovlet Wines has a tasting room in Templeton, but his winery is located in San Luis Obispo, and most of his fruit comes from Santa Barbara County. Ryan has been around the wine industry for a number of years, and worked with (and learned from) some of the best. While you may not have heard of Deovlet wines (yet), you have heard of the other winery he is the winemaker for: Refugio Ranch. With Deovlet Wines, Ryan is producing his own label of mainly Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, sourced from some of the best vineyards in the Sta. Rita Hills and Santa Maria Valley. He also produces a wine called Sonny Boy, and homage to his grandfather, that is a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Ryan had been up since the wee hours of the morning, as harvest was in full swing, yet his enthusiasm and joy for making good wine was not exhausted. You can taste the passion in his wines, and the stories behind how he made it to where he is today were inspiring. Watch for his wines, and seek them out.

Burrata appetizer
Our group gathered for dinner at the Foremost Wine Company. We were seated in the wine room. The menu offered a mix of locally sourced, farm to table, items. The appetizers were very artistic in presentation, and just as tasty…particularly the fresh Burrata.  Everyone in our group ordered something different for an entrée. The only negative about the menu was that the dessert descriptions did not match what was ultimately served. The wine list was fairly extensive, and the pricing was very good.

On Saturday morning, we all met up for the complimentary breakfast offered by the Best Western, then gathered in the lobby to meet our driver for the day. As I normally do, I hired a tour company to take us around for the day. This year, we used Breakaway Tours. Jill Gillespie has a lot of connections in the wine region, and was able to schedule a day with the winemakers of some of the smallest wineries to one of the largest. We had four wine tasting set up for the day, along with a lunch. Our driver, Rich, arrived right on time, and we loaded up for the day.

with Mike Sinor
Our first stop was in Avila Beach, where we met with Cheri LaValle. She and her husband Mike Sinor own and run Sinor-LaValle. Cheri poured the wines, and began telling us how they started their winery. About a half hour in, Mike showed up and filled in the gaps with many stories about the wine industry, how they got to where they are, and his love for Burgundy. That Burgundian style of terroir driven wines, is what Mike looks for in his Pinot Noirs, Syrah, and Chardonnay Mike is another of those winemakers that also works are a larger, well known winery. He is the winemaker for Ancient Peaks (I winery I have been a fan of for years). All of the Sinor-LaValle wines are produced from grapes grown at the Bassi Vineyard, a little over a mile from the Pacific Ocean. They offer three different styles of each grape variety through their White Label, Black Label, and SLO Estate bottlings. Mike is also bottling a pétillant naturel wine (also known as “Pet Nat”) - a lightly sparkling wine, with a crown cap closure. Unfortunately, there wasn’t any available to taste at the time we were there. Oh, and if you are wondering about the design on their label….it is actually their thumbprint.

Tasting in the backyard at Chêne
We drove around Avila Beach, then headed back into the Edna Valley, and found our next winery located on a hill, overlooking the Edna Valley. Chêne Vineyards didn’t show up on any of the local information pamphlets, but picking up a 2017-2018 Visitor Brochure, you can now find them. David and Lisa Platt opened up there house, and backyard to our group, and allowed us to taste their small production wines.  There was a large picnic table set up in the backyard, overlooking the Edna Valley. They produce their wines at the Center of Effort winery, which was visible from their property. The house is surrounded by 6.2 acres of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vineyards.  Both David and Lisa are pilots, but have found the time to hand harvest their grapes, and produce wines with limited intervention. They rely on natural yeasts, and organic farming. Production is only a few hundred cases. The results are a truly unique and personal tasting experience. If you visit them, make an appointment, and don’t expect to pick up your wine at their house. Our wine was boxed and delivered to our hotel by the time we returned later that afternoon. Also, check out the menagerie of animals on the property. I won’t give it away, but their daughters have some unique pets.

So, we’ve been to two smaller operations. Now, we headed to the Arroyo Grande Valley, and visited one of the largest wineries in the area: Talley Vineyards. This was not my first tasting at Talley, and I’ve written about them before. We were given a private tasting room, and went through about five or six wines. They specialize in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but my favorite on this visit was their Bishop’s Peak Elevation (a red Bordeaux blend). As we were leaving, we admired all the cilantro and peppers that were growing outside the building. We walked into the little farmers stand to see what was offered and ran into Brian Talley. I commented on all the cilantro and the wonderful smell in the air. Thinking that Talley had built their farming on cilantro, I was told by Brian that his father and grand-father were both allergic to cilantro, and didn’t grow it….learned something new there.

Goofing around for a group photo at El Lugar
Our last stop of the day took us back by the San Luis Obispo airport, and a group of warehouse buildings. We drove around a bit looking for El Lugar winery, but couldn’t find anything. Then, we noticed a small winery sign in front of The Petal Club.  It ends up that Coby Parker-Garcia conducts his wine tastings out of his wife’s floral business. She was out doing a wedding, so tasting duties and storytelling fell on Coby. My first thought was that I knew him from somewhere. After some discussion, I knew where. Coby is also the winemaker at Claiborne & Churchill Winery. We had met a few years back while tasting at their winery. El Lugar only makes Pinot Noir, including a Pinot Noir Blanc. Once again, the passion of the small producers comes through in their wine. 2013 was the first vintage for El Lugar, so this is still a small production startup. Knowing what Coby has done at Clairborne & Churchill, watch for El Lugar.

Group dinner at Cafe Roma
We ended Saturday with a group dinner on the patio of Café Roma, in San Luis Obispo. Handmade pastas, farm to table ingredients and a wine list full of local and Italian wines. The wine list is extensive and reasonably priced. The entrée and appetizer choices were varied and delicious. A great way to end a Saturday in the Edna Valley.

Read the next blog for a continuation of a four day weekend.