Four Days in Paso Robles - Day Two

Last week, I shared our first day itinerary for our four day trip to the central coast wine country. Saturday was the only day that our entire group would be together for all the tastings. I had been working with the Wine Wrangler, in Paso Robles, to create a full day of wine tasting and education. Their largest van held 24 people and we maxed that out with our group. The planning included five wineries, and lunch, along with all the transportation.

Ranchita Canyon Tasting
Our morning started off with breakfast at Margie’s Diner, which is located right next door to the Black Oaks Hotel.  This is definitely a place to avoid if you are on a diet. Their breakfasts are huge, and what is with those egg dishes? That can't be a three egg omelet! You've been warned.

At 10:00am our van showed up and we headed out to San Miguel.  San Miguel is one of the proposed districts, within Paso Robles. It is located in the northeast corner of Paso Robles, and covers about 1,500 acres. The best I can tell, there are about 16 wineries/vineyards in the area, but only about eight have tasting rooms.

Bill Hinrichs, Ranchita Canyon
As we drove up Highway 101, we turned off at the exit to the San Miguel Mission. The Mission San Miguel Arcángel was established in 1797 by Franciscan monks, and lends its’ name to the area.

The San Miguel area has a very mild marine influence and only receives an average of 11.4 inches of annual precipitation (second lowest district in Paso Robles). This low level is largely a function of the rain shadow created by the Santa Lucia Range to the west. The area is dominated by alluvial fans, and well-defined terraces, that were formed by the Salinas and Estrella Rivers (which are completely dry due to the recent drought). Elevations range from approximately 580 (the lowest elevation within the Paso Robles AVA) to 1,600 feet. 

No "special reserve" this vintage
Our first stop of the day was at Ranchita Canyon Vineyard, where we were greeted by the owner/winemaker, Bill Hinrichs.  Ranchita Canyon Vineyard was planted in about 1970, as a “retirement plan”, according to Bill. They have south facing vineyards, on rolling hills at 1,000 to 1,400 foot elevation, with primarily chalky, calcareous soil. The Hinrich’s are farmers first, and winemakers second. Their attention to canopy management, pruning, and harvest, show in their grapes, and ultimately in their  wines. We tasted at least 15 different wines, and some members in our group helped punch down the latest grape harvest. Bill joked that if any of the women fell in while punching down the fermenting grapes, he would label that batch of wine as a “special reserve”. All their wines were well made, and worth tasting. I saw a lot of bottles purchased by our group (and this was only our first stop!). I particularly liked their Albarino and Zinfandels, and blends (“Divin”). They also made a nice “Port” wines. 

Villa San-Juliette tasting room
Our second stop was right next door at Villa San-Juliette. Villa San-Juliette is a beautiful, 14,000-square-foot Tuscan-style estate, located at the top of a 168 acre vineyard. What many may not realize is that this winery is owned by Nigel Lythgoe (American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance) and Ken Warwick (American Idol). The tasting room is very ornate, and is set up for large groups to taste, shop, and relax. The large patio was perfectly set up for our lunch break. The wine styles are rich, and express the varietal character and soil of the area. I particularly enjoyed their Reserve Rose and a blend of Malbec, Petit Verdot and Cabernet, that they call “Romantique”. As you might expect, with the expansive facility, their pricing is on the upper end, but these reds will hold in the cellar.

Silver Horse barrel room
The third stop was at Silver Horse. This small winery had the largest amount of tasters in the tasting room. Our group ended up splitting into two groups: one in the tasting room, and the rest in the cellar room.  Unfortunately, there wasn’t much discussion from the tasting room staff, about the wines. For my taste, they were too oaky. I did purchase two of their blends, as I want to see how they will work with food. I purchased the Tomori and Sage (both red blends). The higher acid levels might work well with food…time will tell.

Tasting and live music at Graveyard
Our fourth stop was at Graveyard Vineyards. Now if you are like me, you read the name, and thought this might be a gimmicky name, for average wines. You’d be wrong. As we entered the gates of this hilltop property, we passed the old Pleasant Valley Cemetery, which dates back to the 1860’s. As we arrived at the tasting room, we were directed off to the side, next to a large pond, and under the shade of a large tree. Live music was playing, and two servers poured tastes for the group. There were probably 15 wines to taste from both Graveyard and Bushong (the winemakers own label). As we worked our way through all the wines, we were presented with “special” brownies, which we learned were made with the Graveyard “Deliverance”, a chocolate infused “Port” style wine. As expected, the indoor tasting room had many graveyard related sales items, and being this close to Halloween, many of our members took advantage and purchased a few things. I purchased their Zinfandels, Chocolate Port, and an interesting Bushong blend, a rose of Tempranillo and Grenache.

Pleasant Valley Cemetery
Our final stop of the day was at J & J Cellars, a small family owned winery, that has been growing grapes for over five generations. Once again, these are farmers, that are making wine from their 114 acres of vineyards. Their indoor tasting room has a nice variety of wine related accessories, and they also have an outdoor patio, with tasting bar. Their tasting included a range of grape varieties including Malbec, Tempranillo, Zinfandel, and Barbera. While I was in purchasing a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, I was told they opened a bottle of Petite Verdot, that (as I learned after the fact) was excellent.

Outdoor patio at J&J Cellars
It was getting close to 5:00pm and time to head back to the hotel, and get ready for our dinner reservations at Bistro Laurent. We had two tables reserved on the outdoor patio, and the temperature was perfect for a summer evening in Paso Robles. Bistro Laurent never fails to amaze. This is one of the finest restaurants in the central coast wine region. We opted for the five course meal, with all courses professionally paired with wine by the Sommelier, Ian Adamo. I have written about Ian, and Chef Laurent in previous blogs, but I must say, once again, they have it all going on here. An outstanding meal, and end of day two, of our weekend in the Central Coast.

Lunch at Villa San-Juliette
If you haven’t checked out the wineries in the San Miguel area (soon to be its’ own district) I encourage you to check them out. This less traveled area is making fine wines, has less crowds, and a better opportunity to meet with the owners.

Next week, I will fill you in on what I call my “adventure day”. The day I set out to visit the wineries that winemakers suggest. Never knowing what we may find. Click here for day three.

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