Four More Days in Paso Robles (Days 1 and 2)

September is typically harvest time for grape growers in California. This year, we looked forward to visiting Paso Robles, in the Central Coast, and experience the flurry of activity that is grape harvest. Plans had been made back in March, to experience our eleventh season of wine tasting as the Arrowhead Wine Enthusiasts Club. Group reservations were made for a hotel, restaurants were arranged, and a list of wineries was put together for Saturday.

We left Southern California early on Friday morning, and headed up Highway 5 to the Highway 46 exit. As we approached Paso Robles, the temperature began rising. By the time we got to the center of town, and met up with a portion of our group for lunch, it was 100 degrees. The weekend promised to be on the warm (or should I say “hot”) side. We grabbed a not-so-quick bite at Good Ol’ Burgers, and then headed to The Oaks Hotel.

Our group of 22 people were all to meet at 3:00, at a pre-scheduled winery. We had a bit of time before meeting up, so we headed to Broken Earth Winery, located on the east side, just off Hwy 46. The tasting room is located in a large leased building. They produce estate grown wines, but their vineyard is on the far northeast side of Paso Robles. The tasting room offers cheese and chocolate pairings with their wines (at an additional cost). There is also a café located on the property. This all may change in the future, as we learned they will be moving to the Tin City area with a new tasting room. Maury was pouring wines for us, and was a wealth of knowledge; not only about the wines he was serving, but about local wineries we needed to visit. The tasting included numerous varieties and styles. In general, I found the wines as good, but nothing really outstanding. I did purchase two of their limited release wines: 2012 Petit Sirah and 2015 Grenache.

Our arranged tasting was at Barr Estates. I had met Greg and Tealy Barr years before, and have kept in touch over the years. There was some concern about a large group coming in during harvest, but as it turned out, most of the harvest had been delayed two to three weeks, due to the excessive heat. Above 98 degrees, the vines shut down, and ripening comes to a halt. So, only some white wine grapes had been harvested, and the staff had plenty of time to spend with us in the vineyard and the winery.

Barr Estates is a family-owned and operated vineyard, located on about 60 acres. They grow seven different grape varieties, produce well-crafted wines. From a crisp, aromatic Albarino, to the dark and spicy Primitivo, to the smooth and sexy Petit Verdot…you can’t go wrong with wine purchases at Barr. We coaxed a couple extra tastings of Petit Verdot and Sangiovese when the group thinned out a bit. All wines are priced under $30, and are great values. I walked out with a mixed case of Albarino, Jubilado, Petit Verdot, Cabernet, and Primitivo. Great wine, and even nicer people. Check out Barr Estates.

It was now late afternoon, and all 22 of our group had safely arrived in Paso Robles. We broke up into groups for the dinners. Some headed off to Firestone Brewery for dinner, and my group of eight headed to Cello Ristorante, located in the Ayres Allegretto Vineyard Resort. This is a gorgeous hotel restaurant. The atmosphere was Mediterranean. A guitarist was strumming and singing songs at the entrance. The dinner menu met all the requirements of our group, from vegetarians to meat lovers. The wine list included wines by the glass, and bottle from both the Old World, and a nice selection of local wines. The only common complaint from the group was that the food was over seasoned. I’d still recommend checking them out.

Saturday morning came, and many of us met for the included breakfast, at the hotel restaurant. By 9:45 our tour bus from Breakaway Tours met us in front of the hotel, and we were loaded in, and headed to our 10:00 appointment at Alta Colina Winery.

Alta Colina is located along Adelaida Road, and is only a short drive from the hotel. The wines are all produced from estate grown vineyards. Of the 130 acres owned, only 31 are planted with vines.  The vineyards above the winery (out of site), on steep slopes. So steep, that they could only be hand-harvested. The Tillman family grows 8 Rhone grape varieties (4 white and 4 red). Production is small: less than 5,000 cases. The red wines are full bodied, and luscious. I picked up their Grenache and GSM.

Grafting vines at Tablas Creek
The next stop was at Tablas Creek Vineyards. I am always a little wary of the large wineries. Sometimes I find larger producers lose focus. So, I was pleasantly surprised at Tablas Creek. Not only did we get a wonderful tour of the winery and vineyards, we were educated on grafting, and the historical role that Tablas Creek had on the entire Rhone movement in Paso Robles. Many of the “mother vines” from the original vine cuttings from France are visible in the pots around the tasting room. The wines were extraordinary examples of Rhone style wines. Wine lovers can taste traditional blends, or individual varieties, including such unusual grapes as Counoise, Picardan, Picpoul, and Terret Noir. I had been hearing about their Tannat wine, but unfortunately they were out. 

We had lunch on their open patio, outfitted with tables, chairs and umbrellas. The winery offers reusable canteens of chilled water for those visiting the property.

Wine tasting at Brecon
Our next stop was at a small winery run by a Welsh man, and Australian: Brecon Estate. Our group met out on the lawn area, a bit away from the tasting room. While many in our group didn’t feel they were given much attention, I had long conversations with Amanda, learning about her and her husband; their caving passion, and love for wine. The Albarino was crisp and aromatic, and the Rhone white was heavier and more complex. The Red were big, bold and age worthy. One unusual blend was Zinfandel with Tannat. A nice blend.

Our last stop for the day was at Four Lanterns. For those of you who have been tasting in Paso Robles for a while, you will recognize their tasting room as the old location for Lone Madrone and Kenneth Volk. Here again, we were at a family run winery. The specialty at Four Lanterns is both Rhone and Bordeaux style wines. After a day of heavier wines, the wines here were lighter in style. The Grenache was lighter with a bit more acidity than other wineries of the day. We also encountered our first dessert wine of the day: a late harvest Viognier. The owner, Jackie Gleason was pouring for our group, and two other groups that followed us in.

We arrived back at the hotel around 5:00, and dinner reservations were for ten people at 6:30. So, we had a little time to spend after getting all our wine purchase back to the room. The hotel offers wine and olive oil tastings in the lobby on Friday and Saturday afternoons. This evening, the owner of Four Sisters winery was pouring her wines. While I didn’t do a full tasting of her wines, I did try the Tempranillo, Zinfandel, and Cabernet Blend. She was unable to sell wines directly, but they were available at the hotel bar, and the winery.

Dinner was in downtown Paso Robles at the Fish Gaucho. This is where the younger crowd hangs out. We were seated next to bridesmaid party, and the entire restaurant was hopping with activity. The fresh seafood was excellent and served quickly…maybe too quickly, as we felt they were trying move everyone along. Beware that this Mexican style restaurant doesn’t include chips and salsa when you sit down, and be prepared – a side of guacamole will cost you. It is noisy too. Very good seafood, but I’d recommend sitting on the outside porch is noisy, crowded restaurants aren’t your thing.

Check back for the continuation to days three and four, as we discover some outstanding new wineries in the Paso Robles area.