Recently we spent a couple of days in the Paso Robles wine region. The three-and-a-half-hour drive makes Paso too far away for a day trip, so we planned an overnight stay. For us, wine travel in the time of COVID means looking for lodging in a small rural property and for wine tasting experiences that are outdoors. Planning ahead is essential, but the rewards are quiet, uncrowded lodging and personal wine tasting experiences. We choose quality over quantity.
Paso Robles Wine Region
Paso Robles AVA was established in 1983 and lies just inland from the Pacific Ocean and about 200 miles from both San Francisco and Los Angeles. This large wine region is extremely diverse in soil type, topography and climate as evidence by the 11 sub-AVAs that were recognized in 2014.
Warm days are cooled by afternoon breezes that blow in from the Pacific Ocean through the Templeton Gap. These breezes moderate afternoon temperatures and keep nighttime temperatures cooler in summer and fall and help preserve the grapes’ natural acidity. Paso Robles Wine Country reports that there are more than 40,000 acres of vineyards planted over the diverse terrain of Paso’s 614,000 acres. Red grape varieties predominate; Cabernet Sauvignon is the most-planted variety followed by “other reds”, Merlot, Syrah and Zinfandel. White varieties account for about 12% of plantings.
You may hear several pronunciations of Paso Robles: Paso Rob-lays (so beautiful if you can roll your Rs) or Paso Ro-bulls (probably more common, but sounds flat by comparison.) I prefer to simply say Paso. I’ve been told that’s how many locals refer to the city and the region and if they’re good with that, so am I.
Kindred Oak Farm
“A unique retreat amongst century old oaks in the heart of Paso Wine Country” perfectly describes what you will experience at Kindred Oak Farm. The four-room bed and breakfast is located off Hwy. 46 West in an oak forest at the edge of a ravine running through the property. The elevated location of the house and rooms provides views through the oak trees to open fields and vineyards beyond. One room is located on the main level of the house and three are located on the lower level. There is a comfortable common area, dining room and outdoor dining space on the main-level deck. We enjoyed breakfast on the deck each morning.
A small vineyard and orchard with a peach tree are located next to the house. Owners Lisa and Rob Peach told us when they discovered the orchard had a peach tree, they knew the property had to be theirs. Rob and Lisa purchased the property from Carolyn Stewart-Snow and Roland Snow who cared for the land for more than 20 years and established the bed and breakfast.
The property includes adorable goats, cattle, a rustic barn and outdoor kitchen. A natural amphitheater lies just beyond the barn.
Our room was quiet and comfortable. The deck was a beautiful spot to sit with a good book and a glass of Paso wine in the afternoon. There were plenty of birds to watch as the sun began to set and the colors changed on the hills and vineyards beyond.
Breakfast every morning was outstanding and started with fruit juices, made by Lisa, and French press coffee. Fresh, seasonal fruit or tomato salad, poached egg with hash, porridge were all delicious. A highlight was a taste of North Africa with a chickpea, cucumber and arugula salad then a warming Shakshouka. A fabulous start to every day!
Proprietors Brian and Stephanie Terrizzi share an appreciation for Italian grape varieties that has been heightened by travel in Italy. They met at CSU, Fresno where he studied enology and she enology, chemistry and plant science. Brian handles the winemaking and Stephanie manages Giornata’s estate vineyard and works as a vineyard consultant.
The winemaking style at Giornata is hands off. The Terrizzis prefer to pick earlier, rather than later, looking to preserve natural acidity, and then handle the grapes gently in the cellar. Native yeast fermentation is used and no/minimal additions are made during winemaking. Neutral oak aging is the rule rather than the exception. Grapes are sourced from a variety of Paso’s sub-AVAs
We had the option of a red wine tasting or a mixed tasting that included red and white + an orange wine. When we expressed an interest in orange wines, we were offered a look at the Fatto a Mano flight.
We were intrigued by the Fatto a Mano (made by hand) wines: all 2020 vintage, native yeast, natural sediment, drink now. The Sangiovese Rosé was a knock out, the Falanghina (90 days on the skins) was interesting for its tannins, the Ramato (skin-contact Pinot Grigio aged in amphora) was fruity with excellent structure. The Montepulciano d’Abruzzo was tannic and delicious.
To be honest, there wasn’t a wine we didn’t enjoy among the ones we tasted. Other stand outs included 2017 Nebbiolo, 2018 Gemellia (a super-Tuscan; the blend changes by vintage), and 2017 Aglianico.
Our tasting experience at Giornata was very personal and unhurried. We were fortunate to be the only ones tasting on the morning we visited. Our host, Gina, took her time in discussing each wine and tailored our tasting to suit our taste. Thank you!
The Giornata tasting room and winery is located in Tin City, an industrial park, located along Hwy 101 in Paso just south of Hwy 46 West. Tin City includes collection of wineries, craft beverage makers and restaurants and is worth exploring. At least stay for a meal and ice cream after wine tasting.
Tablas Creek Vineyard
Tablas Creek doesn’t have the feel of a small winery the way Giornata does, but it is quality wine in every glass (and we tasted a lot of wine) served with a big side of hospitality.
The outdoor tasting tables are spread over several terraced areas, shaded by umbrellas and well spaced. The tasting was organized so Ray, our host, delivered the wines to us without touching the glassware, and we moved empty glasses aside so he did not have to handle them. The used glasses were removed by a person doing just that task. It was evident much thought had gone into COVID safety.
Tablas Creek Vineyard is all about Rhône varieties and Chateauneuf-du-Pape in particular. Ray told us Tablas Creek is one of only 6 estates in the world to have all Chateauneuf-du-Pape varieties planted. It is some of those obscure varieties, and Tablas Creek’s recent Regenerative Organic Certified (ROC) status, the first winery in America, that finally brought us to Tablas Creek.
Tablas Creek thinks of itself as the biggest little farm: only 107 of 208 total acres are planted, no-till practices are followed in the vineyard and a large flock of sheep help out in the vineyard with weed control and fertilization. Grapes are hand harvested, all fermentations (alcoholic and malolactic) are natural, and sulfites are very low (in the 50 ppm range) and Tablas Creek makes as many white wines as it does red.
In the unusual varieties category we loved the Picardan (stone fruit, lighter style), Petit Manseng (made in a naturally sweet style), and Vaccarese (light red with ample tannins). Also Counoise, Grenache, Grenache Blanc along with blends and the Dianthus rosé were delicious. We also joined the VINsiders wine club (and we haven’t been club members of a winery in many years.) Honestly, an outstanding experience.
Bruce Munro: Light at Sensorio
The other draw for us was Sensorio, the extraordinary light installation covering several acres of hillsides, designed by artist Bruce Munro. The exhibit opened in May 2019 with Field of Lights, a 58,000 solar-powered, fiber-optic light installation covering a 15-acre field. The lights change colors in waves that wash over the hillsides. Paths through the Field of Lights offer many perspectives of the lights.
During one of several closures due to state and county-mandated COVID restrictions the exhibit was expanded to include Light Towers constructed of of wine bottles illuminated by fiberoptic lights. Each of the 69 towers is constructed of 252 wine bottles and the lights change color in time to music. It’s quite a spectacle.
We purchased VIP tickets so we would have a place to sit, a glass of wine to sip and a charcuterie board to nibble on as we watched the sun go down and the lights come up. We arrived at 7 pm, found a table and relaxed with wine and nibbles until after 8:30 when the sun went down. Then we went for a walk.
In places the path was very crowded and in spite of the wind and outdoor location, we felt the need to wear our face masks. At the time of our visit only unvaccinated individuals were asked to wear face masks.
Sensorio is expensive if you choose the VIP experience, but it was worth it to us; it’s a beautiful experience. Parking and admission were generally well organized (a VIP ticket also got us expedited entry.) According to the Sensorio website the exhibit will be open through January 2, 2022. Go while the weather is good.