California’s Central Coast is a bit of a mystery to many out-of-state travelers, especially regarding Paso Robles wineries. In the years we’ve arranged custom itineraries in California, plenty of guests have asked for advice on where to go in this region, having heard about wine but not quite knowing the lay of the land. In this article, we’ll explore the region’s history, the type of wine grapes grown, some classic Paso Robles wineries, and essential tips on wine tasting.
Where Is Paso Robles?
Situated halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles in San Luis Obispo County, Paso Robles is on the Central Coast. There’s a bit of the Southern California laidback lifestyle, a touch of Northern California’s innovation, and, thanks to its agricultural roots, a culture all its own. Located inland from the Pacific Ocean in California’s famed Central Coast, many visitors who drive California Highway 1 miss out on this area.
There is the town of Paso Robles and the surrounding Paso Robles wine country. Paso Robles brings California small-town charm with a historic main square dotted with thriving independent businesses, including boutique hotels and local restaurants. While the region may not be as well known as Napa or Sonoma to non-Californians, it’s worth visiting as it produces some high-quality wines.
History Of Wine In Paso Robles
There is a misconception that wine is new in Paso Robles, but wine grapes have been growing here for a few hundred years. During the California Mission Era, San Luis Obispo was planted with the Mission grape and produced some of the best wine on the west coast.
However, this petered out in the 19th century when Vinifera vines became more in favor. The modern commercial wine industry took off in the 1970s and was the foundation for the region we know today. Historically, there was a lot of almond and barley farming, but today you’ll find everything from olive oil to cheesemaking and even lavender and wine.
Where Is Paso Robles Wine Country?
According to the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance, “The Paso Robles AVA’s western boundary is just six miles from the Pacific Ocean. The appellation lies on the inland side of the Santa Lucia coastal mountains in San Luis Obispo County and roughly forms a rectangle 35 miles from east to west and 25 miles from north to south. It extends from the Monterey County border to the north, to the Cuesta Grade below Santa Margarita to the south, and from the Santa Lucia Mountains to the west, to the Cholame Hills to the east.”
This AVA is three times the size of Napa Valley and is one of the fastest growing in wine grape acreage. There are eleven sub-appellations within the Paso Robles AVA: Adelaida, Creston, El Polmar, Paso Robles Estrella, Paso Robles Geneseo, Paso Robles Highlands, Paso Robles Willow Creek, San Juan, San Miguel, Santa Margherita, Templeton Gap, and York Mountain.
What Makes Paso Robles Wineries Unique?
The Paso Robles winegrape growing region’s climate is perfect for producing award-winning premium wines. A long growing season of warm days and cool evenings gives rise to vibrantly ripened fruit with dynamic flavor profiles that translate beautifully in Paso Robles wine.
What Is Paso Robles Wine Country Known For?
With more than 200 wineries, Paso Robles Wine Country has a lot to explore. More than 80% of the wine produced in the region is red wine. The appellation has been the most successful at growing Rhône grape varieties, such as Grenache Syrah and Mourvedre, known as GSM by locals.
Across the region’s 11 viticultural areas, you’ll find a spectrum of geography and climates. Local winemakers lament begrudge the region being coined “The Next Napa Valley.” They feel that’s not acknowledging that Paso Robles wine country is a unique place with a distinct wine culture.
As you taste and explore, it’s apparent that a “rising tide, all ships” mentality is primarily at play. And that’s not just about the success of the wine country but also the long-term sustainability and health. You already know that California is a global leader in sustainability in wine, and in Paso Robles, you see it everywhere, from pioneering wineries like J. Lohr to many of the new-generation winemakers.
Paso Robles Wine Region FAQs
Paso Robles and Napa Valley are different in a lot of ways including location, soil types, wines, and attitude. While Napa is north of San Francisco, Paso Robles is between Santa Barbara and Hearst Castle in California’s Central Coast. While both Paso Robles and Napa have a variety of wine styles grown across the regions, Rhône varietals are the most popular in Paso Robles while Cabernet and Chardonnay dominate in Napa. Finally, while Napa Valley is almost exclusively wine, Paso Robles has a more varied agriculture with everything from almonds and olive oil to avocados and flowers. Some say that Napa is snobbier than Paso but of course, that all depends on where you go and who you meet.
Situated halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles in San Luis Obispo County, Paso Robles is located inland from the Pacific Ocean in California's Central Coast.
The Paso Robles wine grape growing region’s climate, characterized by warm days and cool evenings, is perfect for producing award-winning premium wines. The region is known for growing Rhône grape varieties, such as Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre.
Classic Paso Robles Wineries
Paso Robles has over 250 wineries scattered across its picturesque landscapes. Each winery offers a unique experience, from boutique family-owned vineyards to grand estates with state-of-the-art facilities. I visited Paso Robles with Discover California Wine to taste the region’s history and the next generation. Here are a handful of wineries to see when you next travel to Paso Robles:
Daou Vineyards & Winery
Dauo is arguably the best-known of all the Paso Robles wineries. It was founded by the Daou brothers (George and Daniel), who were searching for a world-class spot for producing Cabernet Sauvignon. This led them to DAOU Mountain at the crest of the Adelaida District. This family-operated winery works to produce collectible red wines that rival the best in the world.
One of the region’s pioneers, Eberle Winery, is famous for its Zinfandel. The founder, Gary Eberle, played a significant role in establishing Paso Robles as a prominent wine region. Tasting experiences at Eberle Winery are available by appointment, ranging from complimentary tastings on the patio deck to VIP offerings in the winery’s 8,000-square-foot wine caves.
Epoch Winery specializes in Rhône-style blends, showcases the best of Viognier, Roussanne, and Marsanne. Their artisanal approach to winemaking reflects a commitment to quality and terroir expression.
Hope Family Winery
Hope Family Wines is another family-owned winery that’s been around for over 30 years. Their portfolio has five wine brands: Austin Hope, Treana, Quest, Liberty School, and Troublemaker. Plan a wine tasting in their eclectic modern barn, and book their just-launched Wine and Cheese Pairing, where they pair the local Stepladder Creamery cheeses with the wines of Austin Hope.
J. Lohr Winery
Having produced wine in the area since the 1980s, J. Lohr’s family-owned wineries are synonymous with Paso Robles. They’re known for growing Bordeaux and Rhone varietals across Monterey County and Paso Robles. They’ve dug deep into sustainability and have taken a leadership role in winemaking sustainability in Paso Robles and the California wine industry.
JUSTIN Vineyards & Winery
On a mission to create world-class Bordeaux-style blends, JUSTIN planted our first vineyard back in 1981. They pride themselves on combining Old World methods—like hand-harvesting and small-barrel aging in French oak—with New World technology. But they’re also known for helping to put Paso Robles on the map as a wine destination.
Tablas Creek Vineyard
A perennial favorite, Tablas Creek Vineyard is a pioneer of California’s Rhone movement and the world’s first Regenerative Organic Certified vineyard. This winery is a joint venture between American wine importer Robert Haas and the iconic Châteauneuf-du-Pâpe producer Château de Beaucastel. The grape vines were propagated from Beaucastel’s back in France and are tended organically and biodynamically.
New Generation Wineries to Know
Among the new-generation Paso Robles wineries is Desperada. They have a tasting room just south of downtown Paso Robles in the hip Tin City area, and that is where winemaker and founder, Valia From, makes wines with fruit from some of the most renowned vineyards in the region. Focused on small-lot production, Desperada Winery offers limited releases of Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, and other Bordeaux-style blends. The Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc are among our favorites, but be sure to try the whole gamut of wines they’re pouring when you visit.
Sans Liege Wines
Also located in Tin City, Sans Liege Wines is the brainchild of Curt Shalchlin. Renowned for its unconventional and innovative winemaking techniques, Sans Liege produces diverse wines, including blends featuring Rhône and Spanish varietals. Curt sources fruit from around the Central Coast and aim to embrace New World innovation and the heritage of the Rhone Valley. He is also part of the beloved Fableist wines.
This boutique winery was established in 2019, but they opened a tasting room east of downtown Paso Robles in the summer of 2023. Using stainless steel and natural oak barrels, Winemaker and founder Nancy Ulloa, came into winemaking only a few year’s ago, but she has made a name for herself with her exceptional Grüner Veltliner and Gewurztraminer wines.
Wine Tasting Tips
For the best experience, heed these five wine tasting tips:
Paso Robles’ vast wine region can be overwhelming. Research and create an itinerary to visit wineries that align with your wine preferences.
Explore Diverse Regions
Paso Robles has multiple sub-regions with unique microclimates. Venture into different areas to experience the varied expressions of the wines.
Reservations and Tasting Fees
Some wineries require appointments, especially for private tastings or tours. Be sure to check if there are any tasting fees in advance.
Stay Hydrated and Pace Yourself
Drink plenty of water between tastings and savor the wines at a comfortable pace to fully appreciate the flavors.
Have a Designated Driver
We hope it goes without saying that you shouldn’t drink and drive, especially when driving the often windy country roads that lead to the various Paso Robles wineries.
Tour More California Wine Regions
Have Us Plan Your California Trip
Did you know we’re also a boutique travel agency that specializes in California vacation planning? If you’re looking to plan a trip to California, our California trip planner services are here to help you plan your perfect itinerary.
Sponsored Post: This article was brought to you by Discover California Wine. Thanks for supporting these sponsors who help us keep Salt & Wind Travel up and running!