Courtesy of Tablas Creek
Courtesy of Tablas Creek
Tablas Creek’s proprietors, touting wine production ties to France’s famed Châteauneuf-du-Pape appellation, found grape-growing conditions in Paso Robles to be similar to those in the southern Rhône Valley.
While people often synonymize Napa and Sonoma with California wine, some of the most exciting wines in the Golden State are today coming out of California’s Central Coast.
A key region for wine production on the stretch of land between San Francisco and Los Angeles known as the Central Coast is Paso Robles, with 200-plus wineries draped across more than 650,000 acres and centered around the city that shares its name.
Grape growing was first introduced to the Paso Robles area in the late 18th century by Franciscan friars, and more than a century later, the region gained traction with the cultivation of zinfandel. By the mid-1900s, that attention shifted to Bordeaux grapes, such as cabernet sauvignon, but within a few decades, Paso Robles became a focal point in the “Rhône Ranger” movement, championing the potential for Rhône varieties—syrah, grenache, and mourvèdre among them—in California.
Today, cabernet and the Rhône grapes largely share the spotlight in Paso Robles, but the rapidly developing appellation continues to foster new talent who seek out alternative styles of wine. Here are six top wineries to look out for on your next stop to the wine shop or on a visit to the region itself:
Since its inception in 1989, Tablas Creek has led the charge for top-quality Rhône-style wines in California. The winery is a collaboration between the Perrin family of France, owners of the pedigreed Châteauneuf-du-Pape estate Château de Beaucastel, in the southern Rhône Valley, and the Haas family, founders of the import company Vineyard Brands that brings in Beaucastel to the United States. Finding comparable Mediterranean growing conditions in Paso Robles to those in the southern Rhône Valley, the Haases and Perrins settled on a rocky limestone site where they now practice certified organic and biodynamic viticulture.
Beyond their own vineyard, they also established a vine nursery on the property, and have since sold cuttings of their Rhône varieties to more than 600 wineries across the country. Visitors to the winery are invited to reserve a tour of the vineyard and nursery, as well as sample several different tasting options incorporating both current and older releases.
Pick up a bottle of their grenache blanc, a pithy, tangy white whose melon skin and kiwi flavors add a refreshing pucker to the wine’s juiciness. Their flagship red Esprit de Tablas, a blend grounded by mourvèdre, is consistently one of Paso Robles’s greatest and most elegant wines. Tasting of dried violets, pomegranate, chaparral, and dust, the wine shows its kinship to its French counterpart in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
While Paso Robles has earned much of its reputation with cabernet sauvignon and Rhône-style blends, the region also houses a number of wineries that explore some of the world’s more esoteric grapes. One such estate is Giornata, whose portfolio of wines made from native Italian grape varieties is among the best of its kind outside of “The Boot.” Founded by Brian and Stephanie Terrizzi (both Americans of Italian ancestry), who also bottle excellent-value Paso Robles cabernets under their Broadside label, Giornata began in 2005 with the couple’s first nebbiolo.
While some lament that Italian grapes rarely perform well outside of Italy, the Terrizzis prove naysayers wrong with a lineup of wines crafted with an old-world sensibility that are true to each grape’s character. Visitors to the region can visit Giornata’s tasting room by appointment at Tin City, a Paso Robles craft beverage complex that’s home to nearly two dozen boutique Paso wineries, as well as a taproom and spirit producer.
Don’t miss Giornata’s French Camp Vineyard Aglianico, a grape native to Campania and rarely seen outside of southern Italy. A value at $30, it dazzles with a core of pure, bright blue fruits, coupled with a charming violet aroma and subtle peppery bite.
One of the younger entrants into the Paso Robles wine scene, Kukkula has emerged as a rising star for Rhône-style wines. Its name (pronounced “koo-koo-luh”) translates to “hill” in Finnish, proprietor Kevin Jussila’s mother tongue. Located in Paso Robles’s Adelaida District, the property was originally a walnut farm when Jussila first moved there, and he still continues to harvest walnuts today, along with olives and roughly 50 acres of primarily Rhône grapes.
Kukkula practices organic viticulture, and that sustainable ethos extends to the winery building itself, constructed from materials largely sourced on-site. The winery is open to visitors on the weekends, when guests can choose between regular and reserve tasting flights.
Make sure to try Kukkula’s white wine Vaalea, a juicy blend of grenache blanc, rousanne, and viognier, with inviting lemon and acacia blossom aromas. As for reds, don’t miss out on Aatto, a wine made primarily of the rarer counoise grape that finds a dynamic tension between its tart strawberry flavors and dried spice undertones.
Villa Creek started as a restaurant, opened by Cris and JoAnn Cherry in 1998. Three years later, eager to have a house label to serve their diners, the Cherrys purchased fruit to make their own wine. For nearly two decades, they operated both enterprises, before shutting the restaurant’s doors in 2017 to focus entirely on the winery and their 60-acre, organic- and biodynamic-certified Maha Estate.
Next year, Cris and JoAnn plan to release their first vintages of a second Maha Estate label, cultivated exclusively from this property. Visitors to Villa Creek’s sleek, modern, and light-filled tasting room can sample current releases, or opt in for a vertical tasting of library wines.
Look out for Villa Creek’s Avenger, a syrah-based blend whose jammy, concentrated flavors lend themselves to a high-impact wine redolent of blackberry compote, sweet herbs, and ink.
The Booker property takes its name from its 20th-century tenants, orphaned brothers Dick and Claude Booker. Pillars of the Paso Robles viticultural community and remembered for their philanthropic efforts, Claude and Dick donated their estate to charity after their deaths in 1990 and 2000, respectively. Eric and Lisa Jensen acquired Booker the following year, and in 2005 released their first vintage of their new wine label.
Today, Booker puts forth a mostly Rhône-centric portfolio, with a few twists, like tempranillo, the famous grape of Rioja. Guests are invited to visit Booker’s tasting room, set within a rustic wooden barn, from Thursday through Sunday (reservations are recommended).
Be sure to try their Fracture (a syrah) and Ripper (a grenache), and don’t miss a taste of Booker’s sister label My Favorite Neighbor. It’s a cabernet sauvignon blend sourced from top neighboring sites throughout the Westside district of Paso Robles; hedonistic and plush, the wine gratifies with its plummy, leathery flavors and palate-coating texture.
Emigrating from Lebanon first to southern France and then to California to study engineering, brothers Georges and Daniel Daou fulfilled a long-lived dream of owning a vineyard when they established their eponymous Paso Robles estate. The property, formerly known as Hoffman Mountain Ranch, had long been recognized for its viticultural potential.
California’s most influential 20th-century winemaker André Tchelistcheff, once deemed this land “a jewel of ecological elements.” Since Georges and Daniel’s purchase of the property in 2007, Daou has become one of Paso Robles’s most visible champions of Bordeaux grapes, namely cabernet sauvignon. Visitors to the winery are treated to sweeping hilltop views from Daou’s lavish Spanish-style tasting room.
Sample one of Paso’s most indulgent expressions of cabernet sauvignon, enjoyed for its ripe, boisterous flavors of blackberry preserves and wilted sweet herbs.
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