The Other Wine Country

pasopic.jpgIt’s all my fault. I’ve been telling people for almost a decade about this lovely wine region in the middle of California. Most of them had no idea where Paso Robles is – halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco – and had never heard of any of the wineries that call this region home. Until the last 3-4 years I couldn’t really blame them. Even though some people have been successfully making wonderful wine here for over 3 decades, their efforts rarely reached beyond the county’s borders.

Unless you made the trip, you’d have no idea what you were missing…and you are missing some of the best Bang-for-the-Buck wines being made in California. With the upswing in popularity of the Rhone varietals (especially Syrah, which grows very well in Paso) the region is starting to make a real name for itself. Is this a good thing? For the over 100 wineries trying to make a living, sure, For me, I just don’t know.

Call me selfish, but I’ve supported this region for years and as happy as I am to finally find good food and enjoy a nice place to lay my head in town, I’m worried the area will lose its’ unpretentious, congenial atmosphere. When I first rolled into town in the late 90s the decent restaurant choices were almost non-existent and the lodging mostly small, cheap motels with the exception of the Paso Robles Inn, which has been around, in one incarnation or another, for over 100 years.

artisan.jpg The PR Inn is a lovely place to stay, but one has to have priorities and my money goes into buying wine, not turndown service. Until 2006, it was the nicest hotel in the region, but it has been bumped to 3rd place by the recent additions of the swanky Carlton Hotel, which is actually one town over in Atascadero, and the super luxurious Hotel Cheval, which just opened up right off the Paso town square.

How did I find this out? Well, back to my big mouth. We come up to the area at least 3 times a year and have made a tradition of visiting between Christmas and New Years because though the wineries are open they aren’t super crowded. So, after a long day of tasting, we find ourselves out to dinner with local friends at Artisan Restaurant  (one of the more recent and best additions to the food scene) and who should tap my husband on the shoulder but his boss, who we’re friendly with but not exactly friends. We were stunned to see her and her husband out of the Los Angeles environment. What were they doing there?

weddings_courtyard.jpg Well, after hearing about it from me and their hairdresser and then reading about the area in the New York Times, they decided to drive up and see what the fuss was all about. They just happened to be in Artisan and were staying at the 16-room Hotel Cheval, apparently the latest and greatest lodging in town. Desperate to see inside the elegantly-crafted, stone marvel, we accepted their invitation for a nightcap…not that we needed more wine. It was lovely to sip port in front of one of the hotel’s outdoor fireplaces. A classier way to end the day then we had planned. Maybe someday we’ll be able to afford to stay there and buy wine. I can dream.

Anyway, the next morning, after a huge breakfast of Eggs Benedict and country potatoes at the Grill in the clubhouse of the Hunter Ranch Golf Course (most affordably yummy breakfast in town), we somewhat reluctantly headed out to start tasting.  I wasn’t sure my stomach could take another whole day of drinking, but after sipping the luscious wines of Booker Vineyards (one of the more recent, never-ending newbies), I was back in the saddle. Even at the pace we keep (about 6-8 wineries a day), I can’t begin to visit every new place that opens up, which makes every trip a tasting treasure hunt.

solitude.jpg Our last stop of the trip was at Cass Winery, my best find from our trip in 2006.  As we sipped wine and nibbled a variety of cheeses on their spacious patio, who should come around the corner, but more friends of ours, who, after enjoying a bottle of the Cass Viognier the night before, found themselves compelled to visit the winery. Even though we’re both members of the Cass Wine Club, they were just as surprised as we were when they walked up for the first time and found us sitting there. Clearly a 3 1/2 hour drive is no longer a deterrent when it comes to acquiring memorable wine.

I’m sad to say my little secret has gotten out and I can only hope the ensuing rush to “uncover” the area doesn’t ruin the quiet charm and price the wines out of reach. The last thing I need is another wine region I can’t afford to go to.

In fact, forget I even mentioned it.

Artisan Restaurant
1401 Park Street
Paso Robles, CA 93446

Hotel Cheval
1021 Pine Street
Paso Robles, CA 93446

Cass Winery
7350 Linne Road
Paso Robles, CA 93446


Lisa Dinsmore is an amateur writer, web programmer and wine lover. She has been wine tasting throughout California for the last decade, is currently working her way up to receiving her diploma from the Wine & Spirits Education Trust and has her own wine website, The Daily Wine Dispatch.