Girls Weekend in Paso Robles

Just three hours south of the San Francisco Bay Area lies a wine region worthy of a weekend visit- Paso Robles.  I first discovered Paso Robles on a road trip to southern California.  Paso was my halfway point, so a stop at Opolo, one of my favorite wineries, was in order.  This stop started my fascination with Paso Robles wineries and wines.  This wine region is laid back and all about the wine experience.  The less commercial the winery, the better the experience.  You will leave with a full trunk of fabulous wines to share back home!

Girls Weekend in Paso Robles

This particular weekend was a girls’ winetasting weekend.  We stayed at the Courtyard by Marriott, which is walking distance to the downtown area.  Elvis at the front desk gave great recommendations for just about everything. On this trip, we visited ten wineries in three days and spent day two with the Grapeline Wine Shuttle (thanks to Elvis!).  Here are some things to know before venturing out on your Paso wine weekend:

  1. Know the maximum number of wineries you can handle in one day and plan accordingly.  Everyone is different. My maximum is three.  After that, my palate is shot.
  2. The wineries in Paso are spread out. Choose one area to focus on per day.
  3. Many of the wineries serve really good food and some even have full service restaurants. (It was also very easy for me to accommodate my gluten allergy.)
  4. If you have time for a full day wine shuttle tour, or it’s your first time in Paso, do it. The wine shuttles are a great way to try out one of the wine areas and they are a lot of fun. You also have a built-in designated driver.
  5. College kids have given me the best advice about the wineries and wine shuttles. This includes over the phone, at Red Brick Pizza, and in the tasting rooms. Ask them for their recommendations of just about anything.
  6. Navigation and cell phones will not work in many of the wineries and on the backroads. Make sure you have an old-school map and a sense of adventure!
  7. Dinners can be surprisingly pricey in Paso.

Day 1: Scenic Tour of the West Side

Daou: We began the weekend up at Daou off of Adelaida.  Daou sits above the valley with an incredible view and Spanish-style grounds.  There is restaurant service in the members’ area.  I highly recommend the 2012 Grenache Blanc and the 2012 Unbound.  The food in the members’ area is very good, especially the cheese board.  Daou tends to follow the tasting list, so don’t expect extra tastes or to revisit anything that you previously tasted.

From Daou, we headed out to Opolo without great directions and no navigation.  Luckily, my brother-in-law had suggested Justin and we happened to be on Chimney Rock Road.  Justin is the last winery on the map before you reach a military area.  So, unknown to us, we chose wisely when we stopped!  At first, Justin seemed a bit formal and LA sleek with its maître d’ stand, black and white motif and elegant clean lines.  However, once we were brought to our tasting area, the atmosphere became very laid back.  All of the servers were super friendly and struck up conversations with the patrons.  The wines were delicious and higher end in price and quality.  My favorite was the 2011 Isosceles.  Our server, Blair, invited us to some off-list tastings and asked if we would like to revisit anything.  She really knew her wines, gave us excellent directions and a map to Opolo, and recommended some fantastic restaurants.  Justin also has a bed and breakfast and a restaurant on the property.

Opolo delights

Opolo delights

Opolo: Opolo is one of my wine clubs.  I joined because of the 2011 Montagna-Mare and I have remained a
member because of their wines and their fantastic hospitality. Opolo is located on Vineyard Dr. It has a beautiful outdoor patio with huge tables for enjoying wine and a fire grilled pizza or cevapi sausage platter. Zak took great care of us at Opolo. Not only was he very generous with the tastings, he also helped me choose a magnum of Mountain Zinfandel for my father’s birthday present. In fact, you could say that Zak customized our tasting!  My favorites were the Chardonnay and Tempranillo. We returned for lunch on Sunday before heading back to the Bay Area. Opolo is a “must visit” destination when in Paso.

Day 2: The Grapeline Experience

The Grapeline was one of those “college kid” recommendations that did not disappoint. A full day on the Grapeline includes your lunch, all of your tastings, transportation, and, of course, the charming driver/wine expert. They also did a good job of making sure that the “right people got on the bus.” We had a fantastic experience with Dave at the helm. He made sure that we stayed on schedule, ate lunch and, most importantly, had fun! Dave even jumped in to give us some of the wine education from time to time. By the end of the day, we were a cohesive group of twelve wine-enthusiast friends! How could you not be? (Note: The Grapeline also accommodated my gluten allergy for lunch. I was able to eat everything in the box from the cheese and crackers to the sandwich to the dessert.) 

The Grapeline took us to four different wineries located on the east side of Highway 46:

Vineyards at Hall

Vineyards at Hall

Robert Hall: Robert Hall is a beautiful property with large spaces for groups and a beautiful fountain.
They create Rhone-style wines and have had the same winemaker since 2001.  Our group liked the 2012 Zinfandel and the 2011 Orange Muscat. Melinda added a couple of extra pours based on the group’s requests and asked us about revisiting previous tastes.

Pear Valley:  Pear Valley is another beautiful property with terraces for picnics and private rooms inside the main building.  The wines were very good and more Italian in style.  Our driver/wine expert Dave jumped in to teach us about the Pear Valley wines.   I recommend asking your guide or server to choose the wines for you.  We were handed a list of nineteen wines and told to choose six for the tasting, which was quite overwhelming.  Pear Valley boasts one of the only 100% Chenin Blancs in the area.  The 2010 Malbec and 2010 Caberbet Franc were hits with our group, as was the 2010 Belle Fin, a Cabernet Franc port-style wine.  This property could be visited over two days just due to the number of wines available to taste.

Sculpterra wonders

Sculpterra wonders

Sculpterra: The front of Sculpterra’s property is peppered with Dali-esque statues of animals, hence
the name.  The statues are giant, curvy animals with a mixed metal look to them.  Once inside the tasting room, we were greeted by Pablo.  Pablo was very knowledgeable of the wines and added two additional tastings at the group’s request.  The winery pays homage to their field workers with the 2012 Héroe Pinot Noir.  My personal favorites were the 2013 Viognier and the 2009 Maquette, a Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc blend.  Sculpterra also rated high marks on hospitality and social justice.

Cass:  Cass was the final destination on our wine tour for the day.  This winery has an expansive outdoor patio and a full restaurant indoors.  We tasted mostly white wines at Cass, such as the 2013 Rousanne and 2011 Rockin’ One Blanc.   Most people in the group liked the wines.  As this was the fourth winery of the day, my palate was a bit shot.

Day 3: Random Friends and Family Suggestion Day along Highway 46 West

On this final day of wine tasting, we headed out at 10:30am to start the day:

Turley:  Turley is known for its high-end Zinfandels.  They have a main tasting menu and then a reserve tasting that you can add on for $5.  The Zinfandels are delicious.  I like the 2012 Dusi Zinfandel the best.  Our server invited us to a few extra tastings and some Toscano cheese that paired well with the wines.  She even introduced us to Templeton, the winery cat.  Their Pesanti label 2012 Red Velvet blend was very good.  It is not a special occasion wine, but a very good weekday wine.

Wines of Jack Cellars

Wines of Jack Cellars

 Jack Creek Cellars:  Jack Creek Cellars by far had the best Pinot Noirs.  The Jack Creek Cellars
tasting room is family owned and located on the same property as both the vineyard and the residence.  In fact, we did not know it at the time, but the winemaker poured us our second Chardonnay.  This is another winery that is big on hospitality, good directions and the wine experience.  The 2011 Concrete Blond Chardonnay, aged in cement, was a hit as was the 2012 Reserve Pinot Noir (members-only wine).  In fact, the 2012 Reserve Pinot Noir is quite possibly the best Pinot Noir that I have ever tasted.  This tasting room is very small and cozy.  It is located on Jack Creek Road off of Highway 46 West.  If you go east when leaving the winery, you will eventually hit Vineyard Drive.

Chronic Cellars: Chronic was our last stop for this trip.  It is located on Nacimiento Lake Drive.  Like Sculpterra, this winery also has an art-wine theme.  “Day of the Dead” style art adorns both the wine bottles and the tasting room.  Chronic has two picnic areas and is dog friendly.  The wines are also quite good, with names like Sofa King Bed, Suite Petite and Tranquilo.  Tranquilo, a port-style wine, was the winner of the day.  Chronic is definitely on the list of places to revisit in the future!

Cheers to you and your Paso Robles wine experience!

Truett-Hurst along Dry Creek

On Dry Creek Road

On Dry Creek Road

Truett-Hurst along Dry Creek – Biodynamic vineyards and gardens

Several years ago we visited the Truett-Hurst winery just after they had purchased the old Martin Winery on Dry Creek Road. Today the winery is vastly different in more ways than one. Make no mistake, the estate on Dry Creek Road is a delight to visit and the wines are very good. No wine is made at this venue, but the tasting room is nestled in among vineyards, gardens of wildflowers and vegetables, and the serenity of the Dry Creek stream flowing along the property.

The tasting fee is $5 and you can choose five wines from a list of eight. The Rosé, the Sauvignon Blanc and the Red Rooster Zinfandel were among our favorite wines. All the estate vineyards are biodynamically farmed and any additional grapes that are purchased are from organically-farmed vineyards in the Russian River Valley. The most notable among the principal owners is Paul Dolan. His name is synonymous with Fetzer Vineyards and the Fetzer Family. Paul Dolan and the Fetzers were one of the first to farm biodynamically and were a great influence on other wineries to become biodynamic.

The standout feature of this winery is the outdoor area, which is the perfect paradise for a relaxing picnic lunch in the vineyards. Just outside the tasting room are several tables where guests can enjoy tasting wine or munching on lunch. However, if you stroll just 500 feet beyond the tasting room, there lies Dry Creek on its way to empty into the Russian River. The winery has placed seating areas along the banks of the creek and it is the most wonderful spot to enjoy lunch or just the tranquility. We visited on a Tuesday around lunchtime and this area was occupied quickly. We imagine the area is very busy on weekends. We sat for a full hour just enjoying the musical sounds of nature. With a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, things cannot get much better.

Along the edge of Dry Creek

Along the edge of Dry Creek

The winery makes 7000 cases of wine each year. The wines are made at their VML winery, located on Westside Road. Most of the wines are sold directly from the tasting room and a few others can be found at the Total Wine stores around the Sacramento area. The wines are very good and priced reasonably.

Following our visit and preparing for this article, I went to the Truett-Hurst Website and was very surprised to discover that Truett-Hurst is a public company trading on the NASDAQ. The symbol is THST. In the “About Us” menu item of their Investment section I grabbed this snippet of information: “Truett-Hurst is an innovative and growing super-premium and ultra-premium wine sales, marketing and production company based in the acclaimed Dry Creek and Russian River Valleys of Sonoma County, California. The core of our business is a combination of direct to consumer sales, traditional brand sales and “retail exclusive label” partnerships with major retailers, such as Trader Joe’s and Safeway. “

It sort of takes the fun out of the concept of what we thought was a Family winery. Nonetheless, for now we highly recommend a visit to this winery for a tasting and, if not a picnic lunch, a walk around the amazing and beautiful grounds of Truett-Hurst.

To get to Truett-Hurst, take the Dry Creek Exit off Highway 101 in north Healdsburg. Go west for about five miles. The Truett-Hurst tasting room is open daily 10 am to 5 pm. There are several other wineries along this stretch. Check our Dry Creek and West Dry Creek Wine Trails for our suggested wineries to visit.

The gardens and tasting room

The gardens and tasting room

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