Creative Juices in Paso Robles

Located halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, the once sleepy farming community of Paso Robles, California has awakened over the past 20 years. It is now widely known as an innovative region where creativity flows as freely as the wine.

Published: 1/13/2015

By Lisa Pretty

Located halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, the once sleepy farming community of Paso Robles, California has awakened over the past 20 years. It is now widely known as an innovative region where creativity flows as freely as the wine.

Winemaker Amy Butler, who consults for several Paso Robles wineries, adores the wild and brambly Carignane grape. When she found a good source for the fruit, she launched her own Ranchero Cellars label to demonstrate the grape’s unique qualities. It was a bold move to base a brand on a virtually unknown grape, but not uncommon in Paso.

Any tour through the rolling hillsides of Paso Robles can uncover something new . There’ s Aglianico, Arneis, Blaufränkisch, Charbono, Lagrein, Malvasia Bianca, Verdelho, and Vermentino— just for starters. Best of all, winemakers are crafting exciting wild blends with names that speak for themselves, like Venteux’ s Raucous, Law Estate Wines’ Audacious, and Derby Wine Estates’ Maneater. Winemaker Austin Hope of Hope Family Wines is crafting a multivintage blend of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Zinfandel—suitably named Troublemaker—simply because it tastes phenomenal. When it comes to wine, rules are only guidelines here. If it tastes good together, it could end up in a bottle.

Good Spirits

A couple of Paso Robles wineries have kicked their beverage production up a notch and added a still to their collection of equipment. At Villicana, Alex and Monica Villicana launched the Re:find brand to encourage sustainability by utilizing the free-run grape juice known as saignée. Often, winemakers bleed off a percentage of the free-run juice before fermentation to concentrate the flavors of red wine. The saignée is typically discarded; however, Re:find spirits are made by fermenting and triple distilling the saignée to create “gin” and “vodka” brandies. Red Soles Winery makes its California Hooch Brandy from premium grapes without the addition of yeast or sulfites. The smooth flavors and aromas shine when served neat or when mixed in a cocktail. The California Hooch is also used as the base for its Limoncello. The brandy is infused with Meyer lemons for 40 days to deliver this crowd-pleasing beverage.

Daring Pairings

Wine is often more enjoyable when served with food, and several tasting rooms offer a cheese pairing with their wine list. Le Vigne Winery goes a step further with a cheese and charcuterie bar featuring the largest selection of cheeses in the area. At Shale Oak Winery, General Manager Johanne Lefebvre wanted to go in another direction, so she worked with the local Almost Sinful Bakery to create a savory cookie and wine pairing menu to offer daily in the tasting room. Now, the Shale Oak Albariño is paired with a Lemon-laced Blondie dusted with curry powder, while the Zinfandel is paired with a Mexican Hot Chocolate Cookie.

Pairing chocolate with wine may not seem all that unusual these days, but what about white wine with dark chocolate? The winemaking team at J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines worked directly with the chocolatiers at Lindt who, after many rounds of sensory analysis and exploration, successfully paired Lindt chocolates with several wine varietals. As an added bonus, Lindt released a new chocolate flavor, Lindt EXCELLENCE Pineapple, which was developed as the perfect pairing for the J. Lohr Estates Riverstone Chardonnay.

Beyond the Palate

A trip to wine country isn’t just about wine and food. All around Paso Robles, wineies feature inviting picnic and lounge areas to enhance the tasting experience. And, in true Paso style, some wineries have taken things one step further.

Castoro Cellars opened an 18-hole disc golf course as a way to get visitors out in the vines. The course, a two- mile loop through the vineyard near the tasting room, is part of an informational ranch tour and great for players of all levels. Thrill seekers enjoy Margarita Adventures’ zipline tours, sponsored by Ancient Peaks Winery. The five distinct ziplines span more than 4,500 combined feet, with the newest 1,800-foot zipline stretching over the vineyard. For those who prefer to stay on the ground, Broken Earth Winery offers a unique service: customized wine labels designed by tasting room guests. Using its own in-house label service, the winery prints the labels on the spot, and guests place them on the bottles they purchase. When it comes to wine, spirits, food, and fun things that are trendy and new, there’s a good chance you’ll find it in Paso Robles.

Paso Robles resident Lisa Pretty is the owner/winemaker at Pretty-Smith Vineyards & Winery, a writer for several regional wine publications, and the creator of two Eat this with...Paso Robles Wine books.


As seen in the issue Spring 2015 of Touring & Tasting Magazine.


2010 Epoch Ingenuity

2012 J. Lohr October Night Chardonnay & Lindt EXCELLENCE Intense Orange

2010 Pear Valley Aglianico

2010 Red Soles Temptation Limoncello

2011 Shale Oak Zinfandel & Mexican Hot Chocolate Cookie

2012 Villa San-Juliette Chorum White Blend

2009 Vina Robles Segredo Dessert Wine