Nestled in California’s central coast, about halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, lies the idyllic area of Paso Robles, known by locals simply as Paso. Whether you want to drink wine, buy wine, learn about wine, or combine all three, Paso is the place to go. And if you believe that one major problem in the world is that everyone is a few glasses of wine behind, Paso is perfect. For those who have zero interest in wines – and I’m sure I don’t know anyone of you three individuals – there is much to do and plenty to love about Paso even outside its viticulture.
The newest accommodation kid on the block is Geneseo Inn. Situated about 15-minutes from downtown Paso, Geneseo is located on the grounds of the Cass Winery. This television free, eight-room boutique hotel opened mid-2020 and is an architectural case study. Built out of industrial shipping crates, it’s floor-to-ceiling windows and modern interior design elements permit expansive vineyard views with classic comforts such as in-room Nespresso machines. Breakfast that was delivered straight to the crates included delectable homemade ricotta-filled blueberry pancakes served with chicken apple sausage. There are electric bikes to tool around the vineyard, paths to jog, horses to ride with and naturally, wines to drink. Try the 2019 Mourvédre with its cherry and boysenberry overtones.
For those that prefer to be closer to town, Allegretto Vineyard Resort is truly like returning home. That is assuming your home is a 171-room Tuscan-inspired vineyard property on 20-acres punctuated by a plethora of excellent museum quality art and sculptures, including some spectacular and rare East and South Asian pieces. Also on the grounds are a stained-glass Abbey to partake in weekend yoga, a sonar labyrinth to mindfully meander, life-sized chess to master, ping-pong to play, a pool, jacuzzi and spa to savor, and of course, a tasting room to enjoy. Rooms are spacious and the property welcomes four-legged furry friends. Owner Doug Ayers has carefully curated this property so it’s no surprise that many guests are repeat visitors. This makes perfect sense as real estate success is entrenched in Ayers’ genetic composition. Off the lobby is a fantastic black-and-white photographic retrospective of his forbears’ contribution to California’s development through the generations. Clearly, the visionary DNA continues.
To increase one’s oenological aptitude, downtown’s Paso Robles History Museum has an exhibit curated by the Wine History Project of San Luis Obispo based on the origins of winemaking connected to clay vessels – amphorae – and the revival of this ancient technique now used by several local winemakers. As part of the museum’s permanent exhibit, there is also a pretty cool collection of medical artifacts to peruse.
A short stroll away is the LXV Wine Tasting Room. Whether on the patio, in the blue room or in the cellar room with several dramatic art pieces, tastings of their small-lot wines was enjoyable and was paired with Pilota cheese infused with exotic spice flavor blends, many of which are influenced by the owners’ native India. Bringing out the highlights of each pour – these spices are curated in LXV’s own spice lab – the 2019 Reserve Syrah paired with cloves, miso and porcini mushroom powder was a favorite, along with the delightfully charming Neeta Mittal who owns LXV with her husband Kunal.
In Paso’s breathtaking Adelaida District, 10-minutes from downtown, DAOU Vineyard’s dining terrace, European-inspired furnishings and impeccable grounds have expansive views overlooking what is arguably, California’s most gorgeous vineyard. In a magical tasting environment combining brothers Georges and Daniel Daou’s cultural mélange – born in Lebanon, reared in France, educated in the U.S. – DAOU Mountain pays homage to the terroir these brothers so clearly love. They’ve also created one of most tranquil places to sit and sip their fantastic, award-winning wines. In addition to their impressive wine flight that includes their silky 2019 Eye of the Falcon Reserve – a perfect union of 86-percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 14-percent Petit Verdot – make certain to try DAOU’s 2019 Sequentis Reserve Merlot. With plum and cherry flavors and hint of dark roast espresso, Sequentis had me swooning at first sip.
If heading to or from Southern California and bubbles float your boat, you will want to sail off the 101 and pilot into the pleasant surrounds of Laetitia Vineyard & Winery in Arroyo Grande for a bubbles flight. All four on the bubbles flight were enjoyable but the first press 2018 Brut Coquard comprising 80-percent pinot noir and 20-percent chardonnay was begging for a reason, any reason, to celebrate.
Channeling your inner Northern Italian is easy at downtown Paso’s Buono Tavola. Their homemade pumpkin and ricotta stuffed tortelloni in a sage and mascarpone sauce with toasted walnuts was comfort food at its best. The seafood linguini bathed in a white wine garlic and leek sauce had me dreaming of Piemonte. Finishing with their chocolate and hazelnut gelato was a perfect ending.
Dining on the patio at Allegretto’s Cello under the heat lamps and with views of glowing firepits, the oak-roasted Salt Springs mussels floating with Iberico chorizo and caramelized onions in a sweet pepper Romesco sauce was excellent. And one can never go wrong with Cello’s chicken pesto or sautéed Crimini mushroom pizzas. At breakfast, the huevos rancheros is a winner.
At many tasting rooms, partaking in charcuterie and artisanal cheese platters is part of the pleasurable gestalt and often becomes central to the experience and a meal itself. Of the several sampled this visit, the best was at DAOU Mountain. Here a variety of creamy, tart and delicate artisanal cheeses shared space with cured meats, jellied quince, the finest Mediterranean olives and spreads, nuts, berries and warm, fire-grilled naan. If you have any gastronomic real estate remaining, try the Labneh and Baba Ganoush with mint and za’atar. You can thank me later.
The great news from Paso is that the Lights at Sensorio – a unique mélange of art and technology that meld into the region’s rolling hills – will be permanent. Walking through this original 15-acre solar-powered, “Field of Light” installation by British artist Bruce Munro, the creative genius underlying the genesis and implementation of this production is self-evident. Nearly 60,000 changing color spheres grace the hills, and in a colorful ode to the wine environs, Munro’s “Light Towers” installation above of optic fibers within 17,000 wine bottles within 69 towers is magnificent. Facing Paso’s town square, be sure and pop into Studios on the Park, a collective open-studio gallery showcasing established local artists and young budding ones. There is always something new to see and artists and artwork to admire. Lynn Kishiyama’s Yen Series and creative wall hangings made from Japanese obis were particularly lovely.
The lessons learned
With over 400 wineries producing cool-climate grapes in Paso, there are fine choices available for every oenophile. But alas, choices must be made. Or instead, while in Paso delighting in those wines, you can choose to order an additional wine refrigerator to house those wine club deliveries or call your contractor to increase your cellar size. Either way, and whatever nectar is your preference, Paso is a lovely spot to salute nature’s bounty and the vintners who hone their craft in pursuit of the public’s pouring pleasure.