46 West Wineries
sip your way from Paso to the Pacific
Story and photos by Katherine McMahon
Over the past decade Paso Robles has taken off as a wine region. In 2013, Wine Enthusiast named it the Wine Region of the Year and in 2016, Sunset Magazine called it the Best Wine Region in the West. From around 20 wineries in the 1990s, there are now approximately 300.
Some wineries have grouped together to create separate identities within the Paso region. One such group is the 46 West Wineries. As the name suggests, these wineries lie along the western portion of State Route 46, which runs from the 101 just south of Paso Robles over the Santa Lucia Mountains to Cambria and the Pacific. In these 20-odd miles, you’ll find about the same number of boutique wineries that have joined together to form the 46 West Wineries. Recently I drove the 46, stopping at a few to get a taste of what makes them so special.
Heading west on the 46, less than a mile from the 101, the first road to the right is Twelve Oaks Drive. “Twelve oaks” in Spanish is doce robles, which is the name of the winery you will find down this country lane. Doce Robles Winery & Vineyard was started by Jim and Maribeth Jacobsen more than 20 years ago. They produce affordable yet award-winning red wines — specifically Barbera, Zinfandel, Merlot, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Jim comes from generations of grape growers, and he believes that the real work of winemaking happens in the vineyard. His focus on healthy, flavorful fruit translates into flavorful wine. The Doce Robles tasting room sits behind the family farmhouse on a ridge overlooking vineyards stretching to the east and west. Maribeth and Jim are often there in the tasting room to greet you and talk about their wines. In addition to great wine and views, Doce Robles features live music, hayrides, an ideal special event venue, and friendly dogs!
Continuing west along the 46 and down Arbor Road is Hope Family Wines. The Hope Family grew grapes for others in the Paso Robles area for many years before Austin Hope decided to try his hand at winemaking. Twenty-plus years later, Austin is still the Hope Family winemaker. In 2019 and 2020, the Austin Hope Cabernet Sauvignon was ranked in the top 10 of Wine Enthusiast Magazine’s Top 100 Wines of the World — the only Paso wine to achieve this honor. While Austin’s Cab was impressive, my personal favorite was the Lagrein-Petite Sirah. Lagrein is a northern Italian grape variety not often seen in Paso, so I was excited to try it. When combined with Sirah, it makes a deep red wine with rich berry and soft spice notes. Not only are the wines superb, the tasting area ranks among the best-designed I have ever visited. The placement of furniture and planters create semi-private seating areas that make every visitor feel like a VIP.
Another mile down the 46 brought me to Barton Family Wines, which also offers the Grey Wolf Cellars wine label and KROBĀR Craft Distillery. Joe and Shirlene Barton started this winery in 1994, with their son Joe Jr. helping in his free time between college classes at Cal Poly. Joe Jr. took over as winemaker in the late ‘90s, and in 2020, he was named the Winemaker of the Year by the San Luis Obispo County Wine Industry. The Barton Family’s urban farmhouse tasting room features a kitchen with casual farm-to-table cuisine and an outdoor seating space that has a relaxed, unpretentious vibe. I had a caprese pizza which paired perfectly with the Instinctual, a 100% Grenache bursting with dark cherry and vanilla that’s bold without being too much. When the cheese and pesto met the boldness of the Instinctual, it was pure deliciousness! But my favorite wine was the Lineage, a 55% Malbec, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 5% Cabernet Francthat had notes of dark berries and coffee.
What made the stop extra fun was the spirits tasting room; Barton has recently added the KROBĀR Craft Distillery tasting room to the back of the property. KROBĀR produces bourbon, rye, gin, and rum. They also make their own bitters and use mixers made by the Paso Robles-based Yes Cocktail Company. The results are amazing. The Cranberry Twist was one of the best cocktails
I have ever had!
Right next to Barton Family Wines is a red barn-like building with the words Dark Star in big letters across it.
Dark Star Cellars makes small lots of premium, hand-crafted wines and features some of the more unusual styles like Montepulciano, Tempranillo, Viognier, Roussanne, Rosé, Grenache, and Port. Dark Star has a reputation for a laid back, family- and pet-friendly atmosphere. They have an indoor tasting room and patio, and fun extras like an observation beehive, axe-throwing pitch, cornhole boards, free-range chickens, and winery cats. They also host live music once or twice a month.
At the back of the Dark Star Cellars building is Volatus Wines. LT Hal Schmitt was a Navy fighter pilot in the late 1990s when he began tasting wines in Paso and meeting with winemakers. When he retired from the Navy, Hal and his wife Victoria formed Volatus. The tasting room is designed to give the vibe of an officer’s club. Volatus is one of the newer additions to the 46 West Wineries, but already has a reputation for distinctive wines — like the bold red blend Top Gun Cuvée — and for its welcoming hosts.
My next stop was Four Lanterns Winery, another mile down the 46. I fell in love with their relaxed tasting area and delicious Rhone Valley and Bordeaux style wines. The tasting room looks like an old farmhouse; in fact, the 35-acre property was once an apple farm. Steve and Jackie Gleason opened Four Lanterns eight years ago after moving to Paso Robles with their four daughters, who inspired the name.
I sat on the back patio in front of a fire table and sampled a wide range of wines. They are most known for Grenache and Merlot, but what astonished me were two white wines: a Picpoul Blanc and a Late Harvest Viognier. Picpoul Blanc is an ancient varietal, Languedoc, I had never seen before. It was crisp, with a green apple bite. The Viognier is a sweet dessert wine that tastes like pears and apricots with a hint of spice. I took several home. Four Lanterns also offers accommodation at the Little Yellow House, a farmhouse that is now a short-term vacation rental.
I was hoping to get to Donati Family Vineyard, the last winery on the 46 West, located right at the intersection with Vineyard Drive, but the day was ending. Donati is distinctive for its French-chateau style building, with picnic areas and bocce ball courts. Ron Donati has carried on the legacy of his Italian grandfather who made his own wine for the family. The tasting room is decorated with family photos, emphasizing the family pride and heritage. The core of the wine portfolio has always been Bordeaux varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot as well as Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Syrah, and Grenache.
Even though I only visited a handful, I saw both the diversity and the unifying idea of the 46 West: top-quality wines combined with a great visitor experience. These are family-run businesses with a personal touch to the winemaking. The different wineries generally offer a similar range of wine styles – notably, the Rhone and Bordeaux varietals typical of Paso Robles. But each winery brings a distinct character to their wines, and has different stars of the show. They also recognize that visiting Paso is about the experience. From luxurious relaxing seating to food to live music, the 46 West provides a full experience for the visitor.
The 46 West Wineries include: AronHill Vineyards, Broken Earth Winery, Castoro Cellars, Croad Vineyards, Dark Star Cellars, Doce Robles Winery & Vineyard, Donati Family Vineyard, Four Lanterns Winery, Barton Family Wines/Grey Wolf Cellars, Hunt Cellars Winery, J Dusi Wines, Midnight Cellars, Peachy Canyon Winery, Sextant Wines, Shale Oak Winery, Tooth & Nail Winery, Hope Family Wines & Treana Tasting Cellar, Volatus Wine, and Windward Vineyard. For hours, directions and more, visit 46west.wine.