Pour Me Some Paso
By Misty Hall
Ah, Paso Robles. Dubbed by some as the “new Napa,” Paso has exploded into the wine scene in recent years. But despite its growing fame, Paso has managed to keep its rural cowboy charm and laid-back California vibe.
Here are three Paso wineries that have caught our eye — and a few others from across the Central Coast, too.
Art and wine: it’s the classic pairing. They both have the power to provoke contemplation, to ignite excitement. Paso’s Sculpterra checks those boxes emphatically, with artfully crafted wines, a passionate staff, and dedicated owners. It doesn’t hurt that they also happen to have an incredible sculpture collection.
Scattered amongst the gorgeous landscaping, you’ll find massive flying fish, dragonflies, jaguars, mammoths, eagles, and more. The level of detail and artistry is incredible — the wrought-iron gates, the light fixtures, the door handles, the embellishments in the tasting room’s exposed beams. The longer you look, the more you’ll discover. Be sure to check out one of the newest installations — a wall detailing the winemaking history of the Paso Robles region — while enjoying the regular live music acts that grace their outdoor stage.
But hey, we all know why you’re really here: the wine. The Frankel family’s sprawling estate includes a bit of everything, like Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Merlot, Primitivo, Mouvedre, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, and Pinot Noir. Winemaker Paul Frankel literally grew up amongst the grapes, roaming the vineyards with his dad, Sculpterra founder Dr. Warren Frankel. When Paul joined the family business, he realized there was an area in the vineyards where the cool air settled at night, creating a microclimate that could support the Pinot Noir grape.
“Nobody knows this land better than Paul,” Dale Morris, the Frankels’ neighbor who also works in the tasting room (and has her own wines, Jade Moon). “He is so invested in this place!”
The result of this family affair? Sublime. The 2016 Pinot Noir offers flavors of black tea leaves, cherry, clove, and mints, lingering on the finish. Our favorite was the ’15 Cab dubbed Bentley Ironworks, so named in honor of Sculpterra’s master blacksmith/sculptor Bob Bentley. Well structured with an oaky nose, it is enticingly balanced, with a tart berry taste and velvety oak-infused tannins. We also got a taste of the ’14, which was even more refined and blissful.
“This is what a Paso Cab should be,” said tasting room assistant manager, Darren Brown. (Side note for newbies: Don’t be afraid to reveal your novice. Darren, like all the Sculpterra gang, is a super patient and enthusiastic educator.)
Another favorite: The Héroe. The hard-working vineyard and production team are the inspiration behind Héroe. The faces of these “heroes” of the land grace the bottles of this offshoot of Sculpterra, and proceeds help operate free medical clinics in Baja California through The Flying Samaritans.
Don’t forget to grab a bag of pistachios before you leave the tasting room. They represent the starting point for Sculpterra four decades ago, and still reign over 30 acres of the estate.
Sculpterra is at 5015 Linne Rd. in Paso Robles.
For more: sculpterra.com, or (805) 226-8881
Allegretto Vineyard Resort
Allegretto is conveniently located near downtown Paso just off CA-46, but is masterfully crafted to feel miles away from the rest of the world. There is so much to do and experience at Allegretto, it’s easy to fill your days immersed in its many offerings — and the wines are a perfect complement to it all.
Allegretto is the passion project of Doug Ayres, of the Ayres hotel family. It has become a soulful extension of himself, from the grapes he grows to the expansive art collection he displays, even down to the exact height of each archway and the angle of each stone in the walkways.
Allegretto is a musical term describing a cheerful tempo of 112 to 120 beats per minute, and for Ayres, there is music in every aspect of the resort — including the building itself.
“I look at this as sacred geometry infused through the music of the architecture,” he said. Exploration of the property is encouraged, so feel free to roam and discover the exquisite artwork and antiques (my favorite: the massive slice of Sequoia which is thousands of years old). Head out to the pool or the Abbey, or take a meditative walk in the sonic labyrinth and the 20-acre vineyards. There’s also a top-notch spa, and a restaurant, Cello, featuring northern Italian cuisine.
The 171 rooms surround a 12,000 sq. ft. piazza, which invites guests to hang with friends around the fountain, fire pits, and cozy nooks. Book a Prelude Terrazza room that overlooks the piazza, and plan to watch the sun set from your private patio — with a bottle of wine or two, of course.
Oh yes, the wine! Like everything else at Allegretto, it is crafted with intention and harmony. “My philosophy of wine here is that it’s a qualitative component of love and balance, infused with the characteristics of all the body of the wine,” said Ayres. Our favorite was the Tannat. It is bold, with flavors of dark cherries and cinnamon, and an anise finish.
The grapes for all Allegretto’s wines are sourced not only from the on-site vineyard, but also from Willow Creek and a small selection of other Paso vineyards. Be sure to check out the Viognier, Vermintino, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Malbec — all grown at the resort. All are on offer in the mellow, peaceful tasting room just off the main lobby.
Allegretto Vineyard Resort is at 2700 Buena Vista Dr. in Paso Robles.
For more: allegrettowines.com, or (805) 369-2526.
Perched on top of a hill up the winding Peachy Canyon Road lies a winery with some of the most stunning views to be had in the region: Calcareous Vineyard. From its tasting room, you can see 60 miles across the Salinas Valley.
The views are inspiring, but it was the soil that originally inspired the father-daughter team of Lloyd Messer and Dana Brown to plant roots here. The limestone plateau is what gave the winery its name, and what prompted Lloyd and Dana to leave their native Iowa to create wines that “let the soil speak.” Planted at Calcareous are 38 acres of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec, along with one acre of Chardonnay, Dana’s favorite. Calcareous also sources from York Mountain and the nearby Kate’s Vineyard (from which they source all of their Zinfandel).
We loved the 2018 Vin Gris Cuvée, with its watermelon-honeydew nose and clean, cherry peach favor. With our long, hot summers that often overlap into fall, this super refreshing wine is a happy, easy-drinking wine. The ’17 Tres Violet was another winner, with its blend of 36 percent Grenache, 34 percent Mourvedre and 30 percent Syrah. Rich with supple tannins, this Rhone blend has intense flavors of cherry and chocolate.
You’ll enjoy your tasting in the stunning Lloyd’s Lookout, which boasts 180-degree views — even from inside — and a large, grassy seating area on the edge of the hillside. The tasting room is, appropriately, named after founder Lloyd “Moose” Messer, who loved to spend long hours walking the land. He passed away in 2006, the first year of production. Calcareous honors him in numerous ways; look for the preserved set of his boots outside the tasting room, and the red blends bearing his name.
Do yourself a favor and schedule a wine and artisan cheese pairing. As we gazed out over the valley, glass in hand, we had a cheerful debate over which we liked best: the Drunken Goat (Spanish goat cheese bathed in red wine), Ewenique (Paso sheep’s milk) or Beecher’s (cow milk from Vermont). Come on a weekend from noon to 3 p.m. for food and wine pairings, and live music on most Sundays.
Calcareous Vineyard is at 3430 Peachy Canyon Rd, Paso Robles.
For more: calcareous.com or (805) 239-0289
Other regional wineries to explore on your trip through the Central Coast:
Herzog Wine Cellars
Based in Oxnard, Herzog Wine Cellars sources grapes from a huge swath of California. “Our vineyards stretch from Napa, to Lake County, to the Central Coast because we want to grow the right grapes in the right places so that they will express themselves perfectly,” said Herzog’s David Whittemore. As “students of the soil,” Herzog now creates more than 50 different wines a year. New to the Herzog lineup this year are two sparkling wines (one red, one white). The Herzog family has been producing kosher wines in California since 1985, but the family traces its wine-making roots to Europe in 1775.
Their tasting room — conveniently located near the US-101 and CA-1 — offers flights of six to eight wines, spacious lounges (indoor and outdoor), and the option of taking a self-guided tour of their 77,000 sq. ft. facility. Bonus: They’ve got their own restaurant inside the winery! Tierra Sur is critically acclaimed and utilizes locally-sourced ingredients; thus, the menu changes with the seasons. Enjoy a tasting flight with farm-to-table tapas, or go all out with a four course wine-paired dinner.
Herzog Wine Cellars is at 3201 Camino Del Sol, Oxnard
For more: herzogwine.com or (805) 983-1560
Old Creek Ranch Winery
A historic property that lies just inside the boundaries of the Ojai Valley, Old Creek Ranch Winery is enjoying a new life thanks to the Holguin family and winemaker Jeremy Leffert (also of Tooth & Nail in Paso Robles). They’ve added a plethora of delectable outdoor seating areas, and “Much of the furniture is constructed from reclaimed wood from an old barn that was on the property,” said Jane Holguin. They’ve also begun replanting vineyards of Pinot Gris, Viognier, Albariño, Sauvignon Blanc, with plans for Petite Sirah, Grenache, Sangiovese, Tempranillo, and Syrah. For now, they source grapes from locations like Edna Valley, Los Olivos District, and Alisos Canyon.
This rural winery is ideal for an afternoon of wine tasting and lounging with friends, your kids, and your leashed dog, too!
Old Creek Ranch is at 1002 E. Old Creek Rd, Ventura.
For more: oldcreekranch.com or (805) 649-4132.
Jamie Slone Winery
Jamie Slone is a Renaissance man. He’s run radio stations, worked in real estate, raced cars in Sonoma, and now, owns Jamie Slone Winery in Santa Barbara with his wife, Kym. This “micro-boutique” winery in the Historic El Paseo only makes about 50 to 100 cases of each varietal with winemaker in Steve Clifton (of Brewer-Clifton Winery). “Our wine is not esoteric,” Jamie said. “It’s representative of Kym and myself.”
The word has gotten out about this five-year-old winery — in July, they were named “Best Winery” and “Best Tasting Room” in the Santa Barbara News-Press Readers Choice Awards. Go check out their new outdoor terrazza seating area, perfect for soaking up the SB sun.
Jamie Slone is at 23 E. De La Guerra St, Santa Barbara
For more: jamieslonewines.com or (805) 560-6555
Grassini Family Vineyards
There’s a reason Grassini Family Vineyards includes the word “family” in their name. Founders Larry and Sharon Grassini, with support from their four daughters Katie, Corey, Many, and Molly, operate their Santa Ynez vineyard. But planting grapes wasn’t part of the plan when the family bought their 104-acre parcel of land; it wasn’t until vineyard experts informed them of its huge potential to grow Bordeaux varietals that they decided to go for it. Today, their Historic El Paseo tasting rooms spotlight their Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, among others. They’ve won a slew of awards — most recently (2018) Best Urban Tasting Room, Best Winery, and Best Tasting Room by the Santa Barbara News-Press and Santa Barbara Independent.
At the heart of the operation is sustainability. They operate the vineyard and winery on solar power, built their winery from reclaimed wood, and use reclaimed water to irrigate their landscaping.
Grassini Family Vineyards is at 24 El Paseo, Santa Barbara.
For more: grassinifamilyvineyards.com or (805) 897-3366
A trip to France in the mid ‘70s changed the course of Jim Clendenen’s life. Rather than continue on his path to becoming an attorney, he decided to pursue winemaking. Since the early ‘80s, wine drinkers have benefitted from that choice, as he built Au Bon Climat into a winery with an international reputation. Perhaps best known for its Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris, Au Bon Climat sources fruit from Clendenen’s Le Bon Climat Vineyard, as well as from Bien Nacido Vineyard, Sanford & Benedict Vineyard in Sta. Rita Hills, Los Alamos Vineyard in Santa Barbara County, and Talley Vineyard in San Luis Obispo County, among others. Today, visitors to his Historic El Paseo tasting room can sample not only Au Bon Climat, but several of Clendenen’s other projects, such as Clendenen Family Vineyard, Ici/La-Bas, Barham Mendelsohn, and Vita Nova.
Au Bon Climat is at 813 Anacapa St, Santa Barbara.
For more: aubonclimat.com or (805) 963-7999
Sandra Newman wears lots of hats: owner of Cebada Wine and Forbidden Fruit Orchards, horticulturist, and winemaker. Her 100-acre farm came first, in 2002, followed four years later by seven and a half acres of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier.
A horticulturist with two degrees in plant science, Newman said, “My style is old-world style winemaking — very much French style.” Her wines are gaining momentum; the French Laundry just purchased a case of her Sparkling Rosé, and her wines are being featured in tastings at both Belmond El Encanto and the Ritz Carlton Bacara. She’ll also be featured in a forthcoming book about female winemakers in Santa Barbara County.
New at Cebada’s downtown Santa Barbara tasting room: a blueberry dessert wine made from organic blueberries grown at Forbidden Fruit Orchards. Stop in on Saturdays, when she’s almost always in the tasting room.
Cebada is at 8 East De La Guerra St, Santa Barbara.
For more: cebadawine.com or (805) 451-2570
Brick Barn Wine Estate
Brick Barn’s 35-acre estate is situated on a pocket of land the benefits from its proximity to the ocean (just 10 miles away) and the long, sunny days of the Central Coast. Their name comes from an early 1970s brick horse barn on the property, which now serves as the tasting room.
Opening their doors seven years ago, Brick Barn is helmed by Norman and Kathleen Williams and winemaker Rob DaFoe. Brick Barn’s tasting room features indoor seating as well as sprawling outdoor seating areas, complete with fireplaces and plenty of places to relax and take in the expansive views. While there, be sure to check out the Albariño, which has won a slew of awards in Sonoma County and San Francisco. But with a slew of wines from Syrah to Vermentino, Pinot Noir to Grenache Blanc and more, you’ll find something to suit every tastebud.
Brick Barn is at 795 W. Hwy. 246, Buellton.
For more: brickbarnwineestate.com or (805) 686-1208
Niven Family Wines
San Luis ObispoWhy have one winery when you can have four? Baileyana, Tangent, True Muth and Zocker make up the Niven Family Wines. Together, they offer more than 30 wines. “(W)e really can find a wine that suits every palate – from crisp and vibrant Albariño and butter Chardonnay, to elegant Pinot Noirs and big, juicy Cabernet Sauvignon!” said Niven’s Karl Boone. It all started with their patriarch, Jack Niven, and today, Niven grows 11 grape varieties that showcase their property’s cool climate.
At the historic tasting room (located in a schoolhouse built in 1909), you can taste across all four Niven brands. Then, play some bocce call, rent a picnic table, and book a cheese and charcuterie platter before taking in the amazing views.
Niven Family Wines is at 4915 Orcutt Rd, San Luis Obispo.
For more: nivenfamilywines.com or (805) 269-8200
This is the first in a series about Central Coast wines. What are your favorites? Let us know, and check future editions for more.