NOTE: This blog was originally posted in September 2013 and has been updated with additional winery information from October 2014 California Road Trip.
I’ve been to Napa. I’ve been to Sonoma. I liked both, particularly the wonderful restaurants of the area. But I also found the experience a bit touristy and overpriced. They definitely have some good marketing going on…and have corned the market on California wine tourism. Most people I know who are not from California, think Napa and Sonoma are the only wine growing and tasting regions in California.
But if you are looking for a genuine California wine tasting experience, with a lot fewer tourists, head on South of Napa to Paso Robles, Templeton, Los Olivos, Cambria and the surrounding regions of what is known as California’s Central Coast. You’ll find dining and lodging at half the price, and wines that will rock your world.
I spent a full day in Paso Robles/Templeton area where they produce some of the most outstanding Zinfindel and old growth Zinfindel to be found. In addition I stumbled upon an amazing selection of Rhone varietals including Rousanne and Viognier – two of my favorites. Another delightful surprise in Paso Robles was a new distillery “Re-Find” where they are using the grape by-product to distill some amazing spirits! In Los Olivos I spent an afternoon and I also found outstanding Rhone and Spanish varietals including Rousanne and Rousanne blends as well as the Spanish white Albarino. Los Olivos is also incredible for their Pinot Noir and Syrah. In the Cambria and Cayucas area I sampled Sangiovese and Pinot Gris.
The road less traveled in these area is certainly not less beautiful. My fall tasting trip included sparkling sunshine, vivid blue sky, green rolling hills of grapes and a fragrant aroma of Eucalyptus wafting through out.
There are literally hundreds of wineries in these areas. You can pick up a winery tour guide (as I did) to help you navigate your way, or just choose a road and start driving…you will find several wineries just off of Hwy 101 in both areas.
I didn’t hit them all, but here are a few I can recommend first hand as my favorites;
Turley in Templeton was my hands down favorite for Zinfindel
Mooney Family/Chateau Margene in Paso Robles had an amazing buttery Chardonnay
Tablas Creek in Paso Robles had an outstanding selection of many wines, but I went home with several bottles of their Esprit Blanc, a blend of Roussanne, Grenache Blanc, Picopoul Blanc. I also enjoyed and purchased the Cotes de Tablas Blanc, a blend of Viognier, Grenache Blanc, Marsanne and Roussanne. I am now a Tablas Creek Wine Club member because its hard to find such outstanding whites.
Harmony Cellars, in Harmony just south of Cambria had a very nice Sangiovese and a crisp summery white called Vibrante with apple notes. I’d love to sip that back home on a hot summer night.
Cayucos Cellars in Cayucos offered a nice Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Zinfindel.
Consilience in Los Olivas also had an outstanding Roussanne as well as a blend called Cuvee Mambo and a nice sharp, summery and fresh Albarino
Clayhouse Winery in Paso Robles had an outstanding Malbec. I made a special trip for this wine, which I had several years ago and wanted more!
Tensley Wines in Los Olivos was hands down the best Syrah, although they had limited quantity. I also enjoyed their Pinot Noir.
Re:Find Distillery, in Paso Robles is part of Villacana Winery. They are creating an amazed distilled beverage while providing a service to wine makers in the region. The spirits are made from the by product of the grapes in the wine making process – all of which used to become trash. The Cucumber Vodka was my absolute favorite and the gin was outstanding.
After all that wine tasting – need a bite to eat? The Central Coast region has wonderful dining options but here are just a few recommendations;
Cambria – The Sow’s Ear has something for everyone or drive south to San Luis Obispo where you will find an endless selection of dining options for every budget.
There are a lot more choices. So start planning your trip now and get ready for a surprising wine experience!