We headed out from the South Bay on a beautiful morning in search the perfect zinfandel. Instead of going someplace close like Uncorked, I was headed up to Paso Robles to meet some friends for a weekend of wine tasting, in the town where I first learned to drink wine. Well, I already knew how to drink wine (btw, it’s pretty easy), but it’s the place I first started going after getting into wine, at my brother’s behest.
Before going to our accommodations, we drove over to the west side (a mile down the 46 off the 101) to meet some friends who were members at Turley. Turley’s long been known for their zins (although they make other wines) – one of the things I loved about Paso when I first started getting “serious” (can you ever really get serious about a hobby that involves drinking?) about wine.
Larry (Turley) likes old vines. Real old vines (“Old Vine” is used as a marketing “phrase littéraire” which can mean…well nuthin). In fact, two of his zins are from the Dusi and Pesenti vineyards, two of the oldest in Paso. I remember going to my aunt’s place (she had married some rich dude who owned a ranch on Peachy Canyon road that would be worth half a billion today) when I was a kid and there was pretty much one winery: Pesenti.
The big deal was you bought a bottle of wine and it came with a little red sticker around the neck with your name on it. The quality of the wine was never really a consideration. Now that I’m all grown up (well…sort of) I’ve got my name plastered on many a bottle of crap Pinot Noir gracing the shelves of your local supermarket (check out the $7.99 Mark West Vineyards Pinot Noir next time youre at Pavilions). We tasted several Zins and a Petite Sirah. Turley’s are amongst the best (if not the best) zins in Paso in my humble opinion.
Next, we headed north up Vineyard drive just a few miles to Oso Libre (Vines-Wines-Angus). In addition to wine, they are a traditional San Luis Obispo cattle ranch, and they raise organic, sustainable, solar-powered cows, well… the last claim may not apply to the cows. But their philosophy about farming embraces organic, solar, all that good stuff you hear about. You can check out their website here.
It was heading towards evening so we headed to our accommodations- a lovingly restored 4 (or 5?) bedroom house circa the 30’s I think. Looking at the outside I didn’t think much of it but once we got inside, as I said, it was lovingly restored, they had a huge kitchen where we made dinner, and there was a hot tub out back. It was a 10-minute bike ride from downtown. But you don’t need a bike when you hire….
…Crownlimos805.com. The next morning (well, 11ish, which is morning if you were drinking wine the afternoon and evening prior) our bus from Crown limos showed up. Our driver was awesome, full of fun stories, and amused when we all took advantage of the pole in the middle of the bus, demonstrating our pole dancing skills, or lack thereof. Note to self: guys do not in any way shape or form perform well on a pole.
Anyway, we proceeded to our first stop: Halter Ranch. Fortunately one of our group was a member so we got the royal treatment. After the tour of the facility, we retired to the wine club tasting room for a “relaxed seated tasting” with windows overlooking both the vineyards and the inner workings of the winery. We were served some nice appetizers to boot. We got to taste a vertical Cabernet tasting, among others. Halter Ranch is a beautiful state of the art facility on the west side of Paso-in case you don’t know, in general Paso is divided by the 101 and the different wineries are referred to as on the west side or east side (of the freeway).
After we left the wine club tasting room, we sipped a few whites at a little tasting bar they had set up outside and enjoyed the crisp weather, my pretentious wine banter (well, maybe not “enjoyed”) and waited for the party bus and a chance to redeem ourselves on the pole, now that we were a little more lubricated.
We headed over to Opolo for lunch. We sat outside in the crisp air (but still warm enough to, well, sit outside) and chose from the 3 courses they offered up. I picked the barbeque plate to help soak up the wine. It hit the spot. After lunch we went inside to their comfortable, casual tasting room and tried out their wines- they’re mostly known for their big Zins, Cabs, and Merlots. They didn’t disappoint, and we stumbled out to find our ride.
The party bus moved on, the pole dancing was in high gear. Everyone gave it a shot, somehow no one broke a hip. After tending to our wounds and listening to an eclectic mix of hip hop and Neil Diamond on the sound system of the party bus, we arrived at Rotta in the afternoon. Christian Tietje is the winemaker here. He started Four Vines in his garage, sold it, and created Cypher where he’s also the winemaker.
Rotta has a small, intimate tasting room, stacked high with barrels. It’s got that wine-soaked oak smell that lets you know you’re in for some fun. We were treated to a flight of mostly reds- Cab, a blend, a Zin, maybe a Malbec- the memory is a little fuzzy. After buying a few bottles we walked out into the bright sunlight and into the party bus and headed to Penman Springs.
I have a soft spot in my heart for Penman Springs- they were one of the first wineries I visited in Paso. It was also a favorite of one of our group. Their small, non-ostentatious, craftsman style tasting room surrounded by vineyards is a beautiful spot to do a tasting, then slip outside, sip some wine, and take in the beautiful glow of the afternoon, and good friends.
Finally, we headed over to La Vigne. I was looking forward to this place; research indicated there was a haunted train car parked aside the winery. Added bonus- the fabulous, sexy, pole dancing chick who coordinated our trip (thanks Katrina!) picked this place because they did cheese pairing- they have an attendant cheesemonger. We feasted on Irish sharp cheddar and a three milk blend from cow, sheep, and goat’s milk, amongst others. The wine was not an afterthought either. Nice and rich, kinda’ like how I like my women. Well, they don’t have to be nice.
I ran over to the train car but it was locked. I found out later it was kept locked to keep the homeless dudes out. Or was it to keep the ghosts in..??? By the time we had finished our tasting, it was dark. Still no ghosts. So we headed back to our last stop, Pappy McGregor’s Irish Pub for a beer. The place was crowded, we hunkered down and got some beers and a few Jack and Cokes, and took in the local color.
After not too long we caught our limo back to our place, said our goodbyes to our driver, and settled in for a little more wine, ordered in Chinese food, and enjoyed the hot tub out back, getting to know each other a little better. Life could be worse than sharing a fun weekend drinking wine in a beautiful place with people you love.