With all apologies to John Donne, no appellation is an island. It’s true. The changes that have swept across the California wine industry over the past decade are reflected to a greater or lesser degree in the individual wine-growing regions.
It follows, then, that certain statewide trends are bound to turn up in Paso Robles. In years past, the Central Coast destination was home to no more than a handful of wineries. Most of them were family operations; few had much reach beyond San Luis Obispo County.
A drive down Highway 101 today reveals a different story. Long before motorists reach even the outskirts of the region, they encounter seemingly endless rows of vines, acre upon acre that had previously been dedicated to other crops.
Grapes are nothing new to Paso Robles, which traces its wine-making tradition back to 1797 and the historic Mission San Miguel Archangel. That said, the growth in recent decades has been remarkable, with the region now home to approximately 100 wineries and more than 200 vineyards.
With that expansion, the nature of the Central Coast wine-tasting experience has changed. Not only are there more vintages to choose from, but wineries themselves have grown larger and more sophisticated as well. This is particularly true of those located near the junction of highways 101 and 46, the latter serving as the region’s leading route to the Central Valley.
Fortunately, for those wine drinkers thirsting for a more varied experience, you can still find vestiges of Paso Robles’ laid-back past. There are plenty of wineries where the vintages are excellent, the tasting rooms quaint, and the service friendly.
With time at a premium, the best way to sample Paso Robles’ lower-keyed wineries is — with all apologies, this time, to Carl Sandburg — to choose the road less traveled. In this case, that would be the western leg of Highway 46, which slants southwesterly through neighboring Templeton before reaching Cambria and the sea.
Here, along a five-mile loop that runs from Highway 101 to Vineyard Drive and back again, are clustered 25 of the region’s finest wineries. They vary greatly in their individual characteristics — some are rustic and homey, others more sophisticated.
What they share, however, are winemakers dedicated to creating the best vintages possible — particularly zinfandels — and an appealing topography. Out of every window, it seems, lie the rolling hills of the Central Coast.
Castoro Cellars is among the first wineries visitors encounter on the loop, and that’s fitting, seeing as how Castoro is among Paso Robles’ oldest. The husband-and-wife team of Niels and Bimmer Udsen began making wine on the Central Coast in the early
’80s; their motto, “Dam Fine Wine,” was inspired by his longtime nickname, Beaver. Castoro opened its tasting room in 1993, and the ensuing decade has seen the owners strike a delightful balance between modern convenience and cozy comfort, the latter exemplified by the frequent sight of the family cat lounging in front of the fireplace.
Using primarily Paso Robles grapes, Castoro pours a wide variety of vintages in the tasting room. Like many of its neighbors, a nominal fee is charged, then applied toward any purchases. Zinfandels rule at Castoro, most notably its flagship Vineyard Tribute and Giubbini Vineyard.
Nearby Peachy Canyon offers tasters a bit of local history along with their wine. The winery’s tasting room is located in the Old Bethel Schoolhouse, which was built in 1886. Given its past, it should come as no surprise that Peachy Canyon’s grounds are a park-like setting complete with native oak trees and an old-fashioned gazebo.
The atmosphere within and without is welcoming. The wines are, too, including the Eastside and Westside and Old School House zinfandels.
There’s also an element of local history involved in visiting Grey Wolf Cellars down Highway 46 on the right. The Grey Wolf tasting room is situated inside a 60-year-old farmhouse, and the owners have accentuated the building’s past by retaining its vintage 1940s fixtures, including a cabinet radio and furniture out of an “Andy Hardy” movie.
Yes, images of wolves figure prominently in the room’s decor, but that just somehow serves to accentuate the winery’s no-frills approach. Grey Wolf is a no-nonsense family winery, with plenty of personal contact between the owners and the visitors.
Hunt Cellars, half a mile to the southwest, is among the most-honored wineries on the Central Coast, just last year taking home multiple gold medals from regional and state competitions. As elsewhere in the region, the emphasis at Hunt is on its “killer” zinfandels.
A visit to Hunt is noteworthy for not only the wine but the grounds, which include a picnic area and spacious deck.
Changala Winery is among the loop’s most popular. Since opening its tasting room in 2008, the winemakers have remained committed to working with just a few growers who share their dedication to growing the best grapes. Like winemakers across the Paso Robles appellation, the result is distinctive quality wines to match any produced in California.