Paso Robles is a wine destination for the wild-hearted. It’s often touted as one of the most exciting up-and-coming wine regions in California. Located centrally between San Francisco and Los Angeles along the Central Coast, Paso Robles is easily accessible and has a wide range of food and wine to offer visitors.
The town Paso Robles was co-founded by Kentucky outlaws Frank and Jesse James’ uncle Drury around 1869. Today, Paso Robles is still considered by many as the wine industry’s “wild west”, characterized by that same rule breaking diversity and innovative spirit in which the town was founded.
You’ll notice that there isn’t one particular varietal or style of wine that the region is most known for, but rather a slew of innovative, forward thinking winemakers doing everything they can to make great wine that interests them.
A fun little tidbit for you: Paso Robles is California’s fastest growing AVA; since 2000, the number of bonded wineries has grown from 50 to over 200, with a vast majority of these being small, family-owned producers. It’s a place a lot of winemakers find intriguing, largely due to this innovative, wild spirit. Not to mention -- it has the perfect climate to grow a lot of different styles of wine grapes! The sky's the limit here for winemakers.
Being located about halfway between SF and LA, four hours from each, Paso Robles was the perfect spot to meet up with my friend, Mina, for a fun long weekend trip! Below are some of the wonderful places we visited. It was my first trip here, but it certainly won’t be the last! There’s a TON of places still on my “wish list” for next time(s).
A quick note for those wine nerds out there… Paso Robles is divided into 11 sub-AVA’s to help quantify and organize the diversity of terroir in the area. Most people, even within Paso Robles, seem to refer to the region as a whole, but it may be helpful in understanding the region and deciding which of the 200+ wineries to visit! You can learn more about the differences between each area on Wine Folly, linked here.
Ancient Peaks was an absolute “must” when planning my trip to Paso Robles.
The southernmost vineyard in the Paso Robles region, and the only vineyard in the Santa Margarita Ranch AVA, it’s admittedly a trek to get here, but so, so worth it.
I got a first-hand tour of their beautiful vineyards from Amanda Wittstrom-Higgins, the winery’s executive Vice President. She’s also the founder of Dream Big Darling , an organization that promotes the success of women in the wine & beverage industry
Ancient Peaks is a family-owned winery located in the town of Santa Margarita. Their vineyards are on a sprawling array of different soils and their team works to craft beautiful wines that reflect this sense of place. I’m personally a huge fan of their Cabernet Sauvignon — a beautiful wine at an incredibly approachable price point.
Adelaida was the second stop on my trip and a must-see for me. With claim to the highest spot in Paso Robles, I knew this was a view I didn’t want to miss. It’s absolutely stunning!
This family-owned winery makes some killer zinfandels and is nestled in the beautiful Santa Lucia mountain range. Adelaida has a rich history and is home to the oldest pinot noir in the central coast.
They offer daily tastings in their lovely tasting room, and you can also bring your own picnic to enjoy in their outdoor seating areas. In addition to that, they also offer a hilltop tasting, which I cannot recommend enough! Their hilltop venue is the highest point in Paso Robles, and has spectacular views.
Aside from the beautiful view, Adelaida Vineyards is also home to an organic walnut ranch that surrounds the property, intentional wildlands, and estate vineyards that produce outstanding wines. I was a huge fan of their Mourvèdre!
Parrish Family Vineyard
Parrish is home to a ridiculously delicious BLT that I can’t stop dreaming about. Yes, yes, I know we’re here for the wine. But, I’ve just never had anything like this! Candied bacon, creamy garlic aioli, homemade Cabernet Sauvignon sourdough bread… my mouth waters just thinking about it!
Their wine, of course, is outstanding. With a storied history that begins trellising vineyards throughout famous wine regions (including for Napa’s Robert Mondavi), winemaker/owner David Parrish crafts beautiful, food-friendly wines that are representative of the Paso Robles region. Their tasting room is affectionately known as “the ranch house” — it’s modeled after David Parrish’s own home. When you’re there, they want you to feel like you’re home, like family.
I have to say... next time I’m down there, I’ll definitely be headed back to Parrish! Sitting on their patio, surrounded by vineyards was lovely all around.
As the pioneer of Rhône Valley varietals in the U.S., Tablas Creek was an absolute must during my first trip to Paso Robles. Beyond being a huge wine nerd for things like that, numerous people reached out to me to tell me it was one of their favorite wineries in the area and insist I make it a priority to visit (and I’m so glad they did!)
The Tablas Creek property sits at 1500 ft elevation and is home to shallow, rocky limestones, similar to those you’d find in Chateauneuf-du-Pape in Rhône, France. The vineyard also imports all their own vineyard cuttings directly from there, to ensure the vines are of the highest quality and suited to their similar soil and climate.
As for the wine... Tablas Creek also follows the Chateauneuf-du-Pape tradition of blending to produce wines that balance richness and elegance, while ensuring complexity, freshness, and minerality.
While at the tasting room, we had the opportunity to get super nerdy... in addition to crafting beautiful blends, Tablas Creek also has a surprising number of Rhone single varietal wines, including ones I’ve never had solo! It was a fantastic taste experiment to try the wines on their own, then see how they contribute to well-integrated and complex blends.
Justin Winery boasts an absolutely gorgeous, serene outdoor tasting area surrounded by vineyards. As a prominently recognized brand, their wine lives up to the hype and balances quality with price point.
During our visit there, we had the privilege to experience their Chocolate Paired tasting, which was absolutely amazing. Their in-house pastry chef hand crafts these each day, and each chocolate is expertly paired to a different Justin wine for an absolute match made in heaven.
When Justin Winery started in 1981, there were only eight wineries, compared to the now 200. Their founder, Justin Baldwin, had a vision for the area, understanding that the area had all the reasons viticulturally for why you could grow good grapes, and in turn make good wine. His foresight helped develop the area into what it is today. Another “must” on any wine nerd’s visit, and even for those who aren’t!
Tin City is a market style area where various warehouse-like buildings house passionate artisans who craft wine, beer, and spirits. While on our trip, we visited just one producer in this area (Field Recordings, a winery who crafts minimal-intervention wines labelled by and descriptive of the vineyards in which they’re grown). The more I talk to people about Paso Robles, the more I hear about the innovative and passionate winemakers in this area. Next time I head to Paso, I’m definitely checking out a few more in this area to see what they’re up to!
Alchemist Gardens - This place was fairly new during our visit, but came highly recommended by locals. It was DELICIOUS! Their bone marrow in particular was indulgently satisfying. They also have a delicious array of mixed drinks, for when you’re ready to switch away from wine for the night.
Other Things to Do
Be sure to wrap up your day with a trip to Sensorio. A temporary art exhibit, this field of lights is absolutely dreamy and a must-see. Photos don’t quite do its magic justice… there’s nothing like seeing the real thing!