I love love love going on wine tasting trips. It is so fun and informative to visit wineries (and tasting rooms) to learn about new wines and to try them in the place in which they were born and raised. Because I have family in Sonoma, most of my trips in the past few years have to been to wine regions in that area. While I love Napa and Sonoma, there is so much more to California wine, and this past week I learned more about how true that really is.
This trip took me to two regions, Santa Barbara County (about two hours north of LA) and Paso Robles (halfway between LA and SF). Both of these regions have the ideal climate and soil for the varietals that grow there, including the grape loving hot days and cool nights. And like many wine regions, the rural areas are breathtaking.
My trip started in the most adorable small town of Los Olivos, which is north of and inland from Santa Barbara. There are 35 tasting rooms in this tiny town making it a perfect destination for wine lovers who want to try a wide variety of wines without having to travel around all day. I was only able to visit a handful but I had a really enjoyable time at each one. Two highlights were Tercero and Stolpman, which I will write more about in future posts. Both of these wineries focus on Rhone varietals such as Syrah and Grenache.
After Los Olivos, I traveled along the Foxen Canyon Road heading north and stopped at a few places along the way. The highlight of this portion of the trip was Cambria, a winery out on the middle of nowhere focusing on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
There was something so amazing about drinking some of the best wines of the trip while gazing out the windows behind the tasting area. The view seemed to extend forever. More about Cambria another day. It was not on my initial list of places to visit, however, a fellow wine taster along the way highly recommended a visit there and that was some good advice.
I continued to head north to Paso Robles for two more days of exploring. The first day we visited the east side, and the second day, the west side. Paso is split into two halves by the 101 highway and remarkably, the two sides have different climates and consequently, very different wines. At this point my husband and I were joined by my two aunts from Sonoma which helped me to get a second, third and fourth opinion on the various experiences. Highlights from the east side were Gelfand and Penman Springs. More to come on both of those wineries too.
The last day was the west side of Paso. It started with a great tour of Justin, one of the more well known wineries on our list. We learned so much and their wines really are world class. There was quite a bit of scheming in our group around how we could come up with a financial plan to own a fabulous winery like this one. More on the tour and the wines from Justin soon.
We had dinner at a great Italian place called Il Cortile on our first night in Paso and a wonderful Syrah was recommended by our server. It was so good that I changed our itinerary so that we could visit the maker of this fabulous wine, Halter Ranch. The grounds at Halter Ranch are gorgeous and our pourer could not have been more hospitable and gracious. The wine lived up to our memories from the evening prior and a whole bunch came back with me to Atlanta.
One of the greatest things about wine tasting in this region vs. Napa is that it is much more of a value. Nearly all wineries had tasting fees half that of Napa ($10 vs. $20+in Napa) which were consistently waived with purchase. In addition, the wines were reasonably priced which is great for those looking to take some wine home. We were there on a weekend in March and none of the wineries were too crowded (except one place, Tobin James, which was a very unique winery). I prefer an uncrowded winery so that I have the opportunity to learn about the wines and the history of the winery.
I really loved my time in both Los Olivos and Paso Robles. I would go back in a heartbeat. There are over 300 wineries in both regions combined so it would take me many trips to visit enough to really understand both areas. The restaurants were also top notch. One of the best meals I have ever had was at Thomas Hill Organics. If you are thinking about a wine tasting trip, open your mind to some of the other regions on the west coast as they offer great wines at reasonable prices, without any sacrifice to the experience.