Paso Robles Visit - Brief Impressions

Following are brief impressions of my winery visits from this past week in Paso Robles. I’m paying it forward a bit, as I planned our entire winetasting agenda based on reviews/recommendations from prior Berserker threads. I’ve never visited the area so my prior knowledge of Paso is limited to the wine boards and years on the Saxum, Linne Calodo and McPrice Meyers lists … all of which I’ve dropped as my palate evolved and the prices at Saxum and Linne Calodo in particular crept up.

Across the board, I was impressed with the wineries we visited. There is a range of styles coming out of Paso and plenty of balanced (for whatever that term is worth) wines. No regrets on any of our selected visits, though in hindsight I really wish we would have hit Tablas Creek, and to a lesser extent Turley (under the new winemaking regime) and Law Estate. Last point, if you haven’t been to Paso, you should go. Beautiful setting, genuine people and very good to great wines that should only get better as the on-average young vines in the area get older.

Wineries listed in the order of our visits:

Terry Hoage
A newer west side winery with modern tasting room on the scenic, hilly estate property. Evan in the tasting room was very knowledgeable and fun company. Two tasting options – current release and library tasting, which featured whites from the last release and reds from back to 2006. We opted for the library tasting. These are balanced and even elegant reds that can age 10+ years. The 2006 Pick Grenache (a CDP blend) had evolved gorgeously and tasted side-by-side with the current release (2012?) really highlighted how well Terry Hoage wines age and develop nuance and complexity. I think these wines would be favored by those who lean AFWE – concentrated but not ripe fruit and restrained oak treatment, with most cuvees using a majority of neutral oak. Terry also makes some interesting zesty whites, including a Picpoul which was a terrific, zesty and fresh drink. Also interesting that Terry is a former NFL player and many of the wine names pay homage to his career in football. Vines are all <15 years old, so still relatively young. Lots of promise from this site. Highly recommend visit.

Windward Vineyard
Don’t let the novelty of a Paso producer exclusively focused on Pinot dissuade you from visiting Windward. The estate sits in one of the cooler Paso microclimates marked by ocean-influenced wind tunnel known as the Templeton Gap. The winemaking philosophy here is “burgundian” and the wines taste in that style – good acid, mineral and earth notes, medium weight fruit. I liked the Pinots here much more than I would have expected. Well worth the visit. Recommended.

Herman Story
A fairly well known estate that sources fruit from Paso and other parts of the Central Coast. Neat, urban tasting room and winery just outside of downtown Paso. These are full throttle and unabashed wines across the board, including a 16%+ ABV rose! Fun enough visit to a moderately crowded and bustling tasting room (on Easter afternoon, no less). Wines are delicious in the hedonistic and bombastic style. Gotta wonder how these will age. Recommended, only for those high octane thrill seekers.

Clos Solene
A terrific line up from winemaker Guillaume Fabre who is from a lineage of French winemakers and an alumni of L’Aventure in Paso. While the wines embraced the Paso fruit there was a real old world sensibility to the wines, which were among my favorites tasted in Paso. The tasting room and winery is in the new “Tin City” area where many of Paso’s upstart wineries and breweries are co-locating off of the 101. Guillaume sources fruit from some of the best Paso vineyards including James Berry, Glenrose, Caliza and Russell Family. We tasted the Rhone wines which were killer across the board. Similar to Terry Hoage in that the wines use predominantly neutral French oak and the fruit/terroir shine through. Excellent balance and precision to these wines, with no feeling of overt ripeness or density. Guillaume’s wines are no longer a secret with lofty scores from the critics, and the wines are priced a notch higher than other newer wineries, though still well below other high-scoring Paso stalwarts. Highly recommended.

Field Recordings
We popped into this tasting room on a whim, as it’s also near Tin City and down the road from Clos Solene. A edgy (even hipster friendly?) tasting room complete with chalkboard art and ping pong table. Perhaps best known for their field blend, Fiction Red, which also comes in a craft beer-esque tall, thin 500ml can. The winemaker grew up working and planting vineyards, and focuses on sourcing fruit from unknown/under-appreciated vineyards. His winemaking emphasizes letting the vineyard speak. I really liked the Sauv Blanc, in a polished and modern style. The Rhone reds and Cabs were also terrific, in a more restrained and low alcohol style … and the full line up was in the $20-$35 per bottle range. Recommended for something different and ambitious.

A bit of a Paso institution these days with 100+ acres planted on the main estate with additional holdings in other parts of Paso. Almost ubiquitous as a fruit source for other wineries, the Denner name is pretty hard to miss while hanging out in Paso. The gorgeous and spacious tasting room (complete with a fireplace, indoor and patio seating) is set high above the estate vineyards with spectacular views. Once again, I found the house style to be balanced with an emphasis on low manipulation in the winery – the flagship (?) Ditch Digger CDP blend, which I loved, is 50% whole cluster and aged in neutral oak and concrete. Wines are good to great across the board and very fairly priced in the $50-60 per bottle range. A relaxed, picturesque and informative tasting room experience. Recommended.

Villa Creek
A Paso classic located on picturesque Peachy Canyon Road. We had a pleasant, if a bit vanilla, visit to the tasting room located on the estate. The winery sources fruit from across Paso and will soon use fruit from Estate vineyards too, which were planted in the last ~5 (?) years. Wines are consistently of very high quality – polished with a modern lean. Fairly priced. Winemaker is also pursuing more Italian varietals which should be fun to taste. The make a white from the Italian Fiano grape (aptly called Villa Creek Fiano) which was juicy, delicious and awesome with food. Recommended.

Alta Colina
Another relatively new winery on the Paso scene. The winery, new tasting room and estate vineyards are located on scenic Adelaida road. I was super impressed with the Alta Colina wines and thoroughly enjoyed our visit with Maggie Tillman, which included a tour/drive across the scenic, 30+ acres of sweeping, steeply-hilled estate vineyards. The vineyard management here seems impeccable with 15 distinct blocks demarcated to separate varietals, clones, trellis techniques, etc. The hands-on proprietor, vineyard manager and winemaker – Bob Tillman – is a former engineer and his precision is on full display. While the estate is family run and operated, Bob has surrounded himself with great vineyard and winery talent, including Jeff Cohn of JC Cellars. Vines are still relatively young, but it will be great to see what the terroir delivers with more time. The Old 900 syrah was killer and reminded me of a Gonon St. Joseph. Wines are fairly priced at ~$35-$45 for club members. Highly recommended for excellent wines, good people and an engaging/immersive visit.

We had a fairly transactional “Napa-esque” tasting here. The staff was pleasant enough and the wines were quite good (and the Rose was awesome!) but the overall experience was meh. The tasting room sits on picturesque estate vineyards and there is a new cave cellar under construction which will be cool when complete. But the whole deal, including wine price points, felt more like a visit to a sterile Napa winery than anything else we experienced in Paso. Perhaps just our bad luck, but not recommended given the multitude of other options in Paso.

Paix Sur Terre
Ryan Pease is making the most soulful and natural Paso Mouvedre and Rhone blends we tasted on our trip. Our visit with Ryan at Grey Wolf Cellars on Hwy 46 (where he makes his wine and Grey Wolf wine) was simply top notch. Ryan is passionate and down to earth and that comes through in his transparent and delicious wines. He has a great personal story about leaving the world of finance to make wine. He’s worked as an assistant at some benchmark Paso estates and is now making his wines in his own and very unique to Paso style. Fruit is sourced primarily from Glenrose Vineyard which is relatively old vine (20+ years) and Alto Colina. Ryan’s wines were among the best of my visit to Paso. And in particular his The Other One 100% Mouvedre from the Glenrose Vineyard was my absolute favorite. The Ugni Blanc was also awesome. Highly recommended visit and a highly recommended wine club to join ASAP as production is relatively low.

ONX Wines
Another very fun and engaging visit on a massive estate that has 30+ acres planted to a wide range of varietals – spanning typical Paso Rhones to cab to zin to tempranillo. ONX is making unique blends in a balanced style with upfront fruit and a modern lean. I enjoyed each of the wines – my favorite for current consumption was the Crux, a Syrah, Grenache and mouvedre Blend. The visit to the estate property was nothing short of amazing. Our entire tasting was in the vineyards. Started with a white and rose in the “tractor shed” which is an outdoor, rustic tasting salon nestled between the vineyards and the wooded banks of Santa Rita creek. We then hopped on the wine mule for a riding tour through the vineyards with 3 different stops where more of the current releases were poured. An awesome and unique experience, including a long chat with associate winemaker, Jeff Strekas. Recommended for very good, fairly priced wines and a killer, fun visit. Note that ONX is opening a tasting room in Tin City, so the estate visit we experienced may be harder to come by in the future.

Nick Elliot is making excellent wines at his boutique and a seemingly one-man operation. Our tasting was at Nick’s Tin City tasting room, which is a quaint and personable setting. We tasted through 3 of Nick’s wines and had the opportunity to spend quality time getting to know Nick and his approach to wine. Nick is sourcing from several of Paso’s top vineyards, including Russell Family and Law. The wines are delicious with forward, but focused and balanced fruit and plenty of spice. Definitely more of a modern lean but certainly not over-the-top. The Shadow Canyon syrah was a favorite of my entire trip, in a polished style with loads of exotic spice and black pepper. Recommended.

Nice overview. Thanks for the post.

Nice overview of the area. Glad you got to Nicora. I’ve been in communication with Nick through email several times and found him to be a very nice guy and I also like he’s doing with his wines. I particularly like his approach to Grenache… great texture. Sorry you didn’t get to Tablas Creek. Great group of people… been enjoying their wines for years.

Well done! Brings back great memories. Next time your in Paso stop by Epoch.

+1 on the Epoch!

Rich, it sounds like you had a great time and you hit a lot of great places. Definitely a good mix of styles and philosophies too. I’m glad you were able to visit some of the new producers, we had a great visit with Jeff as well at ONX and I was impressed by the overall quality of wine for a group with only a few Paso vintages under their belt. The quality of Tempranillo surprised me as well, glad to see the mix of varieties they have in the ground.

For Villa Creek, bummer you had a vanilla experience. I’m a big fan of the wines as they have some serious aromatics and varietal character despite their scale. The estate vineyards (Maha I believe) should be interesting to try once it’s in bottle because of the site orientation and serious slopes. A good amount of their fruit comes from the Luna Matta vineyard (including that Fiano) which is a pretty cool site in its own right. (You’ll drive past it if you go the long way up to Law Estates).

Definitely check out Tablas Creek if you return for a visit. Definitely the benchmark in my mind for the region. Some may prefer bigger styles more, but these are quality across the board with a number of really classic wines. They never lack for ripeness for my palate, but their wines do what only a handful of others wines from the region do: improve in the bottle.

Thanks for sharing Rich - sounds like you had a great visit.

Couldn’t agree with you more on Paix Sur Terre. Ryan is doing some great things there. I signed up for his club on the spot.

I have to throw some additional props to Epoch in corollary. I went to Epoch and really didn’t enjoy their wines - they weren’t a good fit for my palate. I explained that to the lady working the tasting room, and she actually took the time to ask me about the types of wine I do enjoy - we discussed that ad nauseum. After we were done, she reached into a drawer behind the desk and pulled out the card for Paix Sur Terre and said, “you’ll like these wines a lot - they’re amazing and should fit your palate well”, which is how I found out about them. I called Ryan from the Epoch parking lot to set up a tasting. So, even though the wines weren’t my style at Epoch (and a few in my group really enjoyed them), I was completely impressed that rather than dismiss me when I basically said as much, she helped me find a producer that made wines that were to my liking, and she succeeded big time. Anyway, long story, but I love that kind of stuff.

Thanks for reading and sharing your comments guys. Epoch was also on our wishlist, just ran out of time!

Dave - Really great that they were knowledgeable/attentive enough to make the connection to Paix Sur Teerre.

Clearly a great and diverse wine community in Paso.

Not to miss Law, Torrin and Booker as well as Turley

Rich, thank you so much for the review and notes! We all enjoyed having your group here and we hope you will come back for our Fall Release! - Guillaume (Clos Solene)

Thanks for posting, Rich. Your post has definitely given me a nice list of new(to me) places to check-out next time I go to Paso. [cheers.gif]

I also enjoy the Windward wine. Did you not visit Adelaida, the producer of Hoffman Mountain Ranch Vineyard Pinot Noir? The Viking Estate Syrah and the Cab are awesome!!!

Thanks for this - great post

Thanks for the reviews and list. Some new ones I need to try. For my palate, my consistently least favorite Paso winery is Tablas Creek. I’ve never spit out one of their wines as swill, but I have also never been wowed by one of their wines. And my least favorite place to visit - though I generally think they make good wine - is Linne Collado. Their tasting room staff have consistently seemed bothered to go out of their wine to offer a tasting and forget about being educated about their wines. Interestingly, the best customer service in a tasting room in the area has consistently come from Dover Canyon. Maybe not the most stellar wines, but the most interested in making your experience enjoyable.

But, I’m a strange one as I tend to like the wines I think are most suited to the region - Rhone/GSM blends (or their separate bottlings), and some of the less prune-flavored Zin. Cab and Pinot from the region, while often drinkable, to me, are almost never worth the tariff compared to their Napa/Sonoma area counterparts. Decent wines for sure, but a Cab blend from Paso is almost never worth the $70+ they charge.


Thanks for this quick note in the thread, as we’re headed to Adelaida next Friday, prior to attending the Paso Robles Wine Festival (for my wife’s birthday weekend)

Thanks, going to Paso this Summer and this is very helpful. Any recommendations on where to stay?

You two just reeled me in - I found some of that Paix Sur Terre (even though I don’t know how to pronounce it) Mourvedre at K&L and ordered three bottles. If you’re wondering what those icy daggers are from my wife next time you see her, that’s the reason.

Yeah, anyone have insights on these four?

The Courtyard Marriott is a nice all around stay. It’s a pretty convenient location to downtown Paso, has close access to the 101, is right next to Spring St. and is close to the shopping center off Niblick Rd. Parking is also easy and there’s also all the typical amenities you would expect when traveling. Hotel Cheval in downtown Paso probably has the best reputation, but it’s quite pricey. However if you have the resources and are willing to pay the price, then it would probably be the best quality stay. The most economical option is probably the Best Western Black Oaks, actually a very nice in the updated suites and quite clean. The exteriors are dated and run down, but the actual rooms are comfortable. Wouldn’t recommend Paso Robles Inn after staying there for a work trip, the rooms need to be updated quite a bit and the rooms are not particularly inexpensive. They have great proximity to restaurants and shops, but there really wasn’t much value there.

Bruce, it sounds like you would like the aforementioned Law and Torrin wines. I would also recommend Nicora, which is probably the best of the bunch in that style.

Law is a relatively new producer off Peachy Canyon Road with vineyards located at some of the highest elevations in the area. All the vines are quite young and their winemaker is Scott Hawley who is also the winemaker at Torrin. The facility and tasting room is impressive with few if any expenses spared in the process. Tasting there reminded me of DANA in Napa - beautiful facility, similar tasting format and the wines themselves are very singular in nature and perfectly polished with nothing out of place. Ultimately it depends on what you’re looking for - I enjoyed visiting but the wines were not particularly memorable for me given the style.

Booker, in my opinion, is probably the best bet of the bunch. These are well made and a bit more transparency and varietal character. The only issue is that the wines are quite expensive and start around $65 or so for their least expensive offering (the Oublie, which happened to be my favorite when tasting through the 2012s). Maybe not the best value play, but good quality and interesting wines.