I Heart Central Coast Wine, Part 1

Heart Hills at Niner winery
I Heart Paso … nothing says it like Heart Hill at Niner.
I’ve just returned from the 2014 Wine Blogger’s Conference (WBC
14) held in Santa Barbara County, just a car ride north of my home in Los
Angeles, which included a one-day pre-conference excursion to Paso Robles wine
country, a bit farther north.
What I’m writing here is going to sound a lot like a paid
advertisement for the two areas, but I assure you it is not. Days after
returning home, I’m still energized by and somewhat swooning over what I saw,
experienced, learned, and, most importantly, tasted. I’ve been to both areas often, and while I’ve
always been intrigued by it, I’m now in love!
What is so clearly apparent to me after this trip is that both
Paso Robles and Santa Barbara offer amazing beauty, many hidden treasures — more
pop up on each of  my visits — and an
overall approachable wine and food community that is open, accessible, and
eager to share its bounty.
Additionally, the opportunity to be around 350 other
like-minded wine enthusiasts was not to be missed, and was about as rewarding
an experience as any I’ve had in a very long time. Wine bloggers, like wine
makers, are quite passionate about their subject. And, like many others in the
blogosphere, our passion is usually not linked to a paycheck, but to the experiential,
the transcendent, and the pure pleasure that our “little hobby” affords us.

Oyster fossil
Ancient seabed fossils add nuance to wines
Let’s start with Paso Robles (I’ll delve into Santa Barbara
on my next post). A seminar at Niner Wine Estates (gorgeous) with six prominent wine makers provided us bloggers with the basic facts. Paso is a 1,000 square-mile American Viticulture Area, or AVA, that
will, hopefully soon, be divided into 11 sub-appellations… the paperwork is in!
(I’ll also write more on pending Paso AVAs in a future blog, as there is a lot
to share on this subject.)
But generally, Paso Robles, which was voted Wine
Region of the Year in 2013 by Wine
, is an area of varied soils, created by the Pacific Continental
Plate, with limestone and ancient seabed fossils being prominent. It has many
microclimates because of its proximity to the Pacific Ocean, its many canyons
running north/south/east/west, and varying elevations. As a result, Bordeaux
varietals, Rhone varietals, Italian varietals, Spanish varietals, and others
are all produced successfully in the Paso AVA.
There are currently at least 250 tasting rooms in Paso, and
plenty of affordable hotels and motels. I stayed at the historic Paso Robles
Inn, which was once a grand hotel that burned to the ground in the early 1900s.
It was rebuilt with just one small portion of the original building still
standing, along with the requisite ghost (not seen by me, darn it!).
Paso has its pioneer wine producers, like J. Lohr, Eberle Winery,
Castoro Cellars, and Tablas Creek Winery, all of which have been instrumental
in developing the area into the world-class region it has become. But there is
also a strong sense of camaraderie among the vintners in Paso, with more established
wineries working hand in hand with new wineries. Advances and innovations such
as tannin management, sustainability, water management, farm worker education, and
cover crop management are shared among the Paso wine growers and makers. LEED
and SIP certification programs are also prominent.

old truck at Dusi vineyards
The Dusi family has been growing wine grapes since 1925
This sense of community among the winemakers was apparent in
our visit to Dante Dusi Vineyards, where five wineries — Brochelle Vineyards, McPrice
Myers, J Dusi Wines, Tobin James, and Turley Wine Cellars — served us their
Zinfandel, produced from the very vines amongst which we stood. If you haven’t experienced this kind of tasting, you should. Dusi dates back
to 1925, and thus far four generations of the Dusi family have worked the
vines, including granddaughter Janell of the J Dusi label. Each of the
winemakers at Dusi had a unique spin on the Zinfandel, and all were lovely
expressions of this California standard

with roots in Italy.

Another Paso stop was the magnificent hilltop Daou vineyards
in West Paso Robles, where the Paso Cab Collective of about 20 wineries
provided tastes of their Bordeaux varietals. Sunset at Daou, with the ocean
breezes blowing through the mountain pass was a hypnotic experience. And Cabs
from Paso are world-class, in my opinion.

bottle of Caliza rose
Caliza Pink

Brochelle Zinfandel bottle
Brochelle Zinfandel
Rhone varietals also had their venue, at Tablas Creek, where
the host as well as Calcareous Vineyard, Caliza Winery, Ecluse Wines, and Edmond
August Wines poured. A favorite for me, of course, was the Caliza Pink, a Rosė
made from Syrah and Grenache with a touch or Mourvedre. It was bright, fresh,
and went down easy.
Our day excursion to Paso ended with a trip to Wild Horse
Winery & Vineyards in Templeton and a Thomas Hill Organics lunch. The duck
tacos and kale salad were a treat. Thomas Hill Bistro and Wine Bar in downtown
Paso should be a stop on everyone’s itinerary as it’s a great example of the
farm-to-table movement prevalent in the area, with locally sourced organic
fruits, vegetables, baked breads, and grass-fed meats.
Next post, I follow the wine trail to Santa Barbara County,
where WBC 14 delivered many surprises.