Meet Paso Robles. While relatively new on the wine scene, it would be a mistake to designate little sister status to Paso, as locals fondly refer to their treasured town, when compared to Napa Valley. Though both check many of the same boxes that traditionally beckon grape-loving visitors — luxury lodging, acclaimed wineries and distinctive design — the differences are as simple as blue jeans versus blue velvet.
In this laid-back cowboy-kind-of town, it’s a place where reservations to secure wine tastings are not mandatory and the opportunity to talk wine with its makers isn’t rare. Here, everyone speaks to anyone in the town square and trendy touches emerge like surround sound.
Allegretto Vineyard Resort is the newest jewel in the Paso Robles crown. Lovingly conceived by Douglas Ayres, who describes his hotel/vineyard project as “musical architecture,” it is remindful to anyone who has visited Hearst Castle of William Randolph Hearst’s commitment to around-the-world perfection.
Above: The rolling hills around Paso Robles are carpeted with grape vines that produce excellent wines.
Complete with fabrics from Belgium and crushed marble from the Holy Land, an obelisk, sonic labyrinth, French-inspired chapel, an arched passageway the same dimensions of those in the Roman Colosseum and a hill of 200 olive trees (appropriately name Mount of Olives), one might think a passport necessary to visit this family-owned showcase. And to fully immerse into Allegretto’s art and design scene, it’s wise to take one of Karyl Lammers’ complimentary art tours. (www.allegrettovineyardresort.com).
For smaller pocketbooks is the Paso Robles Inn. Found in the very centre of town across from City Park, it’s complete with an old-fashioned coffee shop and top steakhouse.
In a region of no more than 20 wineries in 1990 to more than 200 today, it is the combo of Napa-like climate and French-like terroir that has attracted a bevy of now-acclaimed winemakers.
Above: The area's grand hotels offer cozy accommodation that usually look out on the vineyards surrounding Paso.
First-time visitors to Daou Vineyards and Winery might wish for a trail of breadcrumbs when negotiating the route. However, the sight of the valley far below the narrow road, followed by a sharp right and the first peek of the European-inspired tasting room perched atop a hill provide immediate transport to Europe. Complete with a bell tower (found in Spain, it rings to start each season’s harvest and again to end the harvest) and a view of acre upon acre of vineyards, it is the vision of brothers Georges and Daniel Daou, formerly of San Diego, via Lebanon and France.
Originally established as a walnut farm, Adelaida Vineyards & Winery is Paso’s sole winegrower with old vine Pinot Noir. Set on a rugged ranch — with owls, wild turkeys, boars and occasional bears — its modern-style farmhouse wine tasting room almost seems a dichotomy.
Sextant Wines came into the limelight with its Zins. Based on a nautical theme for its proprietors Nancy and Craig Stoller’s love of the sea, its decor includes a ceiling replicating the ocean’s movement and an abalone-like bar top.
Second-generation Andy Niner heads up Niner Wine Estates, a 100-per cent estate grown operation.
After six years of construction, its English-barn inspired tasting room debuted in 2010, showcasing a view of its iconic trees-in-the-shape-of-a-heart hillside.
Crisp, sleek and modern best describe Justin Vineyards & Winery’s new in-town tasting room. Known for its variety of pairings, its wine-and-chocolate-truffle matchup should be mandatory.
Above: The wine produced in this area of California is getting rave reviews from all corners.
Five blocks square and situated between 10th and 14th and Oak and Railroad streets, Paso’s downtown is not only home to 22 tasting rooms but also to a collection of one-of-a-kind retail options that are fashionable, eclectic and delicious.
Brown Butter Cookies serves up shortbread cookies with the saying “butter makes everything better” in mind.
The General Store’s welcome mat says, “Howdy,” and it has everything from Paso souvenirs to $2 locally-crafted pot scrubbers. Ladies clothing store Ambiance offers “edited” vintage Louis Vuittons (think an LV purse embellished with leather fringe).
Reached by car, train and a variety of flights, getting to Paso Robles (www.travelpaso.com) is no problem, but wanting to leave may be. Comfortable, confident and in the shadow of no one, a local’s summation projects the town’s amusing and assured attitude: “Napa is for auto parts. Paso is for wine.”