Tour the Wineries of Santa Barbara & Paso Robles

The American Viticultural Area known as Central Coast covers over 4-million acres of land in the area from San Francisco to Santa Barbara. This massive umbrella designation encompasses or borders more than 30 smaller appellations. At the southern end of the Central Coast are some of the most exciting wine regions California has to offer, but they remained under the radar for tourists until the 2004 movie, Sideways, showcased the area as never before. Two counties, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo, contain seven appellations that offer a dazzling array of wines sure to delight visitors from the casual sipper to the most finicky of connoisseurs. A trip to this area must include stops at Paso Robles wineries, which produce some of the state’s wine.

Just a short drive up the coast but a world apart from the northern suburbs of Los Angeles, there are nearly 100 Santa Barbara wineries. Concentrated in three main growing areas, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Ynez Valley and Santa Rita Hills, wineries are spread out over a roughly 50-mile area. Although not an official AVA, the Los Alamos Valley is also a known growing area. In general, this area shares an east-west orientation of the valleys with strong cooling influences from the ocean. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay do exceptionally well here but in recent years, winemakers have identified micro-climates that produce stellar Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, and other Rhone varietals.

For wine lovers seeking to experience wineries that have received sterling reviews for their Rhone varietals try Foxen, Jaffurs, Melville, Qupe, Stolpman or Tensley just for starters. Those who worship Pinot Noir and Chardonnay should also seek out the wines of Melville as well. Many of the limited releases that garner raves from the critics are not available to tour and taste, such as Brewer-Clifton and Paul Lato, but with so many venerable producers from Au Bon Climat to Sanford, Fess Parker to Fiddlehead, LaFond to Sea Smoke, the Santa Barbara area is brimming with great choices.

Heading north to San Luis Obispo County, this fast growing vineyard area has four official AVAs, Arroyo Grande, Edna Valley, York Mountain and Paso Robles. With more than 170 wineries and 26,000 acres of planted grapes, Paso Robles is the most popular area of the county for wine tourism. Generally warmer than Santa Barbara, Paso Robles has very diverse soils and growing conditions allowing for more than 40 wine varietals to succeed here.

In the 1980s many larger wineries snapped up inexpensive vineyard land throughout Paso Robles. Only within the last fifteen years have boutique producers exploded on the scene with new varietals, blends and winemaking focus, elevating quality to the point where Paso Robles can equal anywhere in California for outstanding wine. About half of all the grapes from this area are purchased by wineries throughout the state, a testament to their popularity.

Some truly excellent wineries to experience in Paso Robles are Linne Calodo, Turley, L’Aventure, Booker, and Denner. In the downtown area are more than ten tasting rooms as well as good dining choices. Each year in March, Paso Robles hosts their annual Zinfandel festival honoring one of the most important heritage grapes in the region. Whether you enjoy Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah or Zinfandel, a visit to Paso Robles provides a wealth of wine treasures to enjoy.