by Ben Benevolus
Paso Robles is a diverse, robust wine region with large resort style wineries making dozens of wines and small family run places that may make just a couple of wines from their own estate grapes. Wearing a cowboy hat doesn’t seem out of place here as the region is more relaxed, rural and unpretentious than other wine areas. There are more than 40 different grape varieties grown. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Zinfandel make up 72% of the regions 26,000 acres of vineyards.
Highway 46 West, Doce Robles Vineyard
East Side Dry Farmed Zinfandel
The Salinas River Valley splits the area into the “West Side” and the “East Side” with over 200 wineries sharing the appellation. The cooler and wetter, “West Side” has wooded hillsides with narrow valleys and chalky, limestone and calcareous-rich soils. With a few exceptions, the vineyards and wineries are generally small and reside on country roads tucked back into the hills or along Highway 46 West. Here you can discover small boutique wineries, some with richly priced wines and reputations, family run wineries where the winemaker may be the one pouring in the tasting room, and small resort style places with grassy picnic areas and weekend entertainment.
On the “East Side” you find the largest wineries in the area, some with grand visitor centers, wine caves, and entertainment, as well as the small wineries making less than 5000 cases a year. Highway 46 East runs perpendicular to US 101 and is home to many of these great wine tasting stops. But don’t miss some of the unique little gems that hide out in the back roads on both the north and south side of Highway 46.
Paso Robles AVA Map courtesy of the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance
Currently there are only two AVAs in the region: the large Paso Robles AVA and the miniscule York Mountain AVA.
Paso Robles American Viticultural Area (AVA)is large and diverse region covering 614,000 acres, growing a range of grape varieties including the noble Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Merlot and Syrah. Vineyards planted to Rhone varietals are being developed as well as vines with Spanish and Italian ancestry.
The AVA was founded in 1983 and currently under review to add additional acreage as well as further refine the area with 11 sub-appellations.
To the west, the Santa Lucia mountain range blocks the marine fog from reaching very far into the vineyards. There is a distinct difference in climate between the eastern and western portions of the AVA clearly distinguished by topography, vegetation and the length of the growing season. The western end has chilly ocean breezes in the evenings cooling the vines, while the eastern portion is warmer and more arid.
Wines produced from eastern vineyards are usually full bodied, fruit forward and display soft tannins and lower acidity than those from the west. As a result, western Paso Robles wines are more age worthy, while those from the eastern end are more approachable while young.
Highway 46 West Vineyard
York Mountain AVA is one of the smallest in the state located on the far western side of the region straddling Highway 46. The area is part of the Templeton Gap and covers about 9,300 acres. The ocean is only seven miles away and influences the grapes with cooling evening fogs and breezes. There are six separate vineyards and one winery in the AVA, with Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Grenache, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir and Syrah.