Re-Discovering Our Inner Winos – Paso Robles, CA
At one point in our lives we were pretty dedicated winos. Living only a few hours from wine country will do that kind of thing to you, and it wasn’t just about the wine. Back then every visit to wine country was like going on a treasure hunt. The area was chock full of small family producers, many of them still hippies at heart producing select small barrel runs of their latest invention. You’d drive up there, turn a corner, walk into a teeny little place and taste their story. It was a tale of passion and love.
But this was Napa and that was over 20 years ago, and things have sure moved on since then. These days that area feels more like a big Disney attraction with super-sized wineries and too many (sadly) over-priced wines. I’m sure it’s still got some good stuff and hidden gems, but much of the heart is gone IMHO. So I missed and mourned it, hoping I would find something like it one day in the future.
Coincidentally (or not) we joined Harvest Hosts last year, but just never got around to using the membership. The concept intrigued me (staying overnight at wineries & farms), but the stops were never really on our route, and the whole 1-night only stay limit was too…well…limiting. We toyed with cancelling the membership early this year, but decided to give it another go. Much of our decision to do so was fueled by a single place -> Paso Robles.
This little non-descript wine area lies between Los Angeles and San Francisco, almost smack in the middle of the Central Coast of California. It’s far enough from each major city to retain semi-anonymity meaning there is lots of cool, hidden stuff that no-one else knows about. Or at least that was what we were hoping to find. We knew we were were going to pass through here in Spring and since Harvest Hosts had a few spots in the area we wanted to see if we could combine our love of small wineries with our love of the road. Maybe we’d even re-find the wining passion we had all those years ago?
So it was with great anticipation that we rolled into Rio Seco Winery on a beautifully sunny Saturday morning. The drive itself had been gorgeous. Miles of pleasant 2-land roads through rolling green hills, blooming flowers and rows of vines just starting to spring out from their winter hibernation. Classic stuff. Plus we’d passed at least 15 small wineries coming in, none of whom I’d ever heard about. All this was a good sign, a very good sign.
We squeezed through the somewhat narrow brick entrance, drove up the curved road and stepped out of “the beast” to take in the first panoramic view of our new backyard. I have to admit I was impressed. A pretty red tasting barn on the left with a large inviting patio and tables, endless rows of vineyards rolling towards the horizon and nothing but the sounds of tweeting birds to accompany the lot. Our hosts met us with their most-friendly (and ridiculously cute) doggie, graciously invited us to park where we wished and invited the paws and us in for a tasting right after we’d settled into place. Right on! This was clearly a family winery, and the casual atmosphere reflected that. The good signs were just piling up!
We spent the next 2 days enjoying our fabulous spot (we’d gotten permission to stay for 2 nights) and re-immersing ourselves into our long-lost wino days. It was most wine-enlightening and although our stay was technically “free”, our pocket book was lightened with a few essential buys -> a most excellent Cab Franc from Rio Seco, a delectable Rosé from Villicana and a pretty darn mind-blowing Limoncello from Re-Find Distillery. The latter was heavily endorsed by fellow RVer/blogger (and self-proclaimed Limoncello addict) Robin who, together with hubby Jeremy, 2 doggies and 2 kitties (livebreathemove.com) had randomly decided to stay at the same winery as us. So, not only did we renew our wining roots, but we made new friends too. Score!
But the best of everything was undoubtedly the discovery of Paso Robles itself. Every single spot we went to was run by small-scale producers. Families, guys & gals passionate about their products, living the thing that they love the most. Plus their stories were just fascinating and being small wineries they had the time to tell them…
“That Cabernet Franc changed my life” said the gentleman poring the taster
“Really??!” I replied, observing the fine red liquid with a new appreciation “Tell me more. I’ve got to hear that story”
The story took at least 2 glasses to tell (and needless to say, we bought the Cab Franc), but it was a captivating tale, plus it had real meaning which was perhaps the more important thing. The wineries here still have roots. Personalities and stories, mixed with the earth, lovingly fermented and bottled to share. The wines have individuality, much like the owners and there’s an atmosphere of community and experimentation, like Napa had over 20 years ago before all the “big boys” came in and commercialized it. Plus every spot we tried was dog-friendly too. What could be better than chatting with folks about their story over a glass of wine with your best furry buddy by your side?
With over 200 wineries in the region I know we merely sipped the surface here, but that small taste was enough to know we’d found our inner wino’s again. We had a spectacularly good time and will definitely be back to treasure hunt in the future. This area helped us re-discover a lost part of ourselves, and we can only hope it’ll will never change. I’ll raise a glass to that, for sure!
Bonus Note for Beer Lovers -> You can’t go through Paso Robles and miss Firestone Brewery. We enjoyed their satellite location in Buellton mere weeks ago, and even though we only had 2 days in Paso we couldn’t resist going to their main operation here too. Good lunch, good brews and a lovely dog-friendly outdoor seating area. Just do it. Nuff said.