The interior coastal valleys of California, from Santa Barbara to Mendocino County far north of San Francisco, are home to some of the world's finest vineyards and wineries. The climate of warm summer days and cool nights plus mild winters is ideal for wine grapes.
The highly scenic region is an endless succession of oak studded hills and valleys, low hillsides covered in grapevines, gorgeous country roads canopied by big trees, well-kept small cities and towns, and attractive, lushly landscaped wineries, many of which are open to the public for wine tasting and purchases. The beautiful and idyllic lifestyle is uniquely Californian. Some of the loveliest scenic country driving - and outstanding red wines - may be found in northern San Luis Obispo County, west of Paso Robles. The area is locally called Westside Paso Robles.
The quaint city of Paso Robles, just inland from the California coastline,
is the hub of one of the state's oldest grape growing regions. Spanish missionaries
started to cultivate grapes for wine here in the 1790's. The area's unusual
microclimate (summer temperatures often exceed 100°F by day and always drop into
the 50's at night) results in the production of very outstanding and very robust red wines.
Many cultural events relating to wine are staged year round in the area. One of
the most popular events is the Paso Robles Wine Festival, held every spring in the town's
lovely downtown park. The areas vintners set up booths in the park and offer tastes
of their latest wines to ticketed adult guests. Local bands provide entertainment
and food vendors offer a wide variety of meals and snacks plus soft drinks for the kids.
While the wine and food and music and perfect weather provided a fine and
mellow time, the downtown area made a strong impression:
the old-fashioned and well kept downtown area is built around the park. The old
clock tower (above) reminded me of the mythical 1950's town in the movie
"Back to the Future". (The clocktower and its 1892 building were destroyed in the December, 2003, earthquake. During our September, 2006, visit, their reconstruction was nearing completion.)
The festival included much more than just an afternoon in the park. Besides the
formal dinners and golf tournament, there was a Sunday afternoon of open houses
and cookouts at many of the area wineries. This provided an opportunity to explore
some of the area's lovely backroads while visiting some of the more rural wineries.
The wineries' visitor centers were of course all very beautiful and consistent
with the idyllic pasttime of wine tasting. Generally they consist
of an attractive building set in the vineyards and surrounded by extremely
lovely landscaping. Some memorable locales are shown below.
The modest family-owned Poalillo Vineyards (left) is on a steep hillside shaded by huge
oak trees. The vines are in fields at the base of the hill.
The Justin Winery (right) is large, well-known, and very upscale. It includes a bed and breakfast with a small, private dining room. The grounds feature
a spectacular arbor with the finest landscaping. Hills of grapevines extend in every direction.
The three day Paso Robles Wine Festial is scheduled annually in mid-May. For more information or tickets to the Paso Robles Wine Festival, visit the
Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance's website or call them at (805) 239-8463.
More About California Wine Country
The California Central Coast features some of California's finest wine regions, as well as beautiful scenery along the California coastline. Though far less famous than Napa Valley which is north of San Francisco, the Central Coast wineries and vineyards produce equally good wines. The region also offers beautiful scenery to go with the wines, often in rural country settings with smaller crowds and a less hectic pace than in Napa.
- Santa Barbara County is one of California's premier wine producing regions. Renowned for its distinguished vintages, quaint settings, friendly vintners, and welcoming locals, the region is home to more than 90 wineries. The microclimates of the Santa Ynez and Santa Maria Valleys are uniquely suited to growing a wide variety of grapes, including Chardonnay, Syrah, and especially Pinot Noir. The area has become very popular due to the 2004 film, "Sideways", which showcased many Santa Barbara wine-related locales.
- San Luis Obispo County. The southern San Luis Obispo County Wine Country features about 20 wineries south of San Luis Obispo, in the Edna Valley, Avila Valley, and Arroyo Grande. The coastal climate and soils provide an excellent environment for producing grapes that result in ultra premium quality wines with intense and complex flavors, such as Chardonnay. In recent years other outstanding varietals have been successfully produced, including Pinot Noir, Syrah, Grenache, and other white Rhone varieties. The Arroyo Grande vineyards are farther inland with less maritime influence and feature outstanding Zinfandels.
Paso Robles Wine Country surrounds the city of Paso Robles in northern San Luis Obispo County. The north county region lies inland, east of the coastal mountains which substantially limit the maritime influence: cool air works into the valleys only during the evenings. The environment is therefore quite different than the south county, resulting in varietals that are quite different. The number of vineyards/wineries has grown in recent years from 50 to about 100. Newcomers range from family and boutique wineries to international winemakers. Many have come because of the growing reputation of Westside Paso Robles. By far, the most common planted variety is Cabernet Sauvignon. Other widely planted varietals include Merlot, Syrah, Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah and Sauvignon Blanc. Like the south county, Rhone varietals have become quite popular - and successfully grown - in recent years, including Syrah, Viognier and Rousanne.
- Monterey County. With more that 38,000 planted acres, Monterey County has established itself as one of California's premier wine regions. It is home to more than 80 wineries and vineyards and is renowned for its high-quality Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, but also produces excellent Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc and other varietals. The two major growing regions are the Carmel Valley readily reached from Carmel or Monterey and the Salinas Valley which focuses along the River Road which parallels US-101 south of Salinas. The amazing Chalone Vineyards east of Soledad rewards the visitor with unforgetable beauty and excellent wines.