Everyone has gone through Paso Robles while traveling north, venturing to Target or perhaps even to tour the wineries off U.S. Highway 46. Believe it or not, Paso Robles is one of the most up and coming wine regions in California.
The number of wineries has increased nearly five fold in the last 10 years, from a measly 35 to a bolstering 170 wineries. Paso Robles has a long history of grape growing. The infamous founder of many California missions, Father Junipero Serra, planted the first vines at the San Miguel Mission in 1797. The oldest varietal and the heritage specialty in Paso Robles is the Zinfandel grape. Abundant throughout Paso Robles, the short, stumpy, twisted vines of the Zinfandel boast up to a hundred years of graceful aging. Celebrating these graceful beauties, the Zinfandel Festival takes place every March in Paso Robles.
The largest production grape in Paso Robles is the Cabernet Sauvignon. With nearly 38 percent of production, the Cab grapes dominate most of the 26,000 acres of planted vineyard acres in this acclaimed American Viticulture Area (AVA).
Before and during the Paso Robles designation of the AVA, many larger wineries were established, including Eberle Winery, J. Lohr, Wild Horse and Meridian. Today, viticulturists have begun to focus their energies on Rh“ne varietals. These pioneers in the field are called “Rh“ne Rangers,” planting Syrah, Viognier and Rousanne. In fact, these Rh“ne Rangers were the first to plant Syrah in all of California. These Rh“ne varietals are all “le buzz” in Paso Robles and are celebrated at the Hospice du Rh“ne in May. This festival constitutes the largest celebration of Rh“ne Varietals in the world (www.hospicedurhone.com).
Speaking of wine festivals, which many readers know are my favorite kind of festivals, the Paso Robles Wine Festival takes place in May. This shin dig is held outside and is comprised of nearly 70 wineries from Paso Robles.
Paso Robles has been the source of several debates lately. There have been several moves toward dividing the 614,000 acre-wide AVA. The proposed division could split Paso Robles into two or up to 11 different pieces. The more popular proposition is that Paso Robles be split from the east and west side.
The west has always been wellknown for its prize wines developed closer to the ocean at cooler temperatures. While the east dominates the bulk production of grapes, enjoying warmer and drier temperatures. The push for division may be desired to duplicate Napa’s AVA. While imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, several east-side Wineries feel that splitting Paso Robles could be marketing suicide.
But, it’s no wonder Paso Robles has wanted to replicate another Napa – the pinnacle of success for wine in California.
Robert M. Parker Jr., famous wine critic and innovator of the wine point system, said, “there is no question that a decade from now, the top viticultural areas of Santa Barbara, Santa Rita Hills and the limestone hillsides west of Paso Robles will be as well-known as the glamorous vineyards of Napa Valley”(Wine Advocate, 2005).
So before Paso Robles is “discovered,” it might be prudent to take advantage of these award-winning wines that don’t necessarily fetch prices like wines from Napa and Sonoma.
Some local favorites of mine are: The Eberle 2005 Viognier (Eberle Winery, $20), which takes a 94 Point rating. It is light, airy and emits a sweet honeysuckle and peach odor. It is perfect paired with a seafood or creamy pasta dish. Why not have it with some shrimp Alfredo?
My second pick is the Sylvester 2004 Kiara Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Albertson’s, $8). This beautiful red has an exquisite black cherry smell drifting from a sexy dark body and has some cinnamon notes sprinkled along with hints of black pepper. I would recommend a nice juicy steak with this gorgeous wine.
Paso Robles vineyards are abundant in limestone, but soon they will be headed towards the limelight.
Take advantage of these wines now, and one day, you might be able to say, “I knew that wine way before it got famous.”
Lauren Jeter is a 2005 wine and viticulture graduate and is pursuing a master’s degree in agribusiness.
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