I was excited for my recent trip to Paso Robles for a long weekend of wine tasting and a day along the Pacific coast, because it always feels a little bit like coming home when I return to California.
I spent almost 15 years living in the Bay Area, not too far from the Napa Valley. It’s where I discovered and fell in love with wine, not just drinking it, but exploring wineries and vineyards and meeting the people who were growing the grapes and making the wines. I became captivated by it.
When I lived here, Paso Robles was not a world-famous wine region with over one million annual visitors and 200+ wineries. Back then, on the drive between San Francisco and Los Angeles on Highway 101, it was a place to stop for gas and a cold drink. The hills and winding roads surrounding the town were scattered with cattle ranches and lined with groves of walnut and almond trees. It is dramatically different now.
While the Central Coast of California is half the country away from the Hill Country of Central Texas, in my experience the two places share a lot in common. From the charm and relaxed atmosphere of its ranching and farming roots to the modern vibe and new energy you sense everywhere you go; it feels a lot like the Texas Hill Country these days.
The Paso Robles AVA, established in 1983, at over 600,000 acres with currently about 40,000 acres planted, is one of California’s largest AVAs, and since 2014 it includes 11 Sub AVAs within its borders.
So, to make the most of my time, I did my research and planned visits to a mix of large, small, established and newer wineries, along with a little time to drive to the coast, which is only 30 miles through the Templeton Gap down to the sea, where you’ll find fun, funky, arts-centered towns, the Hearst Castle, Elephant Seals sunbathing, and Hearst Ranch Winery Tasting Room, where you can sip a glass of wine while enjoying a sunset over the Pacific.
I flew into nearby San Luis Obispo; there are direct flights now from Dallas – just under a three-hour flight – and then a short drive through the rolling hills to Paso Robles. After dropping my bags, I headed straight for my first tasting at Turley Wine Cellars.
Turley Wine Cellars
Turley was founded by Larry Turley, an emergency room physician, in 1993 after selling his half of Frogs Leap, the winery he co-founded in 1981. He had developed an interest in wines made from Zinfandel and Petite Syrah, particularly those made from old vine vineyards. With winemaker Tegan Passalacqua at the helm Turley now makes 50 different wines from 50 vineyards ranging from the Central Coast to the Sierra Foothills with a focus primarily on single vineyard old vine Zinfandel and Petite Syrah. By organically dry farming and focusing on old vine vineyards, Turley is working to preserve the unique wine culture of the state. The estate winery and tasting room just outside Paso Robles is in the Willow Creek District one of 11 Sub AVAs in the Paso Robles AVA.
I was able to do a focused tasting with one of the extremely knowledgeable wine educators who took me out to a vineyard just outside the tasting room doors to discuss soil and terroir and how the differences in the various sites within the estate from which the grapes are sourced affect the wines, as well as a little bit about what makes each sub-appellation within the Paso Robles AVA unique. Turley purchased this existing winery in 2000 from Pesenti Winery, which was bonded in 1934, including old vine Zinfandel vineyards that were planted in the 1920s. With the expert guidance of my personal wine educator, I had the pleasure of tasting several of the old vine wines from the Paso Robles Estate Vineyards.
These are three excellent examples of the wines Turley is making in Paso Robles. The Petite Syrah was a special treat. I am a big fan, and this was one of the best I’ve tasted.
- 2021 Presenti Vineyard Zinfandel Paso Robles
- This wine is from vines planted in the 1920s. Zinfandel from this certified organic, dry farmed, vineyard has a brightness, along with chalk and floral characteristics and aromas, unique to the site on the west side in the Willow Creek District where marine calcareous soils are present.
- 2020 Ueberroth Vineyard Zinfandel Paso Robles
- This vineyard is a few miles closer to the ocean and you can smell the Pacific from the top of the steep limestone slopes of this historic, organic, old vine vineyard with some of the oldest Zinfandel vines in the state. The wine is a dark ruby red, with aromas of tobacco, ripe dark fruit, and oak. The taste is rich with a long smooth finish.
- 2021 Presenti Vineyard Petite Syrah Paso Robles
- These grapes are planted in limestone soil in the certified organic dry farmed Presenti Vineyard. The vines are from cuttings from the Hayne Vineyard in Napa which were planted in 1953. The color is deep purple, almost inky, with minerality, savory spices, and black pepper. It’s dark and smooth, a classic Petite Syrah.
Turley Wine Cellars produces about 16,000 cases a year; they are committed to managing the highest quality vs. growing big. Wine is available for purchase only at the tasting room or online through their mailing list. They don’t have a traditional wine club; instead, you become a member when you are added to the mailing list. Through this list they provide seasonal opportunities to purchase new releases. When they notify you of the release, there is a limited window of availability to order, usually a few weeks. However, it’s got some unique advantages; it’s totally customizable, you order what you want, and there are no auto charges or auto shipments.
Copia came into being after Varinder and Anita Sahi fell in love with Paso Robles in 2015 during their first visit. The Sahis are new to the entire world of wine and began as total novices at growing grapes and making wine. Their path took them from very different backgrounds, engineering and business for Varinder, and storytelling, marketing, hospitality, and the restaurant industry for Anita to become winemakers and vineyard and winery owners.
In just seven short years since purchasing their first estate property in the Willow Creek District, they have planted grapes, made premium wines, opened a tasting room in downtown Paso Robles and now, purchased a second estate vineyard site in the Adelaida District, built a larger modern tasting room, and a production facility.
What they call the Paso Spirit is a big part of what drew them to this place and new life. This culture, along with the genuine and authentic people they have come to know and who have become not only valued colleagues, but good friends, is what they love about this region.
Copia currently produces about 1,500 cases a year. The wines are made from both estate grown fruit and grapes sourced from other highly respected vineyards in Paso and the Central Coast of California.
The Sahis purchased 50 acres in Willow Creek and planted 40,000 vines on 20 acres in 2019 which include six Rhône and Bordeaux varietals. They purchased 26 acres in Adelaida District in 2022 and will plant beginning next year. From the beginning, Varinder has used organic and sustainable practices and received the SIP (Sustainable In Practice) Certification in 2020.
Copia’s wine offerings include white and red, with both single varietals and blends. I had the chance to do a guided tasting, including a signature wine flight and curated culinary pairings to complement each of the wines at the newly opened modern tasting room on the Adelaida District property.
A sampling of some of the current wines included in the tasting include a white and Rhône style blends.
- Amrit – 100% Chardonnay. The grapes were sourced from Bien Nacido Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley. Described by the winemaker as landing in between a Chablis and a California Chardonnay. With aromas of orange blossom, lemon curd, apple and flint, light oak and on the palate vibrant, mouthwatering acidity.
- Copia offers several GSM blends with fun names including: The Cure, The Story, and The Source. The Source 2020 was my favorite – 92% Syrah, 5% Mourvèdre, 3% Grenache. The Source has an intoxicating aroma. Black currant, dark chocolate, leather, and umami. On the palate, black fruit and black pepper with smokiness from the Syrah, a long finish with smooth tannins.
- Copia also features a series called The Pursuit – searching for the perfect single vineyard Syrah. Currently three are available from Central Coast Vineyards.
Wines are available for purchase at the tasting room, through the wine club and online at copiavineyards.com
The next installment features two of the oldest and largest wineries in Paso – Tablas Creek Vineyard and Hope Family Wines along with some observations on similarities in wines and regional characteristics between Paso Robles and the Texas Wine Country, as well as a nod to several winemakers from that region who see new opportunities in the wine industry in Texas and have relocated.
Read Part two of Mary’s trip.