The Wild Wild West of Wine:Paso Robles
I recently spent a week in Paso Robles, exploring wine country (and the wines, of course!) and learning a bit about the history of the region from a grape perspective. I hope this brief summary of the area might spark some interest on your end to explore Paso either remotely via a virtual hosted wine tasting on line or with an in-real-life visit of your own. Either way, I encourage you to pay this region some attention!
Grape Growing History
Paso Robles is the fastest growing wine region in the world right now! While wine grapes were first introduced to the area around 1790 by Franciscan Friars who were building missions, commercial wine making didn’t begin until 100 years later, and it wasn’t for another 100 years before the area was recognized as an important AVA. In fact, in 1990 there were less than 20 wineries in the area. Today, just 30 years, later there are more than 300! Wineries in Paso Robles, are marked largely by smaller production, family run establishments. The growing conditions and soil best support Italian blends, Rhone blends and Bordeaux blends. You can find all of this in Paso in addition to many Zinfandel blends and single varietal wines. What makes Paso Robles so exciting as a region however is how many unique “Paso Blends” are made here!
Paso Robles, founded by two outlaws in 1869, still retains some of that wild wild west spirit. The area attracts adventurous and creative people who don't want to play by the rules, cowboys, you could say. One of the first such maverick winemakers was Stephan Asseo of L’Aventure.
Stephan was among the first winemakers here to produce these “Paso Blends”. “Crazy” at best and illegal at worst, blending Cabernet Sauvignon (a Bordeaux varietal) with Syrah (a Rhone varietal) was something he couldn’t do in his native France due to AOC rules in the respective regions. So he came to California. The same goes for Guillaume Fabre a sixth-generation winemaker who left his family’s wine business in France to make wines more creatively here at his own Clos Solene winery.
Bordeaux varietals (Cabernet, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, etc) are easily found in wine shops across the US and in the tasting rooms of Napa and Sonoma. You might have to look a bit Terroir Uniquely Suited for Rhone Blendsharder for the Rhone varietals: Syrah among the most common, but also consider Grenache, Mourvedre, Rousseau, Cinsault, etc. The soil in this area is ideal for producing Rhone varietals because it’s very similar to the soil found in France’s Rhone region. The combination of geologic uplift, pH levels in the soil, shale, rainfall and more all contribute to make this area pretty special. Robert Haas of Tablas Creek Winery realized that back in early 1990s when he began importing Rhone varietals to the area and creating a nursery to share the vines with other vintners in the area. And thus began the Rhone movement in Paso!
Paso Has 11 AVAs
Most people consider Paso Robles wine region as being characterized by the East Side and West Side (of the Salinas River). The east side is generally the warmer of the two regions, the west side is generally cooler due to ocean breezes and moisture. Although, because of elevation differences and the Templeton Gap, it’s a bit more complicated. As a result of various micro-climates in the area, there are now 11 designated AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) recognizing all the different terroirs. Some other fun numbers to define Paso Robles wine country are:
400 planted acres
over 60 grape varietals planted
As you can Paso Robles winemaking is growing by leaps and bounds, it’s not going away so you might as well embrace the region and learn more about the wines!