September 6, 2020
This guide gives you the BEST locations for wine tasting, eating and overnight stays for 2020!
Why are we so confident our list is the BEST?
For over 15 years our specialty at DG Events has been scouting locations for events and venues for wine tasting in Napa. We have many friends in the wine industry from Mendocino down to Santa Barbara that have shared their favorites with us. Also, my husband David works in the wine industry and has over 25 years of experience in food and wine. While this is both a blessing and a curse, it has brought us a wealth of great connections in many wine regions. Together, we bring you the best of what we love.
We visited Paso Robles Wine Country during the COVID pandemic so this list has the most up-to-date information on who is currently open. As it is everywhere during this time, face coverings are required and wineries and restaurants are hosting outdoors.
Paso Robles Wine Country is an American Viticultural Area located in San Luis Obispo County, California. The region has approximately 33,000 vineyard acres planted and over 200 producers. Back in the day, it was mostly known for its heritage varietal, Zinfandel, with some Bordeaux grapes mixed in… because that’s what you do in California, right? However, as the modern wave of new winemakers began to move in, it became clear that Rhone Valley varietals were more aptly suited to the warm climate and limestone based soils, particularly on the westside of town. We happen to love Syrah, Grenache, and the like so it’s right in our wine wheelhouse. The good news is that it’s all good and there’s something for everyone!
Paso Robles is about 3 hours south of San Francisco International Airport and 3 hours north of Los Angeles, also known as the Central Coast of California. The Paso Robles downtown is centered around a small square with a quaint little park in the center. You can visit wineries on both the east and west sides of downtown.
The eastside is mostly urban tasting rooms and the location of the famous Tin City. (more details about list below) The westside of town is peppered with estate wineries located on vineyard property. Most locations you can get to within 5 -15 minutes, so it is easy to see everything your little wine heart desires. We recommend visiting for at least 2 days so you can devote one day to the eastside and one day to the westside.
No matter what you are looking for in a winery visit, you can find it in Paso Robles. We like to stay small and support the little guys most of the time and always prioritize a higher caliber wine over the design of a location. But, you might not feel the same, so we have categorized the wineries for you below so you can build your itinerary to make everyone visiting happy!
Estate or Garage?
The answer is yes. The beauty of this place can be credited to the balance of how these two approaches to winemaking coexist and promote one another. Hit some spots in the vineyards, but say hi to the cool kids in Tin City and the warehouse spots as well.
A little while ago we were lucky enough to get introduced to Cris Cherry of Villa Creek Winery. Since meeting him we swear he should run for Mayor of Paso Robles. He has become a friend of ours who always takes the time to point us in the right direction when visiting, and if you catch him in the right mood he might just share a local secret or two for a slab of paté from Fatted Calf. So, with a little help from Cris and a couple trips around the block of our own, we’ve built a short list of what we love.
Let’s start with him….His vineyard estate is located on the westside of Paso, on the cusp of the fabled Willow Creek and Adelaida Districts. Villa Creek has been making wine for nearly two decades. Starting with grapes purchased from west Paso Robles’ most esteemed vineyards and eventually planting what is now their MAHA Estate. The wines and vibes are as good as it gets in the Central Coast so this is a must.
With beautiful rolling hills surrounding the property, L’Aventure offers breathtaking vineyard views and some of the best wines in California. Winemaker Stephan Asseo brought France to Paso Robles, producing red wine blends of primarily Rhône grape varieties and helped propel the region into new found acclaim on the world wine stage.
We met owner Don Law and winemaker Philipp Pfunder last year in Florida at DCWAF. We were quite impressed by their wines, so we put them on our list to visit when we were in the neighborhood. They began with the right approach by bringing in Scott Hawley to develop the winemaking and vineyard program. He and his wife Viquel have since launched their own label Torrin which is also part of our Paso Robles “short list”. Law’s stunning modern facility is located atop rolling hills of vineyards providing 360° views of their property and beyond. Not to be missed if you like sleek design and big, bold, polished wines!
After making wine with Justin Smith (of Saxum) for five years and Stephan Asseo (of L’Aventure Wines) for two years, the Jensens decided it was time to create their own expression with Booker Vineyard. The 2005 vintage was Booker Vineyard’s first release with the wines being made by owner Eric Jensen. They became an immediate cult hit and have become more impressive with every release. The wines show both power and precision, totally personifying the modern Paso Robles aesthetic. Get on the mailing list quick if you still can!
Clos Solene Home of Guillaume Fabre, 6th generation winemaker and his beautiful wife Solene. They are a boutique winery on the westside of Paso Robles in the heart of the Willow Creek District. Elegance and finesse, forcefully coupled in a unique style crafted by their honest approach to farming and process. If Guillaume is in the room, I defy you not to join the club.
Denner One of our favorite spots in Paso Robles (Wine Spectator’s too!) located on the westside in a traditional winery setting. We wanted to buy everything we tasted, so our credit card was nearing meltdown as we left. I might become a part time “ditch digger” myself to keep this stuff in my glass!
As you head east toward highway 101 out of the square, Herman Story just chills on the corner like a poet that is waiting to write something meant just for you… Late Bloomer? First Time Caller? Anybody? Taste their wines and hear Russell From’s story and you will feel his genuine approach and reckless precision and realize you want Herman Story at your party.
After that, head right over 101 to the corrugated steel chateau that is home to TOP.
Stanley and Elena have created something that just rings so true. The warmest couple you would ever want to meet. And you will, if you visit – it’s just them. The wines are as pure and polished as they are. Ask anyone, and thank us later.
OK – now jump on the freeway and drive a few miles south…as you turn left into Tin City make a hard right into Cordant/Nelle. Tyler Russell is creating beautiful expressions of both Rhone varietals and Pinot Noir under the same roof, but under different labels. This spot was our coolest new find and we simply cannot get enough of their wine. The vibes are warm and the wines are delicious. Amber will keep the turntable spinning and your palate grinning.
Let’s take you into Tin City now…
While this development has a very industrial/communal feel, their structure needs to be understood. Everything is by appointment and a few spots are closed on Mondays.
Our friend Mayor Cherry recommended Turtle Rock. Owned by Claudia and Don Burns, they are perfect ambassadors of the second wave of the Paso Robles revolution. With Don’s Paso roots and his Justin Smith/Saxum pedigree, they were bound for greatness. The finished product is delivered in artfully designed labels, each one with a thoughtful story behind it.
We were lucky enough to track down Tin City’s newest (and busiest) winemaker Riley Hubbard.
Her label is called Hubba and she just moved into a totally rad spot in the deep corner of the neighborhood. Riley’s education (Cal Poly San Luis Obispo) and former stops (Law & L’Aventure) have given her the foundation to succeed. However, when you meet her you’ll see that Hubba is her own unique vision, and her wines are fantastic.
Of course Tin City is home to plenty of other great producers and if you find yourself needing a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon in the mix, please visit Benom. Arnaud Fabre and his brother Guillaume (Clos Solene) unite the precision and polish of France with the power of Paso Robles in an intimate and stylish setting. Très Bon!
Heirloom (Westside – South of Tin City by 10 minutes)
Casual setting, serious sandwiches and super cool salads. You can get in and out quickly if you’re on the go in the westside winery scene and still feel like you treated yourself. Do the right thing and have a Topo Chico with lunch. It’s gonna be a long day and they have all the flavors.
Thomas Hill Organics Bistro & Wine Bar (downtown Paso)
We discovered this randomly and we were so glad we did. Bistro atmosphere with a menu that changes daily, paired with ingredients sourced locally and seasonally. Fresh and simple, served with regional wines and awesome beer selections! Open for lunch & dinner.
New Kids On The Block (2 Minutes North of The Square)
Paso Market Walk is a mixed-use development that gives residents and travelers the opportunity to convene, relax, shop, and taste the distinctive flavor of the Central Coast. Celebrating the people of Paso Robles – from the small scale, family-owned operations, to a new generation of standouts making names for themselves in food and wine, to the neighbors and guests who can savor them all.
Downtown Paso Robles For Dinner
After your day of tasting make sure you have some gas in the tank to hit Paso Robles’ buzzing restaurant scene..
Let’s start at the top.
Les Petites Canailles High Bar, but not High Brow. Causal, fun atmosphere that delivers on every level. Julien Asseo and his wife Courtney have created something truly special here. He doesn’t brag about his chops (and background) but rather flexes them. Magnificent wine list and service with heart. Open for dinner only. This was hands-down our favorite restaurant.
BL Brasserie (formerly Bistro Laurent)
Relaxed but refined dining, offering à la carte and a multi-course, prix fixe option, spiked with classics and paired with local and French wines. Think Provence in Paso, but you speak the language…dining in France just off 101! Not to be missed. Open for lunch and dinner.
Lively cantina vibe featuring modern Mexican plates with radical salsas and ceviches. The bar program is fun and funky, featuring killer margaritas, craft cocktails and a Mezcal program that will blow your mind. Open for lunch and dinner. Always call ahead, it’s the busiest spot on the square for all the right reasons.
A modern, gastro pub inspired joint right on the bustling part of the square.
The menu is driven by the culture and comfort that food brings to our lives. Add to that, inspired cocktails and an honest energy. We enjoyed the hip, local vibe and friendly staff…did we say bourbon? Only open for dinner.
I would recommend staying downtown around the square. You can enjoy yourself at dinner and casually walk back to your hotel. Our first trip to Paso we stayed at Hotel Cheval. This 16 room boutique hotel embraces Paso’s equestrian heritage with elegant rusticity, the design is both luxurious and smart without feeling too snooty. The service is amazing and they have received several accolades over the years from Conde Nast.
For more recommendations, check out Villa Creek’s Paso Robles lodging recommendations on their website.
Again, Chris won’t steer you wrong.
We also found these alternatives if you don’t want to stay at a hotel.
Law Estate has a beautifully designed guest house on the property that has 2 bedrooms, if you’re looking for more amenities than just a hotel.
Airbnbs are becoming more popular in Paso Robles. We stayed in this apartment right on the square. It was very convenient and had modern amenities, but be prepared to sing a few tunes in your sleep with the local bar downstairs if you go to bed before 11 pm.
Enjoy your trip!
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