Hard to say, easy to remember (Paso Robles, California)

Driving up from San Luis Obispo into the hills of Paso Robles is awesome. It’s a little further back from the coast than regions further south, and seems a little bit drier and warmer, but you also feel the difference in elevation. Great winding roads took me out to my first of two visits, where I passed deer and squirrels.

Tablas Creek tasting room

Tablas Creek tasting room

Tablas Creek was established back in the ’80s in a joint venture between an American wine importer and the Chateauneuf-du-Pape house of Domaine Beuacastel. They took three years to find the right sight to plant cuttings from Beaucastel itself, attempting to get the right terroir in the right climate. A former cattle ranch, the site they selected was perfect to establish organic and biodynamic viticultural practices, and it shows. The top soil over a thick limestone shelf looks fantastic, and they encourage micro-organisms into the vineyard by planting olive trees. The wines are the most French inspired I have seen thus far (makes sense), showing less overt fruit and more mouthfeel and texture. The savoury qualities of these wines were exceptional, and the winemaking team clearly understand the benefits of blending varieties that have the same origin. It is interesting to look at blended wines and see which varieties have the strongest influence. I tried two vintages of their flagship Rhone blend, and in the 2008 vintage the grenache was the most dominant, even though it was the second highest proportion. In the 2009 vintage however, the mouvedre was really flexing its muscles, with roughly 40% of the blend.

Oak fermenters

Oak fermenters

Although Tablas Creek do have a focus on Rhone varieties, they also produce a few interesting wines from slightly more obscure grapes. Their Vermentino was very clean and light, not really much character to it, the Petit Manseng had a very interesting satsuma-like sweet and dy quality, and the Tannat was sufficiently robust in its tannin structure. They also grow chardonnay and pinot noir amongst others, which go back to when they operated a nursery growing stocks commercially, which has been sold off.

Tablas Creek vineyards

Justin Vineyards not far, from Tablas Creek is a lovely sight and great for wine tourism. Their cellar door is the most charming I have seen so far. The business was recently acquired by the group that owns such companies as Fiji Water and Pom juice. In spite of the Rhone revolution in Paso Robles, this winery focuses on more classic french varieties, particularly Bordeaux varieties and blends. The wines are sufficiently fruit driven and oaky but not overly alcoholic, and remind me of a lot of Australian wine. The chardonnay showed very good restraint and acid, being the first non-malolactically fermented chardonnay I have seen so far.

Justin Vineyards tasting room

Justin Vineyards tasting room



In the evening I managed to put myself into a food coma by getting a clam chowder bread bowl from local icon, Splash Cafe. It’s basically exactly what it sounds like; a hollowed out toasted loaf of bread is filled with chowder, and you use the middle to dip into the chowder. It’s a local delicacy here on the Central Coast, and certainly filled me up.


Chowder bread-bowl

Chowder bread-bowl

Click here to see more photos from Paso Robles, California

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