California's Other Wine CountryWords by Jennifer Stein
Tuscany, Napa, Sonoma – these are all the places people immediately think of when the term “wine country” is used. I’d like you to get to know another one, one which may or may not be on your radar, but absolutely should be: Paso Robles
in Central Coast California.
When visiting Paso (as the locals call it), I met a French chef named Andre. He compared this “other" wine country to the south of France. He came to the area years ago to start a cooking school and catering business (after tiring of the busy L.A. lifestyle). The first time he arrived, he felt like he was returning home to Provence. What drew him to Paso was the laid-back way of life, the stunning countryside and, of course, the wine. My husband and I took a cooking lesson from this very French, very talented man and had the most incredible meal of our entire stay.
Paso is unique to other wine regions for a few reasons. First, the Pacific Ocean is only 20 minutes away, so you can mix up your visit with a trip to the beach if you tire of wine tasting or want a change of pace. Second, major sites such as the Hearst Castle and an elephant seal sanctuary (in the town of San Simeon) are a short drive away. It’s also extremely affordable. We noted the prices for food, wine and accommodations were more than reasonable. There wasn’t a tasting we went to which was over ten dollars per person (vs. the pricier options in Napa). Those tastings included several wines - some offering up to eight different pours.
Our favorite wineries included Niner Wine Estates (also known as Heart Hill because of the enormous grove of trees which grow in the shape of a heart), Castoro Cellars (they had a beautiful patio and a huge selection of wines) and finally Zenaida Cellars (their barrel room is a perfect backdrop for weddings). All of these wineries offered space for receptions both indoors and out.
Paso has a quaint downtown where shops, restaurants and wine bars are all within walking distance from one another. We enjoyed a dinner out at Roberts Restaurant and Wine Bar where we chatted it up with the locals and enjoyed the sumptuous food prepared by Executive Chef Ryan Sarthout. The chicken tarfalle, ahi poke and macadamia nut crusted halibut were expertly prepared and mouth-watering.
One restaurant took us on the ultimate culinary journey – Thomas Hill Organics. It has an unassuming entrance (backing into a side street), but as you smell the food being prepared on the way to their tented outdoor patio, you realize you’re going to have more than a meal here, you will have an experience. We asked Chef Julie to bring out anything she liked along with a wine pairing. There was a surprise around every corner. Ingredients you would never think to put together created some of the most interesting and delicious food I’ve ever had. We left feeling satisfied and wishing we could do it all over again and again.
The accommodations in Paso vary from bed and breakfasts to inns and hotels. We were hosted at La Bellasera Hotel & Suites. The room was spacious, serene and even included an en-suite Jacuzzi tub. The best part of La Bellasera is it’s a stone’s throw from all the major wineries in the Paso area. It’s a perfect place for families to stay if in town for a destination wedding because it’s convenient to shopping, dining and the main highway. Another property, which is ideal for honeymooners, is Hotel Cheval. This small boutique property has only 16 rooms, is located in downtown Paso and has the ultimate romantic ambiance. When you’re considering a wine country romantic celebration, be it a destination wedding, honeymoon or a simple getaway, get acquainted with Paso Robles. It will most likely end up at the top of your list.
The main image above is courtesy of Allyson Magda Photography. This article was featured in Destination I Do's Fall/Winter 2012 issue.
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