More than 4,000 wineries reside in California, with many of the most-well-known and most-visited places in Napa and Sonoma valleys. Wine-loving travelers likely have sipped their way through tasting rooms in Healdsburg, St. Helena or Yountville, but what about the state’s lesser-known grape-growing regions? There are plenty of off-the-beaten-track wineries, especially in the up-and-coming area of Paso Robles.
Here we share our guide to where to taste wine in Paso Robles and beyond and the best ways to spend your time in between tastings.
Paso Robles is a charming vineyard-growing community between San Francisco and Los Angeles — it’s about a three-hour drive from either city and the closest airport is in the nearby college town San Louis Obispo. It’s home to more than 200 wineries and 40,000 planted vineyard acres. Paso’s proximity to the ocean creates a climate ideal for farming grapes: hot, sunny days and cool, arid evenings. This results in a longer growing season and more concentrated, flavorful fruit. The diversity of soil in Paso Robles is unique, and much of the region is located on what used to be an ancient ocean floor, making it easy to dry farm because the soil retains moisture for months. All these factors affect how the wine tastes — for the better.
When planning your trip, start by booking accommodations at The Just Inn (do it in advance because there are only four rooms), a marvelous bed and breakfast adjacent to one of Paso Robles’ most acclaimed wineries, JUSTIN Vineyards. While there, you’ll want to enjoy a tasting and meal at The Restaurant at JUSTIN. It’s open for lunch and dinner, and chef Rachel Haggstrom demonstrates her mastery of seasonally inspired California cuisine. Most of the produce comes from JUSTIN’s farms, and Haggstrom works with local growers to source the best possible seafood and meat. On a recent visit, the tasting menu included melt-in-your-mouth trout tartare, decadently delicious corn and black truffle agnolotti, and ribeye with bone marrow and blackberry jus.
You will get another taste of the local bounty in the morning: every stay at The Just Inn includes a daily two-course breakfast. Waking up in the vineyards, then enjoying soft scrambled eggs with brioche and pesto is an experience you won’t soon forget.
For another memorable meal, swing by Les Petites Canailles, or LPC, as the locals call it. Winemakers frequent this bustling restaurant just off of the town’s center square. Before opening LPC, chef and owner Julien Asseo spent his childhood in France and worked for some of the country’s top chefs, including Joël Robuchon, Todd English and Daniel Boulud. Taste his prowess in classic French cuisine with his scrumptious preparations of tarte flambée, salade Lyonnaise and butcher cuts of steak.
When you’re ready for wine, head to J. Lohr over in the Estrella District to discover a flat vineyard-covered terrain and a gorgeous new hospitality center. Jerry Lohr founded the winery in 1974, and now it’s owned and operated by his children. The vibe feels relaxed and unpretentious — the staff welcomes the opportunity to teach you about the brand’s rich history or the distinct vineyards that produce superb chardonnay, malbec and cabernet sauvignon.
Be sure to try the valdiguié, a new red similar to Beaujolais that is excellent when served slightly chilled. Other standouts include the Pure Paso, a proprietary red blend, and the pinot blanc, a winery-exclusive white that’s aromatic and refreshing.
Vina Robles only harvests estate-grown fruit, which means that the vintners own the land, grow the grapes and make the wine. The Arborist is a delightful red blend with balanced tannins and ripe black fruit flavors. A portion of proceeds for every bottle goes to planting a tree and reflects Vina Robles’ commitment to preserving the ancient oaks that dot the picturesque landscape.
While you could book a regular tasting, why not pair the wine with food or a concert? Vina Robles offers a full-service bistro and an outdoor amphitheater. Recent performers include Interpol, Bonnie Raitt and Flogging Molly & the Interrupters.
For an edgier label, head to Fulldraw, a boutique winery that opened right before the pandemic. It’s run by a fabulous young couple, Connor and Rebecca McMahon, who mix wine and art seamlessly while raising two active toddlers on the property. You’ll sample Rhône varietals and enjoy an exciting rosé and robust grenache. This is one wine club you’ll want to join.
TWO MORE UNDER-THE-RADAR REGIONS TO TRY
Head 45 minutes east of San Francisco, and you’ll discover Wente Vineyards. Founded in 1883, Wente is America’s longest continuously owned and operated winery. Today the fifth generation, sisters Aly and Niki Wente, run the estate and prioritize sustainable practices. Try chardonnay and riesling or one of the wonderful reds, from pinot noir to zinfandel.
Three hours northeast of San Francisco, you’ll hit the gold country town of Murphys in the Sierra Foothills. Tasting rooms line the nostalgic Main Street, but our favorite is Newsome Harlow, a pioneer of the somewhat sleepy region. Winemaker Scott Klann excels at making fruit-forward bold reds like syrah and zinfandel, and his friendly daughter runs the tasting room. He also makes the best sauvignon blanc on the block.