Located three hours south of San Francisco and three hours north of Los Angeles, California’s Central Coast is quickly becoming one of the state’s most interesting areas to sample wine. Vintners have been growing grapes here since the 1970s, but only in recent years has the region developed as a wine-tasting destination.
Begin your tour in the quaint, seaside college town of San Luis Obispo. Excellent breweries and restaurants abound, and it’s probably one of the few places in the world where you can drive from the beach to a vineyard in just 15 minutes. The next stop is Paso Robles, about 40 minutes inland. In 1990, Paso was home to less than 20 wineries; today there are more than 200.
Wondering where you’ll find the best wine in San Luis Obispo and Paso Robles? Here are five wineries that will keep you busy with superb tasting experiences.
The dry heat during the day and cool coastal influence at night makes Edna Valley, and True Myth winery in particular, the ideal place to grow chardonnay. A family-owned vineyard, True Myth has been continually producing chardonnay for the past 40 years. Sample the signature white and sensational cabernet sauvignon (these grapes are grown in Paso Robles, where the weather is more conducive to the red varietal) at the Schoolhouse, a pale yellow building that was formerly a one-room schoolhouse built in 1909.
Ask the tasting room manager to tell you about True Myth’s winemaker, Christian Roguenant. The Burgundy native is quite the character, but in addition to driving a flashy Porsche, he’s also a master chardonnay maker who has crafted over 30 vintages of quality golden elixir. If you’re in the mood for a picnic, purchase a bottle and grab a wooden table outside under a trellis heavy with grape vines. Enjoy a game of bocce and take in the vineyard views.
Founded in 1981, Justin is quite possibly Paso Robles’ best-known winery — and for good reason. All of the fruit is handpicked, and no crushed berries are allowed into the fermenting tanks, resulting in quality juice that makes memorable wine. The large tasting room has a rectangular stainless steel bar, eclectic wine-inspired artwork and accoutrements like candleholders made from old vines. Soak up some vino and vineyard views at the charming outdoor area. If you want to linger, you can enjoy a meal at The Restaurant at Justin or spend the night at the Just Inn.
To get even more out of your trip, attend a seminar or book a tasting that incorporates a tour of the production facility and barrel caves. If you’re lucky, Justin’s winery sommelier, Jim Gerakaris, will lead the experience. He is a certified wine educator and is knowledgeable on everything from the chalkiness of the soil to the harvesting technique used at the vineyard.
Kukkula may seem like a kooky name for a winery, but it’s actually a Finnish word that means “a hill or high place,” which makes sense once you arrive on the property. The campus sits on one big hill with winemaker Kevin Jussila’s house located at the very top. The tasting room and winemaking facility at the base of the hill has some extraordinary architecture. Much of the building is covered in a massive metal cage that Jussila hand-filled with rocks of all shapes and sizes, creating a naturally insulated wall that controls the temperature inside the building and barrel room.
He also applies this painstaking focus and attention to his vino, which is 100 percent dry-farmed, meaning he uses no irrigation system to water the vines. Most of Kukkula’s wines are blends with unusual names. The 2013 Aatto (Finnish for “eve”), a combination of counoise, mourvedre and grenache, is fruit forward and smooth. It tastes great now, but Jussila says, “It’s unbelievable how well this wine ages.” Buy two bottles — one to drink now and one to savor later.
Chamisal is a three-minute drive from the True Myth Schoolhouse. Its amazing little tasting room is a red barn with a beautiful back patio that overlooks the chardonnay vineyards. Wooden benches, glass tables and wine barrels dot the space — it’s all so perfectly lovely that it almost feels as if you’re in the French countryside. However, there is a crisp saltiness to the air reminding you that the ocean isn’t too far away.
This is also reflected in the wine: Take one sip of the luscious Estate Chardonnay, and you’ll taste the bright acidity and intense ripe citrus aroma. Winemaker Fintan du Fresne makes a rosé that has a cult following, so purchase a bottle or two if it’s available. Chamisal lacks snacks, but nearby Fromagerie Sophie offers cheese and charcuterie plates that are perfect for wine picnics.
If you’re in the mood for a scrumptious lunch and a delightful wine-tasting experience, head to Niner. This stone-walled tasting room and restaurant has a huge ceiling, reclaimed wooden tables and olive branch décor.
Chef Maegen Loring’s menu is a seasonal spread that features local ingredients and produce grown onsite in the estate garden. The Rioly Run pan-fried cheese with honey, thyme and lemon atop a crostini is a mind-blowing appetizer that pairs exquisitely with Niner’s refreshing Italian-style rosato. The signature Fog Catcher blend is stellar, but it sells out fast; 2013’s vintage will be available in November.
Niner is a family-run winery that practices sustainable winemaking, using techniques such as rooftop rain collection, gravity flow and cover crops. Plus, the entire operation is solar-powered.