Monday, May 28, 2012

Paso Robles Wine Festival Weekend (May 18-20, 2012)

View from Terry Hoage Vineyards
Tasting in Paso Robles

The annual Paso Robles Wine Festival held in May is always a great tasting trip. We've tried both touring the individual wineries and attending the festival in the village square.  The festival in the square is a good way to try a large selection of wines all in one place, but it can be crowded and hot. Visiting wineries in the area is a great way to learn more about  different vintages, wine making, and vineyards.  Many of the wineries have live music and BBQ parties during the festival weekend.

We started our Paso Robles Wine Festival trip by mapping out the wineries we wanted to visit in the area. A very cool app on the Paso Robles Wine Country website lets you put together a trip itinerary so you can navigate the the wineries efficiently.  Driving to Paso Robles from southern California is only half the distance of going to Napa or Sonoma and just as much fun. The round trip from Westlake Village and driving around to wineries was a little over 400 miles with about a 50 mile circuit to visit the wineries.
The California central coast scenery of rolling hills, oak trees, and vineyards around Paso Robles is a nice driving tour.  The city's name is actually "El Paso de Robles" or "The Pass of the Oaks," so it is no surprise that there are a lot of oak trees in the area.
Devon at Justin

Gary at Carmody McKnight
Wish we had time to visit more wineries, but our short weekend visit only included eight wineries, plus a refreshing brewery visit at the end!
1.) Terry Hoage Vineyards
2.) Windward Vineyard
3.) Justin Vineyards & Winery
4.) Carmody McKnight Estate Wines
5.) Tablas Creek Vineyard
6.) Niner Wine Estates
7.) Brian Benson Cellars
8.) Lone Madrone
     And last, but not least …
9.) Firestone Walker Brewing Company

Terry Hoage Vineyards - Super wines from a Super Bowl winner at a scenic location.  Terry Hoage was a defensive back for the University of Georgia from 1980 to 1983 and was in the NFL from 1984 to 1996. He played for the New Orleans Saints, Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins, San Francisco 49ers, Houston Oilers and Arizona Cardinals. Hoage was a member of the Washington Redskins when they won Super Bowl XXVI in 1992.

Windward Vineyard - A rare find - a tasting room with great truffle cheese and bread! Windward is dedicated exclusively to producing a non-filtered, Burgundian style Pinot Noir from their 15 acres.

Justin Vineyards & Winery - Excellent wines and very knowledgeable staff.  In addition to the vineyards, winery and tasting room there's the "JUST Inn" country inn and the gourmet "Restaurant at JUSTIN" on the property.

Carmody McKnight Estate Wines - Nice outdoor tasting by their pond and a BBQ picnic for wine club members the day we visited. Gary (Carmody) Conway and Marian (McKnight) Conway planted their first estate grapes in 1985 and produced their first wine in 1995.  The winery is also an art gallery with "works blazing with the drama of tectonic forces."

Tablas Creek Vineyard - Very knowledgeable staff and a great selection of wines.  One of the Rhone pioneers, Tablas Creek is a partnership between Ch√Ęteau de Beaucastel and Robert Haas, the founder of Vineyard Brands. In 1989 they purchased 120 acres in the hilly Las Tablas district of west Paso Robles for its similarities to Ch√Ęteauneuf du Pape: limestone soils, a favorable climate, and rugged terrain.

Niner Wine Estates - After several wine tastings early in the day we were happy to find a great lunch, wine and live music available at Niner.  Los Robles Cafe served their famous Tacos al Pastor and they hit the spot!  Niner estate-grown wines are from the "heart" of Paso Robles Wine Country and they are hand-crafted in a state-of-the-art, LEED-Silver certified winery. Two Fold Music provided some good covers of popular tunes while we enjoyed a relaxing lunch - with wine of course!

Brian Benson Cellars - Brian Benson Cellars is truly a one man army run exclusively by owner/winemaker/custom car builder Brian Benson. He's been involved in winemaking since 1997 and started limited production in 2001. Every wine we tasted lived up to their focus of making intense, unique, and extremely high quality custom wines.

Lone Madrone - The Lone Madrone tasting room has a rustic elegance and features a hand-crafted products by artisans from around the world. It is located on the picturesque property of the former Sycamore Farms (with a few goats still in residence) on the west side of Paso Robles. The rustic building is surrounded by Fat Cat Farms, an organic herb and flower nursery, and next door to Kenneth Volk Vineyards tasting room.
Firestone Walker Brewing Company - The taproom in Paso Robles has a fun atmosphere with a sports bar look and a pseudo beer bottle assembly line over the bar. 

During our two day trip we visited eight wineries and tasted about six wines at each place.  Of all the wines tasted we rated 53% of them at a 5 out of 5 and 88% of them at a 4 or above rating. Conclusion: This is a great region for wine tasting! 

Click here to view all of our Paso Robles wine ratings from the wineries we visited.

Our top wines were ranked by combining our rating and the retail price of the wine.  (Translation: Good & less expensive wines!)

The top five wineries with high average wine ratings were:
1.) Brian Benson Cellars
2.) Tablas Creek Vineyard
3.) Justin Vineyards & Winery
4.) Terry Hoage Vineyards
5.) Carmody McKnight Estate Wines
All of the the wines at these wineries averaged a rating over 4.5 out of 5.

We would have liked to bought a few more cases, but we limited ourselves to just these thirteen bottles.  Good thing for credit cards...

All of the wineries were interesting to visit.  We especially liked the tasting rooms in Tablas Creek, Niner Wine Estates, and Lone Madrone because of their architecture, comfortable atmosphere, and spacious tasting rooms.  I find wine tasting more enjoyable when I'm not getting elbowed or not able to get to the wine bar.
Tablas Creek
Niner Wine Estates
Lone Madrone
We enjoyed meeting the people that worked in the tasting rooms - they made it all happen!  They were friendly, knowledgeable, and even posed while pouring - and I usually get more wine that way. :-)
Evan at Terry Hoage
Heidi at Windward
Becca at Justin
Volunteers at Carmody McKnight

Alleen at Tablas Creek
Katie at Niner
Adam at Brian Benson
Jenny at Lone Madron

We stopped along our drive to view this very well organized vineyard.  They were growing Zinfandel with head-trained vines.  I heard that this method of pruning the vines balances ripening of the fruit.

 Firestone Walker Brewing Company
It wasn't all about wine though.  After a tough day of wine tasting we visited the taproom at Firestone Walker Brewing Company so I could enjoy one of my favorites brews on tap - a Double Jack Imperial IPA (100+ IBUs). 
Lindsey, who we met working at Villa Creek restaurant in Paso Robles the night before, was working at Firestone Walker too, and she poured me a surprise Wookey Jack black IPA (60 IBUs). A great finish to a busy day of wine tasting.

Colorful Poppies at Terry Hoage Vineyards

Click here to view the complete set of pictures from this trip.
You may download any pictures for personal use, or, if you decide to use them for commercial purposes please credit "Gary Coon" and we can work out a deal in exchange for wine.   ;-)

 Gary Coon