Paso Robles: A Mini Excursion

(I began this post several months ago, but let it fall by the wayside as wedding planning and other things came up.  Here it is, my Paso Robles Valentine’s Day post.) 

We went for Valentine’s weekend to Lake Nacimiento–a Paso Robles-adjacent private recreation area popular with boaters and fishers.

Image credit:

We had discovered, the year prior, a Valentine’s day special they did: cabin, champagne sparkling wine, wine tasting, and dinner, all at the lake.  We went, we drank, we enjoyed it all.  They offered a particularly strong wine tasting Saturday afternoon and I hobbled down to the lake to try and make sense of the final chapters of Ender’s Game before dinner.  Our view from the cabin looked something like this, but there was more mist.  That, plus the mild temperature made it an idyllic visit.

The following day, we planned a day of wine tasting. We began at Chronic Cellars because we had always been curious about the name–would it be full of potheads and pot references, or would it be run by a bunch of squares who were clueless about the unfortunate title they had given it?

Bright colors and Dia del Muerta influences abound at Chronic Cellars.

With irreverent names like “Spritz and Giggles” and “Stone Fox,” we knew these wines were not, indeed, made by squares. They were all surprisingly elegant and fresh (I say surprising because the title of the winery led me to expect something more gimmicky–wine snob that I am).  I found out later that Chronic Cellars was founded by the progeny of Peachy Canyon folks (Peachy Canyon is one of the biggest names in Paso).  We took a bottle of Spritz and Giggles to enjoy at our campsite that night.

Our second stop was Sculpterra, a winery known not only for wine, but for its sculpture gardens.  I had also avoided this winery on previous trips, perhaps unfairly, because I thought maybe it would be all about the sculptures, and less about the wines.  I turned out to be mistaken, once again.

Is this massive iron horse a piece of public art in downtown San Francisco?  Nope, you’re at Sculpterra, an otherwise rural winery in Paso Robles.

Though it was crowded, we nestled into a spot at a small tasting bar off to the side, and were greeted by one of the most knowledgeable and generous pourers I’ve ever met (it was he who told me about the Peachy Canyon/Chronic Cellars connection).  I’ve forgotten his name, and I wish I’d gotten a picture, but I was a bit timid to ask him.

He poured us through everything on the menu, plus nearly every red he had open, once he saw us studiously taking notes in our little journals.  I wish that I had spit, because halfway through I had trouble detecting the subtle differences between two different vintages of cabernet, and was instead detecting the satisfying buzz in my brain, a problem any wine lover who’s been to the tasting rooms can relate to.

The reds also had a lightness to them, similar to the ones at Chronic Cellars, but I found them a bit more diffuse.  I found out later that this relative lightness of body compared to Napa reds is because the growing season is shorter in Paso.  While a long season is desirable for complexity (one reason Napa cabs are so famous), if you like lightness of body, go for Paso, at least the past few seasons. 2012 was a particularly good vintage.


Though I had trouble with the reds, the viognier was a knockout.  I found out from our pourer that viognier is “the white grape” of Paso–the best and/or most popular, that is.

That would be because chardonnay doesn’t do well there–too hot, and also because viognier is a Rhone varietal.  Paso grows many Rhone varietals–reds such as syrah and grenache, and also whites like viognier and roussane, because they do well in a warm climate.

Viognier, being the most popular white Rhone grape, ends up at the top. We took home a bottle of it to enjoy another night.


Our last stop was Bianchi Winery, nestled next to a pond.  Since it’s been several months since my visit, I don’t remember great details, only that it was a relaxing place.  It has a bocce court and plenty of outdoor seating.

Image credit: Steven D. Pults, & AIA Associates

The winery grows red grapes–cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel, syrah and merlot on its estate (Paso Robles is excellent for warm-weather reds), and sources petite sirah, pinot noir, chardonnay and cabernet franc from other areas around the Central Coast.

And because I don’t have detailed notes, I’ll leave you with what I have:

2014 Rosé: watermelon jolly rancher, Provençal nose, 87

2012 Estate Merlot: blackberry, vanilla bean, licorice, 88/89

2012 Zinfandel: Cherry twizzler, newsprint nose, baking spice, 89

2012 Cabernet Sauvignon: rich, not green, nose-graham cracker and pecan, palate-strawberry, good acid, full body, light off-dry, 89

2007 Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc: nose-petrol and meringue, palate-rich, hay, coppery, metallic, 90

And that was Valentine’s weekend of wine tasting!  I hope you have enjoyed.










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