On our recent vacation we spent a week on California's Central Coast. Several years ago--four I think it was--we vacationed with the husband's family in Monterrey, CA. Boy #1 was almost 18 months old, Boy #2 was no where near existing yet. The husband and I came up with the genius (insert heavy, dripping sarcasm for the word "genius") idea to drive home to Phoenix via the Pacific Coast Highway. We had driven it from San Francisco to San Luis Obispo when we were engaged and loved it. If you've never driven it, you really should because it's gorgeous. However, we somehow failed to take into account the extra time it would add to our drive and that we had a toddler with us who didn't care at all about driving along the ocean and the beautiful views it provides. Yeah...the last few hours of our trip were pretty miserable. We cut over from the PCH through Paso Robles which, unbeknownst to us at the time, is wine country. We passed vineyard and winery after vineyard and winery...with a screaming toddler in the car. Oh how we wanted to stop! But somehow we figured our presence would not be appreciated with said screaming toddler. The next time we were back in the area, I was pregnant with Boy #2 so wine tasting was out yet again. So this time we wanted to make it happen.
Originally we looked into doing some kind of tour or having a limo take us around so we didn't have to worry about who was going to drive us home. Instead we decided we'd just go to a couple instead of making a day of it. My in-laws agreed to watch the boys for us, so off we went. We hadn't really researched where to go; my friend Jess is a wine distributor, so I had texted her for suggestions, and she gave me some she liked and some to avoid. We ended up just stopping at random ones we came across.
Our first stop was Zin Alley. The husband used to not be a fan of zinfandel, but lately he's come around to them. We were a bit leery when we got there because there were no other cars and we weren't sure where to park. So we made our own parking spot and went inside. It turned out that the guy behind the counter pouring the wine was the grower as well. He told us all about the grapes and his vineyard. It's completely dry farmed (no irrigation other than what nature provides) and he uses no pesticides. We sampled a couple different zinfandels, including some from his son's winery further south. The bottles were a bit pricey, but it was hands down one of the best wines we've ever had, so we splurged. He also doesn't advertise or enter his wines into contests...he basically just makes wine because he loves it. How cool is that?! We were pretty pleased with our first stop and continued on our way.
Oh, and he had this sign on his door which cracked me up:
And a picture of the vineyard:
We continued on down the highway and saw a sign for two nearby wineries that were close together. Perfect, we thought. We turned and drove and drove and drove. Actually it wasn't that long but we did question whether we were making a good choice having veered off the main highway so far. Turns out we did.
Our second stop was Rotta Winery. It was one of three original wineries in the Paso Robles area and has been around since 1908. There was a gorgeous patio in front of the tasting room (actually Zin Alley had a gorgeous patio, too) and it was bordered by cool wine barrels:
There were two other couples in the tasting room, and it turned out they were all from AZ too. Weird coincidence, eh? Rotta had 12 wines for us to try...awesome! If I'm paying a tasting fee, I want it to be worth my money. ;) Our tasting started with a chardonnay, then a zinfandel rose (why are rose wines so hard to find?!??!), then it moved to reds. We had some tasty wines. We ended up getting two bottles. One was their Trinity Blend--a cab, merlot, and cab franc blend. In looking at the list now, I don't remember what the other one was we got. Cut me some slack, I had sampled 12 wines there and five at the previous winery...I was feeling pretty good. I think it was a Cabernet Franc, which normally is used as just a blend and not on its own, but it was really tasty.
The original sign we saw off the highway had said there was another nearby winery, so we followed the signs to Venteux Vineyards. It was yet another gorgeous looking winery. I don't remember how many tastes we got here, but we did leave with a bottle of a taste cuvee. The girl doing the pouring was really knowledgeable, too. Did you know that Cal Poly has a wine degree? Kind of makes me want to go back to school. She also gave us a map/brochure of the area, so that helped us quite a bit.
This was the bathroom at Venteux...yes, I took a picture of the bathroom because I thought it was super cool.
At this point we were getting pretty hungry, and I needed to eat something quick. We looked on the map we had just received and saw we were near the town of Templeton, so we headed there. The husband found somewhere for us to eat on the GPS, so we made our way there...and then found out they had closed for a break between lunch and dinner about 20 minutes before we got there. Oops. So instead we headed to a tasting room across the street because we were there, they were open, and it didn't seem that any other place right around there was. They featured wines from Clavo Cellars (and thankfully had a little snack paired with each wine, otherwise I might not have survived much longer). There were quite a few that we sampled (have you noticed that I remember less and less about each progressive place? Good thing the husband was driving and not me! I am not the drinker I used to be...), and once again the girl pouring the wines was very friendly and knowledgeable. We ended up getting a bottle of syrah to take home. The tasting fee was $5 each or waived if you bought a bottle; I think the bottle we got was $12 or $15, so we figured for a few more dollars we might as well go home for something.
We stopped for lunch after this, which I really needed. The girl at Clavo had recommended a seafood restaurant nearby, so we found our way there and had a bite to eat. We figured it was probably time to head back after that, but on our way home we passed another winery we figured we'd stop in and try. I had it in my head it was Lone Wolf (which made me laugh thinking about this scene from The Hangover), but it's actually Grey Wolf Cellars. There was another group in there that had consumed way more wine than we had by that point, so the employee kind of had her hands full with them. The husband and I got a nice picture taken of us there, but that was about the highlight.
We ended up coming home with quite a few bottles of wine. Some we are saving for special occasions, others we shared with the husband's family while we were still in CA. It was such a fun afternoon, and such a fun experience to try so many different wines and hear and learn about winemaking in the area. I won't say wine tasting is the main reason we want to go back to the area in future years, but it's definitely a perk of a Central Coast vacation!