To be honest, I’ve never personally had a romantic weekend in Paso Robles. But I’ve had a romantic weekend, and I’ve been to Paso Robles a few times, so I can imagine what it would be like if you put two and two together. If you read my author’s bio, you’ll know that I’ve been to every winery in Temecula and Santa Barbara’s Santa Ynez Valley. I’ve also been to two of the most famous wine regions in the world: Napa and Bordeaux. In addition to all that, I make an effort to taste wine in as many states as I can on my travels.
I’ve had some terrible wine (made with grocery store grapes?) in New Jersey. I’ve turned down many Muscadine wines while at my mom’s home in Louisiana. And I’ve had very good wines in New Mexico, Oregon, Washington and New York’s Hudson Valley. I’ve even had good wine in the aforementioned states of Louisiana and New Jersey… it’s just that not all of the wines I had there were good. But my favorite place for a romantic weekend of wine tasting is Paso Robles.
Ever since the movie Sideways came out, wine tasting has skyrocketed in popularity. One jerk I met running a wine shop in Santa Barbara even forbade the word “sideways” to be spoken in his shop. Little does he know that his recent spike in sales (especially of Pinot Noir) has a lot to do with that very fine film. But Sideways did have a negative effect on wine tasting in Southern California. It made it very popular, which is good for the wine makers but sometimes bad for the wine tasters. I’ll explain…
Before Sideways, you could drive up from L.A. to Santa Barbara wine country and taste wine for a very small fee. There were never crazy lines at the tasting rooms and you could have a very fun day or weekend with only minimal expenses. But after the film, the prices of the tasting and the bottles went up tremendously. On my last visit, I realized something very sad: I didn’t buy any wine the whole trip because of the inflated prices. Did the wines get any better? Not really; they just got more expensive.
Then I discovered Paso Robles. Paso is an hour farther north of the Santa Ynez Valley, but it is well worth the extra gas. You won’t be able to go there and back in the same day. If you tried to, you wouldn’t have enough time to drink wine. But when you get up to Paso, you find yourself in a far less crowded wine region with equally good offerings. You’ll often find yourself talking with the winemaker instead of just some employee who may or may not care about what he or she is pouring. And you’ll still find tasting rooms that charge little or no fee. [Sometimes it’s better to pay a small tasting fee ($3 – $5) so you don’t feel the pressure to buy something that you do after doing a free tasting.]
If you don’t know anything about wine, go to Paso. You’ll find most wine pourers to be very friendly and not at all snobby. They’ll gladly answer questions you have about the wine and winemaking process. After a few wineries, you’ll know if Pinot Noir, Cab Sauv, Merlot or Syrah is your favorite red. You’ll start to notice the differences between a Chardonnay, a Pinot Grigio and a Sauvignon Blanc. If you’re lucky, you’ll come across some port, cherry or bubbly. And most of all, you’ll have a nice weekend enjoying the beauty of wine country.
If you’ve never been to Paso and you and your partner like wine, you should go. It can be easily combined with a longer trip to L.A as it’s only 3.5 hours from there and worth every minute of the drive. Paso can be combined with a trip to the famous Hearst Castle or experienced on your way up to the Monterey Peninsula. And if you are on a road trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco and you don’t stop for wine somewhere… then you’re an idiot!!
Here are some tips for making your wine weekend in Paso a good one. Most of the tips apply if you’re going with a group instead of a romantic partner.
1. Stop at random wineries:
In addition to the 60-plus wineries in Paso Robles, there are also many wineries scattered around on your way from L.A. to Paso. Stop in at a few of these. Besides taking a break during the drive, a random stop is also good for pacing your wine consumption. You’ll often find the prices to be very affordable at some of these “middle of nowhere” wineries. (And if you’re reading this and thinking about planning a wine weekend for yourself and a relatively new sweetheart, you’ll not want to start the weekend with a long drive and no wine. Get that first taste in ASAP!)
2. Pack a picnic lunch:
After two or three (or four) tastings, you’ll need to put some food in your stomach to keep going. A lot of wineries sell sandwiches or snacks, but you won’t find any restaurants near them. The grub for sale is fine but perhaps not as fun or romantic as packing something from home. Be sure to pack plenty of water and perhaps some beverages with electrolytes. Drinking wine, especially red, in the afternoon can be taxing.
3. Research tasting fees ahead:
Go to pasowine.com and print out the map and the list of wineries. You’ll have to click on each winery one at a time to see the cost and hours of operation. When you get up there, you’ll find a pamphlet that has all the wineries listed with their hours. But it’s worth the time to mark the tasting fee prices right on the map. As you’re driving from place to place, you’ll want that information handy.
4. Stay right in town:
When it gets late, you’ll want to ditch that car and be able to go dinner and a few wine bars by foot. Check the map and make sure you’re walking distance to Paso Robles City Park, where all the wine bars are clustered. Since Best Westerns are all privately owned, they can vary in quality. The one in Paso is quite nice and is a short walk to downtown. But Paso offers plenty of accommodations, ranging from a cheap motel on up to luxury lodges. My advice is to go middle-of-the-road as you should be out drinking wine for most of your time. Save your relaxing by the pool for Palms Springs.
5. Don’t try to do too much:
If you’re like me, you’ll want to “cross off” as many wineries from the list as possible. Butthe alcohol will catch up to you if you try this approach. You should plan on knocking out a few wineries on the first day, but don’t forget that if you’re not hungover, you can taste some wine on your second day as well.
6. Go to Fratelli Perata:
They give you a bucket of golf balls and a driver with your tasting. You can set up on the green and drive right into the grape vines. What’s more fun than that?
7. Bring a camera:
It’s beautiful up there.
Legal Disclaimer: If you’re driving, you should be tasting wine, not drinking it. There’re dump buckets to discard your extra wine. If you drink everything they give you, you’ll probably average a glass of wine a stop. And that’s a lot. But you want to have fun too… so that’s why the tips cover leaving your car and hitting the in-town wine bars. Be safe!
For more information visit TravelPaso, the official tourism website of Paso Robles.