For those of you who know me, you know I will use any excuse I can to take a getaway to the central coast for a wine adventure. I have people ask me all the time where to visit for a weekend trip and, frankly, there are so many great spots, I sometimes have a hard time choosing where to recommend. That being said, my "Wine Getaway" posts will be themed around weekend wine adventures across the central coast. Look to me as your central coast wine country tour guide with insider tips and recommendations, not only what wineries to visit, but also nearby restaurants, lodging options, and drivers. With so many great wineries in the Paso Robles area, this will be the first of many weekend getaway suggestions. Keep your eyes peeled for more in the future.
My first post will be centered around Paso Robles and wineries that can accommodate larger parties. Whether it's a birthday, bachelor/bachelorette party, or simply a fun group trip away, these wineries will be able to take care of you.
Before I get started, I have a few tips I'd like to share with you, regardless of which wineries you go to.
1) Call ahead. With any large party, usually considered six or more people, it is always advised you call ahead to make reservations. Some wineries simply can't accommodate larger groups. Others that can will want to know so they can potentially serve your group in a private room or give you your own wine tasting educator who will stay with your party for the duration of your tasting visit.
2) Food. I strongly encourage you to plan where you're going to eat lunch and pack snacks and water for in between wineries. Not all wineries have food for sale and others don't allow outside food in their tasting rooms. I like to plan a winery mid day that either sells food or allows you to bring a sack lunch for a picnic.
3) Hire a driver. I always recommend you hire a driver. This alleviates the worry about who will be the DD on a fun weekend in wine country, so everyone can relax and enjoy. I have loved my experiences with Elegant Image Limousine. Their drivers are prompt, friendly and know their way around wine country. They have availability for small and large parties, and have a wide range of cities they cover, from Santa Maria to Morro Bay to Paso. Click the link below for contact information.
4) Travel time management. You’ll notice this post is broken into “sides,” meaning the east and west side of the 101 Highway. When I plan my trips, I usually like to cover one side or the other of the 101 on a given day. Minimizing travel time between wineries means maximizing time at the wineries.
Day 1 - Exploring the 46 West Side
As previously stated, most of the Paso Robles wineries are broken up into the west and east sides of the 101 Highway. Many wineries lay immediately off the 46 Highway, if not a few minutes off the main road, making them extremely easy to get to. The wineries I explored on the 46 West side are all within minutes of the 101 Highway and very easily accessible from the 46 Highway. Each winery has something special to offer, and as mentioned above, can accommodate large parties.
Castoro Cellars was established in 1983 by a husband and wife team, Niels and Bimmer Udsen. Castoro had an unconventional start. The Udsen’s started making and selling wine first, then they purchased their own equipment, then a winery, followed by a tasting room and finally began purchasing and planting vineyards. Tom Myers, Niels' mentor and winemaker, helped them grow from making a few barrels of wine for family and friends, to developing a custom-crush operation, which yields 30,000–40,000 cases annually. Currently, Castoro Cellars has over 1,400 acres of Estate vineyards, all of which are certified organic by CCOF, and all the vineyards are SIP certified. Castoro takes pride in their sustainable practices and believes that every positive change they make, makes a difference for the world. For this reason, they have been at the forefront of sustainable farming and winemaking in Paso Robles for nearly 30 years. Additionally, in an effort to minimize their impact on the environment, in 2006 they installed their first solar panels and have since continued to add more panels.
Upon arrival, as you walk up to the tasting room, you walk through a gorgeous walkway of over-arching grapevines. When I was there in September, I was fortunate to see the vines abundant with grape clusters. We were served in a private tasting room and got to enjoy a flight of seven wines of our choice off their tasting menu. They make a wide variety of wines, so there’s something for every pallet. From Rhône to Bordeaux to Spanish varietals and more, they have your bases covered. Of the ones I tried, my personal favorite was the Due Mila Nove, a Bordeaux blend.
Other amenities at Castoro are: They have lawn games like disc golf, indoor and outdoor seating, picnic areas, and food for sale. They allow pets and you might even spot their vineyard cats along the property. You can book a private food and wine pairing tasting with foods specially prepared by their in-house chef. They also offer lodging at the Hive House, just a short distance from the winery, where you can pamper yourself with private wine tasting, yoga classes, massage, and more. The winery tasting fee is $10. Reservations are required if your party is six or more people. They are open seven days a week from 10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s day). As their slogan says, stop by and try out their "dam fine wine!"
Just down the road from Castoro Cellars and Winery is Bethel Road Distillery, a fun new venture started by Castoro specializing in handcrafted wine and spirits. This location is only open Thursday-Monday from 12:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. and is by appointment only, so be sure to outreach to them if you're looking to stop by.
Our next stop was Grey Wolf Cellars. Grey Wolf was started by Joe Sr. and Shirlene Barton in 1994. Four years later, tragedy struck when Joe Sr. unexpectedly passed , leaving Joe Jr. to carry on the family legacy. Joe Jr. is currently making wine that he feels represents Paso Robles by sourcing grapes like Zinfandel, and Rhône and Bordeaux varietals from dry farm vineyards across Willow Creek, Templeton Gap and Adelaida District AVAs. Today, Joe Jr. and his wife, Jenny, run the family business while Joe's mom, Shirley, remains involved in the day-to-day operations. They are completely owned and operated as a family business to this day. Since 2012, they have teamed up with Stephen Kroener of Silverhorse Winery to create KROBAR Craft Distillery, which is onsite and has tastings of rye, whiskey, bourbon and gin. They also opened Barton’s Kitchen, which offers farm-to-table casual cuisine by Executive Chef Jeff Thomas. In 2019, they opened a club lounge for members to enjoy their glass of wine. (Photos of the new club lounge courtesy of Grey Wolf.)
During our visit we were escorted to a private table outside which offered views of the low rolling hills and vineyards around the property. Some of my friends opted to buy a bottle to share while others enjoyed the tasting. I decided to do the tasting and really enjoyed the Viognier, especially given that it was a warm, late-summer day. Food is available for purchase at Barton’s Kitchen; however, they do allow you to bring a sack lunch to enjoy outside. Grey Wolf also offers lawn games and is pet friendly, so your furry friend can accompany you while you wine taste. Their tasting fee is usually $20 (unless it's a festival weekend, then it's $25); however, the fee can be waived with a two-bottle purchase. Reservations are required for parties of seven or more. They are open daily from 11:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., except for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s day.
Peachy Canyon was founded in 1988 by Doug and Nancy Beckett. They started with producing 500 cases and have grown to selling their wines in 48 states, Europe, the Pacific Rim and Canada. Doug and Nancy recently passed on the family business to their sons, Josh and Jake, who are now running the winery and tasting room. Zinfandel is considered Peachy Canyon’s flagship varietal, as evidenced by their tasting menu, which offers multiple bottles with subtle differences. The differences highlight the terroir of the vineyards they were sourced from. Some have a more restrained profile, where others are more fruit forward. Peachy Canyon has received accolades from Wine Spectator magazine, being ranked in the top 100 wines in the world. They also have many wines that have been ranked with 90+ point scores, often for multiple vintages.
When we arrived, we couldn’t resist taking a picture on their iconic oversized Adirondack chair located at the front of the tasting room. It is something that's a fun "must do" while at the winery. Peachy Canyon was kind enough to reserve out an entire tasting bar for our party in their "Old School House" tasting room. The wine flight was full of Zinfandels, as we expected, but also had varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Petite Sirah, Viognier and blends. One of my favorites was the Para Siempre, a Bordeaux blend of Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Peachy Canyon also offers lawn games, allows pets, has a picnic area, and snacks are available for purchase. Lodging is also available at their Vineyard Cottage. The cottage sleeps up to six guests, offers panoramic views, a full kitchen, BBQ and more. Pets and smoking are expressly prohibited at the cottage. Their tasting fee is $15 and can be waived with a two-bottle purchase. Reservations are required for parties of eight or more. They are open daily from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., except major holidays.
Day 2 - Exploring the 46 East Side
The east side of the 101 has many amazing wineries that can accommodate large parties as well. So, without further ado, here are some fun spots you should check out when you’re on the 46 East side.
What do you do with six tons of extra grapes that could not be accepted and processed at the winery you are working for? Ask the owner if you can have these extra grapes to make wine for yourself. That’s what Tobin James did and thankfully the owner obliged. As the adage goes, it never hurts to ask. A year and a half later Tobin won his first gold medals for the Zinfandel he produced with those extra grapes. His 1985 "Blue Moon" Zin put him on the map. He then began making wines at another local winery, and tasting and selling them at a wine shop in town. In 1993, Tobin was ready to build Tobin James Cellars. The site he chose off the 46 East is an old stagecoach stop. Keeping with the stagecoach theme, Tobin brought in a magnificent 1860s Brunswick mahogany bar from Blue Eye, Missouri, to serve as his tasting bar. In 1996, Lance and Claire Silver met Tobin James. The trio quickly realized they were the perfect pairing of winemaking and business expertise. Lance brought his own touch to the Tobin James Cellars' winemaking style by adding more intensity and depth to the wines. Claire handles many of the business operations and is also involved in the winemaking by doing final sensory evaluations and wine blending.
Tobin James is a great place to start your wine tasting day, but a word of caution, pace yourself! Every time I've ever been in their tasting room, the wine tasting educators have been more than generous with the amount of wines you can try. The atmosphere is very relaxed and laid back, which our group loved. They made us feel very welcomed. Their wine list is quite extensive with many Rhône and Bordeaux varietals, as well as quite a few Zinfandels made from different vineyards. In my opinion, Tobin makes some pretty stellar Zinfandels, as evidenced by his Silver Reserve, which was one of my favorites. I also really enjoyed his "Midnight Magic" Petite Sirah. Other items worthy of mention: All their wines are certified organic. They have an outside picnic area where you can enjoy some wine and food, and your furry friend can join you here too. If you want something to nibble on, snacks are available for purchase. Tobin James does not charge a tasting fee. They are one of the few wineries I am aware of that offers you a complimentary tasting. However, for parties of six or more, tasting fees may be applied and reservations are required. They are open daily from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., with modified hours on Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve. They are closed Christmas day. Come see why their wines are called "Paso Robles in a glass!"
Not far from Tobin James is Eberle Winery. Gary Eberle, the creator of Eberle, grew up in Moon Township, Pennsylvania. He was bitten by the wine bug during his graduate work at LSU while studying cellular genetics when a professor introduced him to Bordeaux wine. A year later Gary headed to U.C. Davis to get a degree in enology. In 1971 he earned his degree, and in 1973 headed south to Paso Robles. He began by establishing his family's Estrella River Winery & Vineyards and later acquired 64 acres of his own down the road. The 1979 Cabernet Sauvignon was the first wine Gary released at Eberle, debuting the iconic boar logo. The logo depicts the German origin of the name Eberle, meaning “small boar." (Boar photo above is courtesy of Eberle.) There have been many firsts worthy of acknowledgment since then. Eberle received recognition for co-founding the Paso Robles Appellation in 1983, was the first to use Paso Robles appellation on his wine label, and the first to commercially produce a 100% Syrah, to name a few. Gary has also earned many awards, some of the most recent being the 2015 Wine Industry Lifetime Achievement award and receiving the 2019 Robert Mondavi Hospitality Award. His winemaker, Chris Eberle, who has no relation to Gary, studied wine regions around the world after college. Chris has produced the most award-winning white wines in Eberle Winery’s history.
Whether you want to enjoy the rolling vineyard views on their patio or head down to the wine caves for some wine tasting, Eberle has you covered for a memorable wine experience. When we visited the winery, we enjoyed our tasting experience downstairs where they keep their stainless-steel tanks. Afterwards, we were taken on a private tour of the wine caves. The caves run along the underside of their property, making for quite a cool experience, literally. The temperature inside the caves is about 55 degrees Fahrenheit, which was a little chilly for me but ideal for the wine, as the caverns naturally provide a climate-controlled environment. Their wines are a mixture of Bordeaux, Rhône and Italian varietals, and we enjoyed them all. My personal favorite was the Côtes-du-Rôbles Rouge, which is a tried and true Paso GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvdre) blend. Cave tours are offered daily, every half hour, from 10:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. If you’d like to enjoy a private VIP tasting in the caves, the cost is about $50 per person and requires a reservation. They have a gorgeous outdoor picnic area available for use to enjoy some wine, along with a bocce ball court and a cornhole set. The picnic area is dog friendly and you may even meet the Eberle Standard Poodles, Sangiovese and Barbera. Eberle is another rare find with no tasting fee. They are open daily from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. April through October, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. November through March, with modified hours or closed on major holidays. Unless you are a group of 10 or more, you don’t need a reservation.
If you are looking for an off-the-main-road winery with a unique décor, an intimate vibe, and where the wine is served by the winemaker himself, Via Vega is a must visit. Larry, the owner and winemaker at Via Vega, grew up around his Uncle Tony's vineyard in Napa. Between his schooling at Cal Poly in fruit science to his hands-on experience working with his uncle, Larry acquired valuable knowledge of the wine industry. In the mid-1980s Larry went to graduate school to study enology and earned his masters in agricultural chemistry. Larry's professional winemaking career started in Brandy production, followed by becoming assistant winemaker at Lockwood Vineyard in 1991, and was later hired at J. Lohr in Paso Robles as the red winemaker after the 1998 vintage. While working at J. Lohr, Larry purchased 20 acres—not even a mile from J. Lohr—to start creating his own vineyard. By 1999 he planted 11 varietal blocks each with clonal variations, and in 2002, Larry completed his first harvest. To this day, Larry takes pride in his small family farm that is free of pesticides and fertilizers.
As stated, this is not your typical boutique winery. The warehouse-style tasting room is shared with a 1952 Airstream named The AirTiki, along with countless decorative skeletons and skulls, and rows of wine barrels towards the back. Every time I have visited, Larry has been the one behind the bar serving his wine. My friends and I loved his sense of humor, as well as what he taught us about how he makes his wine and the uncommon varietals he uses. He has 11 estate varietals, such as Aglianico, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Grenache, Malbec, Merlot, Souzao, Syrah, Tinta Cao, Touriga Nacional, and Zinfandel. All other varietals he gets “offshore” and are fruits they go “fishing” for, such as Grenache Blanc, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Pinot Noir, and Roussanne. For me, the 2011 Guitarron Syrah and the 2005 Bullpen Cab Franc tied as my favorite off the tasting menu. Via Vega takes their time in making their red wines by aging them in barrel for at least 30 months. This is evidenced by the older vintages on their tasting menu and the recent release of two red blends from 2014 and 2015. The tasting fee is $10 and can be waived with a bottle purchase. The tasting room is pet friendly, as long as your animal is friendly and on a leash. It’s also not uncommon to see the vineyard dogs onsite during your visit. The tasting room is open from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. on Sunday. Monday through Thursday and after-hours is by appointment only, as well as groups of 10 or more.
This concludes my first post about a Paso Wine Getaway for large groups. While I featured only six wineries, there are many others that can take large groups. Just be sure to call ahead to make sure the tasting room can accommodate your group. Stay tuned for more Wine Getaway posts in the near future. I’m hoping to get back up to wine country soon, which is never soon enough.
If you’re interested to know more about booking a trip to Paso for a large group, or even for a small party, I’d be happy to help. Just send me a message and we can get the planning started. Cheers!