Swirl, Sip and Spit (or Swig)

The first time Beth and I went on a wine-tasting adventure we felt we had to get to as many wineries as possible. We tookIMG_0645 the approach that we needed to either buy a bottle or join a club at every stop. This isn’t a bad strategy, but it can get expensive in a hurry. Still, if you’ve never been on a true wine tasting trip to a great California wine region, then you really should visit many as places as you can to get the true, unique flavor of that particular wine community.

We visited Paso Robles to celebrate our 25th anniversary several years ago, and after touring nearly 20 different wineries over three days, we swore we’d return again soon. It took until this past year for us to go back, but we more than made up for the three-year delay by staying in Paso Robles twice in a four-month span.

IMG_0644To fulfill our mission of exploring as many wineries as we could in 2010, we chartered the Wine Line winery tour bus. The service allowed for multiple stops and a built-in designated driver, who provided a nice education about California’s Central Coast region. The next day we boarded a van operated by the Wine Wrangler to get a different perspective and a tour of a different set of wineries.

We took a different approach on both trips in 2013. We still sampled plenty of great wines at a generous assortment of fine wineries, but we didn’t rush, and spent much more time enjoying each stop along the way. The key to our happiness centered on our favorite winery.

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The Van Horns, Seligmans and Robinsons at the fun Tobin James tasting room

Tobin James Cellars has the best wine club that I know of, and the Tobin James tasting room has a well-deserved reputation as the most fun in the region. Just looking around the jam-packed room every evening in the final hours before closing time is evidence of the winery’s popularity among locals. There is no tasting fee, and sampling isn’t restricted to just the lower-priced wines, as you’ll find at other places.

Among the perks of being a member of the James Gang, aside from discounted twice-yearly shipments of eight great wines and a surprise gift, is the opportunity to stay in the guest house on the grounds. There really isn’t a better deal around. While the cost of a one-night stay isn’t necessarily a deal on its own, it isn’t outrageous, either. But the true benefit is that you are able to make a selection of wines equal to the cost of your room. So if the cost of your stay comes to $300, you take home $300 of wines. That’s at discounted club member prices, so the value is increased.

Our two 2013 Paso Robles wine excursions each took on a similar pattern, and that was to pick out a few targets and plot our route. It’s been more enjoyable to not rush, and to truly enjoy each stop. For example, this past summer we made a point of going to Daou Vineyards, which sits at the highest point in Paso Robles, providing breathtaking views of the entire valley below. We also found Dunning Vineyards, which was hidden far off the beaten path in west Paso.

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The group outside Opolo

We returned to Veris Cellars this past fall after discovering their wines in 2010. It was then that we came across the Ben Hogan Tribute Series Zinfandel, a big, jammy Zin that has been one of our favorites. Located adjacent to Castoro Cellars, Veris has a nice selection of good wines, and its location was perfect for our picnic lunch with our fellow travelers Len and Jeannie (Stoll)  Seligman and Stan and Priscilla Van Horn.

Another “must-stop” is Opolo Vineyards, which claims to be the “Tobin James” of west Paso. No doubt Opolo offers a fun wine tasting environment with excellent wines.

Along with great wineries spread all over the region, there are many tasting rooms located in small, charming old-West downtown Paso Robles. If your palete needs a break from the grape, the Firestone-Walker Brewery and its new Taproom Restaurant are just down Highway 101.

After a day of cruising the countryside, our plans took us back to Tobin James to make sure we got in at least an hour or two there before the tasting room closed at 6 p.m. It is the farthest-east winery on Highway 46, and the best place to end the day – especially if you’re staying there. However, if you are, be aware that there are no restaurants nearby, and you’ll either have to bring food with you or go back into town. There’s also a service that will deliver food from most of the local restaurants for a nominal fee.