If you're not familiar with Paso Robles wine country and you love fine wine, you might want to start paying attention. While the region hasn't received as much press as its cousins to the north, Napa and Sonoma, it is California's largest and most diverse wine region. During the growing season, for example, the appellation experiences a larger temperature swing than any other in California. It's somewhere between 40 and 50 degrees!
The region is also making waves when it comes to sustainability with some help from the area's local certification program, Sustainability in Practice (SIP). Unlike organic certification, SIP's approach is a lot more holistic with consideration to water usage, how the farm labor is treated, and even energy consumption. And I'll drink to that!
Tucked away high in the hills of Templeton, California is AmByth Estate, the first and only certified biodynamic vineyard within the Paso Robles Appellation. The boutique winery is family-owned and operated by Phillip Hart and Mary Morwood-Hart, and produces over a thousand cases of biodynamic wine every year. You really get a sense of Phillip's nuance for winemaking when tasting AmByth's Maiestas, Adamo and their ReVera. Each are made using the same four grapes.
Nestled away in the southernmost part of the Paso Robles AVA, just 14 miles from the Pacific Ocean, is Ancient Peaks Winery. The family-owned vineyard, which was was once part of California's famed Mission Trail, is a SIP-certified, sustainable winery. However, the old mission still remains at the heart of the historic property called Santa Margarita Ranch. I suggest you try their white label wines. Two of my favorite varieties can be found under their white label brand: Cab Franc and Petit Verdot.
"We feel wine is an essential part of the daily meal. We provide consumers with a quality wine at a price that will allow them a fine bottle with almost every meal," says owner, Niels Udsen. And how does he define that quality? It's by creating a product that reflects the respect that both he and his wife have for the land, such as cultivating three organic vineyards, improving the companies recycling standards and replacing rolls of paper towels with air dryers. One of my favorites is their 2010 White Zin. The wine can be enjoyed with or without food. It is swirling with all of the Zin flavors one would expect but with some extra sweetness on the palette.
Planted just ten miles from Paso Robles' famed Highway 46 wine route, Halter Ranch is a sustainable vineyard deeply rooted within California's history. The property made its Hollywood debut back in 1990 when its rumored-to-be-haunted Victorian farmhouse appeared in the creature-feature Arachnophobia. That's not its only claim to fame, though -- Ronald Reagan announced his second-term run for governorship at the ranch in 1967 near the property's 3,400-foot airstrip. But of course, we visited Halter Ranch to check out the incredible wine it makes through sustainable practices. I love their 2007 Côtes de Paso. This Southern Rhone Valley-style blend is swirling with currant, blackberry and earth, and feels ripe straight to the finish.
Oso Libre Winery, which means "free bear" in Spanish, is a small boutique vineyard and winery located in the heart of Paso Robles. The winery gets 100% of its energy from renewable sources, an achievement that played out like a Bobby Fuller song and even required the Sierra Club to get involved. Their 2008 Nativo is lush, dripping with strawberry jam and subtle notes of lavender and anise. It's quite versatile but I suggest you try it as a dessert wine. It held up nicely to the grilled strawberries I paired it with. The wine is 76% Primitivo, 24% Petite Sirah and 100% yummy!
Peachy Canyon Winery is a sustainable, family-owned winery located on the westside of Paso Robles' popular Highway 46. The winery is named after a horse thief who took refuge in a cave near the vineyard. Peachy--the oddly named horse thief--was eventually caught and hung in town. Jesse James' uncle, Drury James, co-founded the town of El Paso de Robles and was part owner of the famous La Panza Ranch where James and his brother, Frank, took shelter after holding up a bank in Russellville, Kentucky, on March 20, 1868. Try their 2008 Old School House Zinfandel. It is brooding with dark cherries, cocoa and just enough citrus to keep it fresh and light. This School House Zin is bound to land you in detention.
Located in the heart of Paso Robles wine country, just east off of Highway 46, is the Robert Hall estate. Started in 1995, the winery produces some of California's most popular wines. In fact, last year Hall received the Golden State Winery honor for having the greatest number of award-winning wines, a first for any Central Coast winery. Along with its top-notch vino, the winery has also helped define sustainability as a Central Coast winery. One of my favorite wines is the 2009 Viognier. It's dripping with honey and citrus yet remains light and fresh. With some subtle notes of ginger, the wine pairs perfectly with Thai food. I suggest take out!
Tablas Creek is a 120-acre vineyard situated just twelve miles from the Pacific Ocean, on the westside of Paso Robles, California (just Paso to the locals). The vineyard focuses on Rhône-based blends common to the centuries-old Châteauneuf du Pape appellation. They also dry-farm their grapes, use native yeasts and are organically certified; they create wine with an overwhelming sense of place, better known as terroir. One of my favorites is the 2006 Esprit de Beaucastel. It's sexy, a temptress swirling with grilled figs, plum and spice. With just one
kiss sip, you'll be spellbound. I'm convinced Neil Diamond had this wine in mind when he sang Red, Red Wine.
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