Here’s the easy thing about wine tasting in Paso Robles — you have so many good options to choose from in this wine country just a day trip distance away. That’s also the hard thing: Where to begin?
You can’t go wrong heading west on Highway 46 toward the coast. The drive itself through hills blanketed with vines and studded with oaks is intoxicating. The wine is even headier.
Here are four tasting options — all open by appointment only and most priced in the $20 range — that demonstrate the region’s diversity. And if you’re still staying close to home, note that all these wineries offer shipping.
Sip: Denner Vineyards
Denner Vineyards’ high-end, wine-geek paradise focuses on organic, sustainable, mostly dry farming of 17 varietals grown on 130 acres. When Ron Denner bought the property in 1997 he was convinced he’d found the perfect terroir and location — right in the path of the marine layer that wafts from the Pacific through the Templeton Pass. He knew what he was doing. With a focus on cabs, zins and reds with names like Dirt Worshipper and the signature Mother of Exiles, the bottles start at $50; most have Wine Spectator ratings of 92 to 95.
Prefer to sip from home? You can order those wines shipped to your door, then tune in to video talks with winery staff members who dig into everything from vineyard to glass at www.dennervineyards.com/Video-Gallery.
Details: Open daily by appointment from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 5414 Vineyard Drive in Paso Robles. Reserve a spot at www.dennervineyards.com up to 48 hours ahead of time or call the winery at 805-239-4287 to check last minute availability.
Sip: Thacher Winery
If you need a reminder that this was once cattle and horse country, head down Vineyard Drive until you see the huge barn emblazoned with the letters KR and free-range chickens wandering about. Owner and winemaker — and former Los Gatos Brewery brewmaster — Sherman Thacher has been making boutique wines on this historic 52-acre ranch since 2004 with a focus on zins, unusual varietals (the Cinsault Rosé, $28) and Rhone blends.
The winery is hosting laid-back outdoor tastings by appointment, and doing “barn-side” pickups, if you want to just grab and go.
Details: Open daily by appointment from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 8355 Vineyard Drive; www.thacherwinery.com.
Lunch: Niner Wine Estates
In 1990, businessman Richard Niner visited Paso, fell in love with the area and bought what was then Bootjack Ranch. These days, Niner wines are made onsite from grapes grown on the 223 acres they own in three different vineyards. Son Andy runs the business, which focuses on cabs, pinots and chardonnay. You’ll find wines that range from a reserve grenache blanc ($30) to the signature Reserve Fog Catcher ($100-$125).
Just off Highway 46, Niner’s outdoor seating overlooks vineyards and Heart Hill — a heart-shaped group of oak trees on the vine-covered hill. An estate tasting ($30) at a private, shaded table includes a flight of five wines, with a lunch menu that ranges from and you can order lunch, too. It’s a destination lunch spot with entrees that range from sauteed scallops ($24) to a generous charcuterie and cheese platter ($45). Everything is locally sourced, much of it onsite from estate chickens and the chef’s garden.
Details: Open daily from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. by reservation at 2400 Highway 46 West; www.ninerwine.com.
Sip: Grey Wolf Cellars/Barton Family + Krobar Distillery
Niner’s hipster neighbor is actually two down-to-earth tasting rooms — one for the Barton family’s Grey Wolf and Barton Family wines, the other a distillery — separated by Barton’s Kitchen Window, an informal, counter-service eatery with outdoor seating and a locavore menu of salads, soups (smoked tomato bisque!) and mac and cheese.
The wines include Barton’s music-inspired bottles, including a Purple Rain pinot noir. In pre-pandemic times, the distillery, started by longtime buddies Stephen Kroener and Joe Barton as a hobby, offered samples of “handcrafted hooch,” as they call it, from Original Gin to 114-proof Cask Strength Rye in a tasting room with a 1920s speakeasy vibe. Right now, it’s open for bottle purchases only.
Details: Wine tastings are $20; distillery tastings are $20 for up to six spirits or $5 for just one. Barton Family Wines is open daily from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. by appointment. Barton’s Kitchen is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Monday, with charcuterie boards available Tuesdays and Wednesdays, so you won’t be left snack deprived. And Krobar’s is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Monday or by appointment. 2174 Highway 46 West; www.bartonfamilywines.com