Paso Robles Wine Country

Thanks to my in-laws a couple of weeks ago my wife and I managed a weekend away and decided to make the trek to Pismo Beach. Thanks to a friend we stayed at Pismo Lighthouse Suites, a well-appointed hotel right on the beach. Great place to stay and an excellent view….







With only one full day down there, of course we went wine tasting! I had heard about good wines from Paso Robles, but I think most people would label the region as still ‘up and coming’. With the five wineries we visited, I would venture to say that the area is no longer up and coming, but rather has hit full stride! At each stop there wasn’t one wine that I would have labeled as ‘not good’. There were certainly a few that weren’t my style, but all the wines I tasted were of high quality.

Our first stop…







Peachy Canyon was our first stop. We know the area is known for Zinfandel and we are huge Zin fans. This winery was listed as one that offered multiple Zinfandels. They had three on the list, but 6 more available just for wine club members. All were tasty. They also offer live music on Saturdays during the summer and have a huge picnic area and lawn. Cool stuff.

Second up was Turley Wine Cellars….











Turley traces its roots back to St. Helena in the Napa Valley and I recognized the name. We tasted 4 wines and all were very good, so they were packed into the cooler. Turley offered a more upscale experience with a large bar, many staff members and a retail shop as well.

After that a short trip to Zin Alley where we tasted wine along with the owner and winemaker. A very cool experience tasting right in their cellar, right up my alley….







Not much to look at, but the wines were very good. We actually ended up going home with a Syrah blend. Funny since Zin is in their name.

Right down the hill from Zin Alley, was our favorite stop on the trip, Cypher Winery. I was a little skeptical as some of their wines seemed gimmicky…











With names like Anarchy, Heretic and Zin Bitch I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I was blown away with quality, elegance and power of these wines. We just drank the Heretic and I was equally impressed while drinking it at home. Which brings up another topic that I’ll have to write about. Many tourists get caught up in the romance of wine country and dream up that the wines are better than they really are. Then upon returning home they are disappointed in the wine they purchased. Sorry for the tangent, back to the wine. We also picked up the Chardonnay even though it was un-oaked. I’m usually a fan of some oak on my Chard, but this one really stood out.

Our last stop was Lone Madrone. We were drawn to it because of its Celtic logo…









There are any number of things that attract tourists (and locals) to wineries. Sometimes, it’s as simple as a logo or bottle design. This one looked like a symbol we had seen while traveling through Ireland a few years back. The symbol dated back more than 5000 years. The wines were as good as any we had on the trip. The Chenin Blanc was a highlight as was the Hard Apple Cider they produce.

All in all it was a fantastic introduction to the wine country in and around Paso Robles. We can’t wait to return and discover some new favorites.


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Filed under Visiting Wineries, Wine Country, Wine Tasting

Wine smells, seriously…

The other night my wife and I were sitting on the couch enjoying a bottle of Merlot and I started smelling the wine, then she did and next thing we know we are going back and forth about what we smell in the wine.

Now this may not seem like a big deal to many of you, however, with two kids (and 5 animals) in the house we don’t get as much ‘sit around and smell the wine’ time as you would think. Sure, it’s a huge passion of mine, and my wife enjoys it too, but daily life often gets in the way of really thinking about the wine and trying to place what aromas are coming out of the glass.

This particular bottle was about seven years old and comes from a cooler part of Sonoma County. Cooler climates generally lead towards darker fruits and there were plenty of those: Dark cherries, boysenberry and plums. This one also brought in tons of earthy character like hay and dirt. And some very unique smells like metal, granite and blood. Yup, that’s right, blood.

Some of you might be grossed out (and that’s okay), but you smell what you smell. And might I add that your brain can only recall aromas that you have smelled and identified before and my wife who is a veterinarian by trade (remember the 5 animals) is used to being around blood and can certainly identify the smell.

It all comes back to experience. One of the most difficult things in wine is sensory recall – being able to name the aromas levitating from the glass. It takes concentration and not being drunk. It takes patience. And most of all it takes practice. Lots and lots of practice. And that is the fun part, right?


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Lackluster June Rain Leaves Vineyards Okay

Last year is a wine growing year that likely many vintners and growers want to forget. June was plagued with rain during bloom causing fruit set to be irregular leading to uneven grape clusters. So when the weather reports called for rain on Monday I was thinking it was June 2011 all over again. Turns out the highest rainfall amounts recorded were 4 hundredths of an inch or barely heavier than a thick fog.

I stopped and took a picture during the rain to check on the grape clusters…

These little clusters were in the middle of bloom, but it didn’t matter because the rain wasn’t strong enough to get in the way of the self-pollination. Did you know that wine grapes are self-pollinating? The grapes do not need an outside source (like bees) to pollinate. I’ve always thought that was a cool fact about wine grapes.

All is still going well for the 2012 growing season and the forecast for the next 10 days show sunny skies and temperatures in the low 80’s, just the right temperature to move this vintage along at a steady pace.

One more note about the rain (if you can call it that) from Monday. It was very windy on Tuesday meaning that any ill-effects of the cooler, damp weather were pretty much erased. Wind is exactly what is needed to dry the vines out after the drizzle.

More updates as we move through this season.


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Filed under 2012 Growing Season, Sonoma, Wine

Traveling Tuesdays – Robledo Family Winery

Well, I’m back in it! It’s been a while since I’ve had a chance to get out and do some wine tasting, but I jumped back in this past week with a visit to Robledo Family Winery in Sonoma. When I first announced that I was doing Traveling Tuesdays, the tweeter (is there such a thing?) for Robledo jumped right in and asked if I was coming for a visit. So, four months later, I finally made it.

I had been once before, but it was nearly four years ago, so many things had changed and I didn’t really remember what the wines tasted like. The story is one of truly pulling oneself up by their bootstraps: With $30 in his pocket and a dream, Reynaldo Robledo came to the U.S. to start a new life. Except for a trip back to marry his wife to Mexico, Mr. Robledo spent all his time in California. He acquired a job with Christian Brothers in Napa Valley and eventually became a manager with the company.

Eventually, he was able to purchase 13 acres of vineyards in Napa Valley’s Carneros region, followed by many acres in Sonoma and Lake counties as well. The family now owns nearly 400 acres of land in the three areas and produce more than a dozen varietals. They remain one of only two latino-owned wineries in all of Northern California and are quite successful.

Walking up to the tasting room, there is this outstanding water feature along with expansive vineyard views and, of course the most important flags…

The tasting room itself is a little difficult to find, but after trying a few doors I found it. Once inside the room is quite large and able to accommodate many guests at one time. We were greeted by Luis Robledo, one of 9 kids of Reynaldo – 9 kids! All the family are involved in the winery in one capacity or another. Luis mans the tasting room, but I’m sure he does much more than that.

The tasting started with a delightful Sauvignon Blanc…









I ended up going home with half a case of the Sauvignon Blanc. I was getting low on bright, refreshing summer wines and the price and flavor were right for the warm months ahead.

Luis also poured Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah and a late harvest Sauvignon Blanc to round out the tasting.

Oh and a white port!









There were many more wines available, but they will have to wait for another visit which will definitely happen again.


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Filed under Sonoma, Traveling Tuesdays, Wine, Wine Country, Winemaking

Marin French Cheese Co. visit leads to coastal day

This morning we discovered that we needed to go to shopping in Novato for some necessities which in turn led us down many a winding road today. We had plans to work on the house (like we’ve been doing for months), but I guess the sun shining and the warm temperatures took us in a different direction.

From Novato we decided to head over to Marin French Cheese Company…


I had always wanted to visit and I heard they had tours of the facility so we took the 20 minute detour. Unfortunately, when we arrived we discovered they aren’t doing tours right now because of renovations. No problem!

We grabbed some cheese and took residence at one of their many picnic benches along the pond….


The cheese was called “Breakfast Cheese”. Perfect since it still wasn’t quite noon.


It was a version of Brie cheese and was nice and creamy. The only thing missing was a bottle of wine (the retail shop sold many, but it was a little early).

Since the tour didn’t happen, we looked at each other and said “Let’s go to Pt. Reyes”! Why not? Right. We had time to kill and procrastinating on household chores seemed like a good idea.We had been once before but it had been years and we didn’t quite remember how far it was. But after about 45 minutes of driving we arrived at the Pt. Reyes Lighthouse.


What we hadn’t planned on and certainly this picture doesn’t show was how cold and windy it was. We were just going 20 minutes from Sonoma initially. So we were totally unprepared for the 25 degree cooler weather. But we dealt with it. It was fun to be spontaneous for a change. Walking down these steps the girls saw a whale. I missed it, but I’m happy for them. Blue Whale migration season is almost over, but the employees had 8 reports of whale sightings today.

That’s all, right? Nope. While at the lighthouse one of the workers said that we just had to go to Chimney Rock and see the Elephant Seals. So, we did…


They were very cool, but we could only stay a few minutes as we had our fill of windy, cold weather. We jumped back in the car and drove the 90 minutes home to temperatures much warmer than we had been in all day.

Most of my time is spent discovering Sonoma County’s wine country, but it was fun to get out and see some of the other things that are out there just a few miles from home. There are many attractions aside from wine and I hope to get to a fair number of them this summer.

Here are some more pics of the day….




“Breakfast Cheese”




Marin French Cheese Company’s facility.







View from bench at Marin French Cheese Co.








My daughter having fun at Marin French Cheese Co.









“South Beach” at Pt. Reyes National Seashore.

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Filed under Marin, Non-Wine