California’s Central Coast is quickly becoming the new Napa Valley, or so say many wine writers. But don’t confuse the two different touring experiences. In Napa Valley you will encounter many large wineries, huge crowds, long lines and often scripted tour guides who may not know too much beyond their script. Presentations tend to be formal, with limited opportunity to inquire about topics not covered.
Paso Robles is home to more than 100 wineries, all located within a few miles of each other. There are large wineries, such as Meridian and J. Lohr, but the glory of the region lies in its plethora of small picturesque wineries with annual case productions as low as 1000 cases or even lower. Many of these wineries are situated in the bucolic hills of the Westside – a region as pretty as any in Tuscany. Paso Robles is now the third largest and fastest growing wine region in California.
The problem with these small production wineries, some of which produce some of the most splendid wines of the Central Coast, is that there is little or no distribution outside the area and sometimes even within. When we asked Todd Clift of the new Moonstone Cellars winery why he didn’t seek distribution for his lovely wines, he told us that he would sell out his entire production in a single contract at a price half of what he can receive in his tasting room in charming Cambria. Other winemakers, like Dan Kleck of Silver Stone Wines, agree completely. When queried about his vision for the future of the winery, he responded that he intends to continue offering his splendid wines to members of his cellar club and selling out of his tiny tasting room in downtown Paso Robles.
So how can the larger public come to know what some are calling the finest wines of the region? They have to come to Paso Robles and tour the wineries. Or – visit the Paso Robles Wine Festival where nearly all of these boutique producers offer unlimited tastes of their excellent wines over a four hour period in Paso Robles’ City Park. At the 2007 Festival 85 wineries were represented. The event is held each year on the third Saturday of May. Surrounding the wine pavilions, restaurants and catering services offer a range of delicious foods to enjoy with your wine under the shade of the venerable oaks.
2007 was the first year the organizers offered a Silver Pass which gave entrance to the event an hour early for an additional $25. General admission was set at $50.