Spending a weekend in Paso Robles can be quite rewarding. The downtown is quaint and has very fine restaurants. The hotel where we stayed, the Hotel Cheval, is wonderful. One block off the square with excellent accommodations, you can rest and recoup from a long day of wine tasting.
One notable difference in this area is the set up of the wine tastings. This is a young and growing area, so the emphasis on wine education during the tastings is in its infancy, as contrasted with Napa. The heart of what you get in Paso is good wine that is well-priced and a very relaxed atmosphere. You do not have caves and the established wine tours that are available in Napa Valley; yet the low-key, relaxed approach is really quite enjoyable.
We first visited Denner Winery. Among Paso experiences, this is one that is more structured with set times, by appointment only. They have many tables set outside in the sun and shade. They provide a menu for the tasting and a price list. A host will bring the pours to your table in sequence, and you can enjoy the experience at your own pace. This moment, with the sun pouring down, great friends, and a well-structured wine in hand – I had but one word – heaven. It is a lovely setting and the wines of Denner are well-crafted and very enjoyable. Remember, this is the area where Rhone varietals dominate, and they do well at Denner. Blends of Grenache and Syrah are really very well done at the winery. My favorite on this day was the Ditch Digger.
Only a short drive away was Anderson Road. There were three wineries in a row worth our time and attention. One of those was Booker Winery, again enjoying quality Rhone varietals while sitting in the sun and having a host bring our tastes of wines to our outside seating. This was truly a great experience with friends and wine. Eric and Lisa Jensen are the owners of Booker and initially intended to grow and provide grapes for some of Paso’s best wineries. Eric had worked for five years with Justin Smith of Saxum and two years with Stephen Asseo of L’Aventure. With that experience, Eric and Lisa decided they would make their own wine and, in 2005, produced the first vintage of Booker. This is truly fine wine that you will enjoy.
Of special note when you plan to visit Paso Robles, remember this is a young area in terms of experience and availability. For the most part, the tasting rooms are open Friday, Saturday and Sunday. A few will be open on Thursday and at other times by appointment, but only if you call. Please plan your time wisely by doing your homework to spend the best time possible in this quaint community with a growing wine reputation.