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ednavalley.JPGAFTER CHRISTMAS 2007:
Off the beaten path – Central Coast, CA

It's been quite awhile since I made my way through the Edna Valley – at least 6 years – which is a small wine area just south of San Luis Obispo. Since it was on the way to Paso and I was looking for a change, we decided to revisit the area. The region was first planted in the Mission era over 200 years ago, but only in the last decade has it begun to prosper again. There are about 20 wineries with over 3000 acres planted. Only half of them have tasting rooms and they tend to be quite fancy.

The region is most famous for its' Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandels and Pinot Noirs, especially from the Paragon and Rincon Vineyards. Of course, there are other varietals made, but none of them seem to perform as well. While the tasting rooms were lovely, overall, the wines were lacking. Well-crafted but just not that interesting. Nothing we just had to buy. I thought maybe it was just me, but the Man wasn't impressed either. Perhaps we shouldn't have stopped at Summerland Winery first. Located just south of Santa Barbara, their pinots are wonderful and set a high mark for the rest of the day. Despite our disappointed palates (I think I expected to much from this burgeoning region), the day was lovely. I guess next time I'll have to spring for the high-end tastings and see if that makes a difference.

talley.JPGTALLEY VINEYARDS: Tasting Fee: $6 (5 pours)
One of the oldest growers in the region, Talley has been producing wine for over 20 years. They are located just north of Arroyo Grande on the way to Lopez Lake. I tell you this because they aren't part of the local vintner's association, so you won't find them on any maps. Their facility is amazing with a gigantic tasting bar that overlooks their estate vineyards. Along with their single vineyard wines, they produce a second label called Bishop's Peak, which is enjoyable and quite affordable for a California wine. For being off the map, they were quite busy, but once I got the attention of someone at the bar, she was helpful and informative. The only bottle I had to have was the Raisin Cane Pinot Noir dessert wine. The one place I really should have ponied up the extra cash and tried the single vineyard stuff.
– For more information CLICK HERE.

EDNA VALLEY VINEYARDS: Tasting Fee: $5 (5 pours)
I've had several of their wines before, the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, which I usually always like. In fact the reason I stopped was because I just poured the Chard at my holiday party and found it delightful. Perhaps I had the 2005. The '06 tasted nothing like the one I just drank, which surprised and disappointed me. Will have to check the year the next time I'm at Trader Joe's to see if they were different. In any case, liked the Pinot Noir, as always, which is a great deal at $20, and the Sauvignon Blanc, which was a little rounder and less grassy/acidic than most. The Merlot was disappointing, filled with green flavors and the Petite Sirah could have been anything. Probably worth the extra $5 to taste their reserves.
– For more information CLICK HERE.

This winery was new to me, but shared a tasting room with Saucelito Canyon, which is famed for their Zinfandels. They have apparently been making wine for over two decades with a focus on Pinots and Rhones. My favorites were their Rhone blend called Cuvée Eddy (Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre & Petite Sirah) and the Sangiovese, which is a rare find in these parts and the one bottle I almost considered purchasing.
– For more information CLICK HERE.

BAILEYANA/tangent: Tasting Fee: $5 (5 Pours)
baileyana.jpgAnother lovely tasting room just bursting with people. This area was more popular than I expected, however, it's location just 20-30 minutes south of SLO, probably has a lot to do with that. What intrigued me most about this winery is their new tangent label which is devoted to crafting only white wine. I was bummed that their Albarino and Viognier's were sold out (a good sign), but was impressed by the others I tried which showed distinct varietal flavors and an elegance many whites of the region lack. For the price ($14-$20) they are well worth a look. As is the Baileyana Estate Syrah, which for $18 a bottle is a lovely example of cool climate Syrah. If I wasn't swimming in Syrahs already, I would have purchased one.
– For more information CLICK HERE.

TASTE, San Luis Obispo, CA – NOW CLOSED
In an effort to help the smaller wineries in the area, the local vintners' association opened this super high-tech tasting room right in downtown San Luis Obispo. They feature over 72 wines by the glass from just about everyone making wine in the Edna Valley and Arroyo Grande region. Clearly not every wine is carried, but the selection is wide with the tasting fees running from $1.50 - $5 per 1 ounce sample. We purchased a card with $20 on it and got about 10 tastes. It's great to be able to taste and purchase from wineries that otherwise aren't available to sample, however, the space is a little impersonal and you don't really learn anything about the wineries. There's just no way the employees can be well-versed on every wine carried. Each wine has a little card with its' price and tasting notes on it so you'll have a record of what you tasted, so that helps a little. A great way to get a feel for the region without having to spend a lot of time in your car.

hearst.JPGBecause I was going to spend much of the following few days doing more tasting, the next morning I finally dragged my butt over to the coast to HEARST CASTLE. It's only a 45-50 minute drive from Paso Robles. All I can say is 'Wow!' I'm a big architecture and history fan, so I was familiar with Hearst and San Simeon, but watching a show on the History Channel just does not do this place justice. While probably extremely gaudy by most people's standards, you just have to marvel at the craftsmanship and artwork that covers every inch of the property. Despite being in a very remote area of California, the place was packed. Clearly, I wasn't the only one fascinated. I took Tour 2, which is nicknamed the "cardiac tour" because you have to climb over 300 hundred stairs while going from top to bottom to see the private suites of Mr. Hearst and Marian Davies. Well worth the effort. What's truly amazing about the place, is that it exists at all. How he got all the materials there a hundred years ago proves that unlimited funds can make anything possible.

moonstone.JPGMOONSTONE CELLARS: Tasting Fee: $2 (4 Pours)
Since the coastal wineries of Cambria, Cayucos and Harmony are considered to be part of the Paso Robles Vintners Association, and I never get down there, I had to stop in to at least one on my way back. Moonstone is right off Main Street in the "West Village" of Cambria, which is adorable and packed with tourists. Almost all of their grapes come from over the hills in Paso. Since they began making their wines in Cambria, they kept their tasting room there. The Chardonnay, which comes from Monterey grapes, and the Merlot were my favorites. At $18 it was worth taking home, something I haven't done to a Merlot in quite some time. Was looking for them on this trip and the pickings were slim. Theirs actually had character, a rarity these days. A nice everyday wine I look forward to opening. The rest of the list was enjoyable, but nothing special.
– For more information CLICK HERE.

FERMENTATIONS – Cambria, California
Since I didn't know when I'd get back to Cambria, I also stopped at this tasting room/wine shop featuring smaller Central Coast producers in the "East Village." Open daily they offer a wide range of wine trinkets, as well as a whole specialty food sampler bar. Couldn't resist the Zin Mustard. For $5 you get to taste 5 of the 20 or so wines on their list, which they also sell by the bottle. The list changes when they run out of stock, so it's hard to say what you'll find. More shop than bar, but not exactly either, however, worth the stop.
– For more information CLICK HERE.

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