Paso Robles Wine Tasting – Part 1

Each time I go on a wine tasting trip I learn something new.

For instance, on our recent trip to Paso Robles, California, I learned that I have been mispronouncing “Paso Robles”. Rather than using the Spanish pronunciation of “Paw-so Row-blays” locals go with “Paw-so Row-bulls”.

Or you can just stick with “Paso”.

Paso Robles

We have been trying to schedule this Paso Robles wine tasting trip with family and friends from California for quite some time. The California gang made a few reconnaissance trips without us, diligently doing research for this excursion and compiling a list of favorites for us to visit.

Located on California’s Central Coast about halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, Paso Robles has been in the wine-making business since the late 1800s. Paso grows over 40 different types of grapes some of which, I have to admit, are completely new to me.

See? Wine tasting is educational!

Paso Robles Wine Festival

Paso Robles Wine Tasting Festival

Serendipitously, the dates chosen for our trip coincided with the Paso Robles Wine Festival. This four-day event takes place in the park in the middle of downtown Paso Robles and features wine and food from local businesses.

We chose to sign up for only the Reserve Tasting Event on Friday afternoon figuring the crowds would be at the festival all weekend and we would have wineries’ tasting rooms to ourselves.

Paso wine festival reserve tasting

The Reserve Tasting featured the best wines from a limited number of wineries along with tasty bites from local restaurants. It was a great Paso Robles introduction.

EPOCH ESTATE WINES

Epoch Estate’s tasting room is a gorgeous blend of old and new.

Epoch tasting room

Originally the home of York Mountain Winery –  the very first winery in the Central Coast, dating back to 1882 – this structure was destroyed by an earthquake in 2003.  Seven years later, the owners of Epoch Estate, purchased the land and the rubble and set out to reconstruct the historic building using all of the original materials, painstakingly, piece by piece.

Epoch even managed to bring back York Mountain’s 100+ year-old wine press which now holds a place of honor in the open loft of the tasting room.

Epoch wine press

Our tasting flight included a lovely Rosé (made from Mourvèdre, Grenache, and Syrah grapes), a white blend (Grenache Blanc, Viognier and Roussanne), three red blends (varying combinations of Syrah, Petite Sirah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Tempranillo) and one 100% Syrah.

Epoch White and Rose

I brought these two bottles home for Girls’ Night In.

Guyomar

In 1996, modern day pioneers Mareeni and Ishka Stanislaus moved west to Paso Robles. Mareeni was recruited to be the area’s first OB/GYN and Ishka set his sights on starting a winery.

While we didn’t get to see Mareeni or Ishka on this visit – he was out of town and she was on call at the hospital – we did enjoy a lovely tasting, complete with a cheese and charcuterie platter, in the dining room of their home.

Guyomar tasting

We enjoyed tastes of Guyomar’s Rosé (made from Grenache grapes) and four different red blends (varying combinations of Zinfandel, Grenache, Syrah and Petite Sirah).

Guyomar The Editor

Given the fact that the majority of our group was made up of journalists and English majors, Guyomar’s delicious blend (69% Grenache, 22% Syrah, 5% Zinfandel, and 4% Petite Sirah), “The Editor”, was a fan favorite.

Law Estate

Law Estate

The California gang discovered this fabulous place on their first visit to Paso Robles and have been anxious for us to meet Law’s yummy wines.

Law Estate barrel roomOur young winery guide, Maggie, impressed us with her knowledge and delighted us with her stories about discovering her passion for wine at the family dinner table and her dad’s help in furthering her wine education. Maggie’s dad is being rewarded now with the family discount at his daughter’s place of work and access to some incredible wines.

While nestled in the gorgeous room just beyond the barrels, Maggie poured us an array of red blends with descriptive names like “Audacious” and “Sagacious” (combinations of Syrah, Petite Sirah, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Cabernet Sauvignon) and”Intrepid”, of 100% Syrah.

The names of these blends prompted us to imagine what we might name our own signature wines. As you might guess, the English majors and writers among us were more skilled at this game than we accountants.

The best I could come up with was “In The Red” which doesn’t have the greatest connotation although it does describe the financial situation of many who try to start a vineyard.

Still, I think I will leave the wine naming and winemaking business to talented and experienced professionals like those crafting the delicious wines at Law.

mocadeauxFolks, we are just getting started on our tour of Paso Robles.

Up next, some wine varietals you may have never heard of and our #1 sentimental Paso Robles favorite.

Stay tuned!

 

No one paid me to say this. Do not drink and drive!

You Might Also Like:

Disney Vacation Club – Disney’s Vero Beach Resort

After spending a bajillion dollars on Disney vacations over the years, we finally wised up and joined the Disney Vacation Club.

Disney Vacation Club locations

Disney Vacation Club is kind of like a timeshare but, rather than buying specific weeks at a specific location, members buy points which can be used anytime at a variety of Disney resorts and hundreds of non-Disney properties.

Welcome home

Even with a pretty generous carryover policy, points do have an expiration date. Recently, Peter and I found ourselves with a handful of points that had reached the point of “use it or lose it”.

Reviewing our options and taking into consideration that we already have reservations for an upcoming trip to Walt Disney World with the entire family, Peter suggested a getaway to Disney’s Vero Beach Resort on Florida’s Atlantic Coast.

Disney's Vero Beach Resort

A little back story…

I am a native Floridian; born in St. Petersburg. In my youth, the city was known as the retirement capital of the world. The downtown streets rolled up at 4pm to allow everyone to get in line for the early-bird dinner at Morrison’s Cafeteria.

Today, downtown St. Pete is swanky-town where you can pay a cool million for a condo with a view of the water and a plethora of museums, galleries and hip restaurants at your doorstep.

But I digress.

The point is, back when I was growing up and the state’s population was largely concentrated on the two coasts with a whole lot of nothing but orange groves in the middle, we Floridians felt a strong affinity for our locale.

An East Coast – West Coast thing.

Florida's Best Coast

There was no ambivalence. You were “Ft. Myers” or “Ft. Lauderdale” – not both.

I will always be a true-blue, loyal Gulf Coast gal.

The West Coast, the Best Coast.

So, when Peter suggested vacationing on Florida’s EAST Coast I was not immediately on board.

Old misconceptions die hard.

But, this is Disney after all, so I decided that I could cope. Look at me, walking in the flip flops of others to understand our differences.

Flying into the Orlando airport, we had momentary buyer’s remorse as we headed to our rental car rather than the Disney Magical Express bus to Walt Disney World.

Those feelings were quickly dispelled by the scenery upon our arrival at the resort.

Ocean view

After spending some time relaxing by the pool we enjoyed dinner on site at the Wind and Waves Grill and cocktails on the lovely porch at the Green Cabin Room. Their wine list was not great but the Agave Nectar Margarita was a delicious Plan B.

We spent one entire day lounging under an umbrella on the beach. This fair-skinned Irish gal was also under a hat, towels and a double layer of SPF 50 sunscreen.

Under my umbrella

The cooling breeze and the sound of the waves made for the perfect setting to enjoy my magazines and take a nap.

At one point, we ventured into the surf to frolic in the waves, reminding me of two truths:

  1. As I am no longer 17 years old, my boogie board should have been retired some time ago.
  2. The monster waves of the Atlantic Ocean are much meaner than the gentle, rolling swells of my beloved, placid Gulf of Mexico.

Most of the rest of our time was spent relaxing by the pool.

The pool

Although we resisted the temptation to join in the poolside games like bingo and dive for sharks, we were powerless over the two-story waterslide as a vehicle for somewhat more age-appropriate thrill seeking.

Pool slide

We patiently waited in line among the children and there is no truth to the rumor that we elbowed little ones out of our way or distracted them by shouting, “Hey, look! There’s a shark!”.

After three glorious days, it was time to say goodbye to Disney’s Vero Beach Resort and head off on our next adventure.

Spoiler alert: the next adventure involves wine.

As my friend Mickey says, “See you real soon!”

You Might Also Like:

Napa Wineries At Harvest Time

Our college gang had so much fun on our 2015 trip to Napa that we decided to return for a visit this fall. Napa wineries at harvest time!

Everyone was on board, quite excited to revisit some of our favorite wineries and discover some new ones.

We were even more excited when our pal, Ellen, decided to plan a private surprise birthday party for her husband at one of our favorite Napa wineries. More about that soon.

In planning our Napa 2016 adventure, we decided to take a slower pace and schedule only two tastings per day. It worked out very well and no one suffered from wine tasting fatigue.

Believe it or not, it’s a thing. The struggle is real.

We visited…

Chappellet Vineyards

Chappellet produces a variety of wines including, in my opinion, one of the best Napa Cabernet Sauvignons for the price. They also bottle Molly Chappellet’s favorite – Chenin Blanc – which is light and delicious.

Chappelet

Chappellet was such a hit on our last trip that several of us became wine club members. As wine club members we were able to get all of the tasting fees comped and we were able to use the gorgeous picnic area overlooking the entire valley.

view from Chappellet

Timing was on our side as we had the added treat of getting to see some of the harvesting machinery in progress.

Some people become weak-kneed in the presence of a Maserati. My grandsons go crazy over road construction vehicles. Show me a de-stemming machine that is separating the precious grapes from the leaves and stems and my heart just sings.

Chappellet harvest

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars

Have you heard of the 1976 Judgement of Paris? It’s the story told in the movie “Bottle Shock” – American wines beat French wines in a blind tasting competition shocking the French and putting Napa on the map.

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars  holds the proud distinction of producing the 1st place Cabernet Sauvignon at the Judgement of Paris.

Stag's Leap Wine Cellars

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars (not to be confused with Stags Leap Winery) describes its wines as “Iron fist in a velvet glove.” I think this is quite accurate.

The Cask 23, Fay and S.L.V. Cabernets we tasted are big, bold and need to be cellared for a while. Because we know and love the Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Artemis Cabernet Sauvignon, we asked our guide if he would pour some for us. He did and, as a result, he sold a bunch of bottles.

My advice to you, if you want to taste something – ask. It usually works out well for both sides.

Lewis Cellars

We scheduled an open day to allow everyone to relax or do whatever they wanted to do.

About half the group chose to stay home and watch the Notre Dame football game. The rest of us chose to “Cheer, cheer for old Notre Dame” by raising a glass while wine tasting.

Lewis Cellars is owned by former Indy car racer, Randy Lewis, his wife Debbie and son Dennis. A real family affair.

Lewis Cellars

Lewis makes a variety of wines including Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, and blends. And, they do it all very, very well.

This tasting experience is small and intimate (limited to 6 people) and truly is all about the wine. It’s a great opportunity to ask questions and learn. Oh, and to taste some killer wines.

Andretti Winery

Carrying on our race car theme and, because our pal Elizabeth has a family connection to Mr. Mario Andretti, we added this winery to our unscheduled day.

Andretti Winery

If the folks at Disney were to add a Tuscany section to Epcot’s Italy, I believe it would look a lot like the Andretti Winery. The grounds are beautiful and very true to the theme.

Although the wines were not my favorite of the trip and we had an unusually cranky guide, it was well worth the stop.

Silver Oak Cellars

Silver Oak Cellars makes two wines: a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and an Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.  If you are a fan of Cabernet, you should definitely put Silver Oak on your list of Napa wineries to visit,

Silver Oak Cellars

Three fun facts about Silver Oak:

Unlike most wineries who use French Oak barrels, Silver Oak ages their wine in American Oak barrels. Silver Oak is so dedicated to this that they bought the Missouri cooperage from which they have been sourcing barrels so that they can be guaranteed a steady supply.

Silver Oak barrel

Silver Oak worked with their cork supplier to develop a process which results in better corks. The industry average for “cork taint” is 4%. Silver Oak’s average is a mere one-half percent. This saves them money and gives us more reliably excellent wine.

Silver Oak ages their wine in bottles MUCH longer than everyone else. Look at the Napa Cabernets on the shelves of your wine store today. You will see lots of the 2014 vintage and maybe even some from the 2015 vintage. Silver Oak won’t start selling their 2012 vintage until February of 2017.

Who needs a wine cellar when Silver Oak stores the wine so long for you.

Just kidding…. Let’s not get crazy. We still need a wine cellar.

Cliff Lede Vineyards

Peter and I had previously tasted their wine but we had never visited Cliff Lede Vineyards in Napa.

About 15 minutes into our tour, I turned to another member of our group and said, “I see a new wine club in our future.”

And I was right.

Cliff Lede (pronounced Cliff Lady) produces a variety of wines under their named label and their secondary label “Fel”.

Cliff Lede High FidelityI know that wine scores shouldn’t be considered the only basis on which to determine the quality of a wine but when an expert like Robert Parker tells you that a wine (2013 Cliff Lede Poetry Cabernet Sauvignon) is PERFECT…as in 100 points… you take notice.

And when you see that the rest of their library of wines sports scores like 96, 97, 98 and 99,  you think, “Maybe these folks know what they are doing.”

And, you join the wine club.

Three fun facts about Cliff Lede:

The winery uses an optical scanning machine for sorting the grapes. The machine takes countless pictures per second, analyzes the pictures for size, blemishes, wrinkles, etc., rejecting the losers and letting only the most beautiful and perfect grapes pass.

Cliff Lede optical sorter

(Thankfully, Cliff Lede does not optically judge their visitors based on size, blemishes or wrinkles. All are welcome – no one gets rejected.)

As an homage to the owner’s love of music (heavily weighted on classic rock) each vineyard block is named after a favorite song or album.

Cliff Lede Abbey Road

Aren’t we clever? I bet we were the first to think of posing this way.

And, the winery owns The Poetry Inn, a spectacular hotel comprised of only three rooms and two suites. Sandy at You May Be Wandering wrote a great post about her stay at the Poetry Inn. Check it out.

Napa 2016 was a big success. We revisited some of our old, favorite Napa wineries and discovered some new ones.

Who has suggestions for us for Napa 2017?

Do not drink and drive!

You Might Also Like:

The Camino of St. James

The Camino of St. James describes a series of pilgrimage routes with starting points throughout Europe, all ending at the Cathedral of St. James in Santiago de Compostela, Spain.

Since the middle ages, pilgrims have traveled the path to the burial place of St. James the Great hoping to earn the special blessings promised to those who complete the pilgrimage.

The Camino serves as the backdrop for the 2010 movie, The Way, written and directed by Emilio Estevez and starring his father, Martin Sheen.

Camino old marker

Three years ago, our college friend, Ellen, walked The Camino with a few pals. Upon her return, Ellen shared the story of her experience with our group.

One by one, everyone chimed in saying, “We should do that.”

Before we knew it we had a date, a plan, and reservations with a tour company.

We were going to walk The Camino.

First sign of the Camino

The first and most important thing we did to prepare for the trip was to hire the super fabulous tour company, Spanish Steps. This was the same company that Ellen used for her first trip.

I can not say enough wonderful things about Spanish Steps or about our super amazing, rock star guides, Monica and Olga.

Spanish Steps Camino Guides Monica and Olga

Monica and Olga – Guides Extraordinaire

Many people who take on The Camino walk hundreds of miles over weeks and weeks, staying in hostels or albergues. For those of us interested in more of a “glamping” experience, a tour company is the way to go.

Our group of 13 pilgrims (nine of our Notre Dame pals, the sister and brother-in-law of one of these folks and our Glenview friends Nora and G), was expertly cared for every step of the way.

Spanish Steps arranged our lodging for each night including a private breakfast and dinner and provided a bus to take us to and from the trail each day. The bus also met us at several checkpoints throughout the day to replenish our water and snacks and, if necessary, give us a ride to the next checkpoint.

Most importantly, Spanish Steps blessed us with Olga and Monica.

Our plan with Spanish Steps was to walk the final 110km of The Camino over five days, ending in Santiago de Compostela and the Cathedral of St. James. (By the way, Spanish Steps now does the trip in 7 days.)

Pilgrims must walk at least 100km to earn the Compostela or certificate of accomplishment.

On day one, we all donned our team shirts and were ready to go.  Olga and Monica gave each of us a shell, a pilgrim’s passport and a map of the day’s journey.

Camino passport and shell

The scallop shell is the symbol of The Camino. There are many stories about the role of the shell in The Camino’s history – from mythology surrounding the death of St. James to the shell’s practical use as a water scoop for pilgrims. The shell symbol can be found on all of The Camino markers along the way.

 

Camino day one

Ellen and Byff show off our team t-shirts

In order to receive a Compostela at the end of The Camino, pilgrims must “prove” that they walked along the path for at least the required 100km. This proof comes in the form of stamps in one’s pilgrim passport.

Stamps in pilgrim passport on The Camino

Stamps can be attained in bars and churches along the way. As you can see, we spent a great deal of time in bars and churches. Mostly bars. More on that later.

Our maps showed the part of the trail we would cover each day including locations of the checkpoints where the bus would be waiting, mileage from point to point so we could keep track of our progress, a description of the sights and scenery we would see along the way and where to find the ever so important bars and churches.

And the even more important “facilities”.

Camino facilities

The spirit of The Camino dictates that each person must do it for their own reasons, at their own pace, and in their own way.

Right from the start, our group of 13 transitioned into two groups: the fast group and the slow group.

Monica and Olga took turns walking with each group so they could get to know us as individuals. Almost immediately they understood our capabilities and needs and used this insight to make sure that each of us got the very most we could out of our experience.

Olga and Monica encouraged us, translated for us, shared lots of stories and lots of laughs with us. Their presence was the secret sauce that made our time on The Camino extra special and we will be forever grateful for that.

Camino group

Our Camino group receiving a send-off by our innkeeper, José.

Each day we walked up to 15 miles. The terrain varied from paths through farmland to rocky, muddy trails to streets through tiny or not so tiny towns.

Camino path through farmland

 

Camino muddy trail

 

Camino walking through town

Along the way we would stop for lunch – almost always including some wine and beer.

Camino lunch

Because of the area’s proximity to the coast and the bounty of available fresh seafood, we enjoyed lots of treats like scallops

Camino scallops at Casa Tia Dolores

and more pulpo (octopus) than you can imagine.

Camino octopus stand

Sometimes we would enjoy leisurely sit-down lunches and other times we would make a quick stop in a bar for a snack or sandwich and always to get a passport stamp.

One day we popped into a bar for what was intended to be a quick stop and ran into our innkeeper, José.

José insisted on treating us to a bottle of wine so that particular stop turned out to be more leisurely than originally planned.

All part of going with the flow on The Camino.

At the insistence of Olga and Monica, we stopped at Casa Tia Dolores to take part in the beer ceremony, something not to be missed.Camino beer ceremony at Casa Tia Dolores

We came across another bar in which hung hundreds of t-shirts left by pilgrims over the years. At the end of our stay, we all signed one of our blue shirts which our guides are going to drop off at the bar on their next tour.

Camino bar with t-shirts

At the end of each day, the slow group would finally catch up with the fast group and we would head to our B&B for the night. After freshening up and changing out of our dusty trail clothes, we would meet for cocktail hour

Camino cocktail hour

before sitting down to a delicious dinner.

Camino Toasting

One night, Monica treated us to a presentation of the Queimada ritual of the region.

Camino Monica's Queimada

After sleeping soundly, we were up every morning and off on the trail again.

Along The Camino, we saw many beautiful churches both big and small.

Camino church

Most of the smaller churches were not open but when they were we took the opportunity to collect another stamp in our pilgrim passport.

Camino collecting passport stamp in church

We walked through the woods, across rivers and among the local people carrying on their day to day life.

Camino through the woods

 

Camino scenery

 

Camino cows on the street

We met people from dozens and dozens of different countries. Families and long-time friends. College students and senior citizens. Some who were “glamping” like us and many who had already been on the trail for a month having started their pilgrimage in the Pyrenees.

Along the way, we greeted fellow pilgrims with the call of The Camino.

“Buen Camino”

That wish for a “Good Camino” was the universal language of the trail, uniting and inspiring all of us.

Our friends, Byff and Ernie, were particularly good at striking up conversations with once-strangers-now-friends. They taught a group of Spanish students the good old camp song, On Top of Spaghetti.

Camino singing on the trail

The students repaid the kindness  by performing the Macarena for us.

Love and a feeling of community were everywhere.

Camino Free hugs

On the final day, we ascended to Monte del Gozo (Mount of Joy), so named because it is the point at which pilgrims get their first glimpse of the city of Santiago.

Camino Monte del Gozo

We were on the home stretch.

Completing the final 4.5 km, we reached our destination: Santiago de Compostela and the Cathedral of St. James.

Camono Cathedral of St. JamesThe feeling of relief, accomplishment, camaraderie, and sheer joy was overwhelming.

After five days and well over 100 km, we had earned our Compostela.

Camino Compostela

Upon returning home, and talking incessantly about our experience, the question most people ask is, “How hard was it to walk The Camino?”

The answer is that The Camino is hard but doable.

Doable, especially if you have the support of Spanish Steps, guidance by the incredible Olga and Monica, and the loving encouragement of this team.

The end of the CaminoIt was a Buen Camino, indeed.

You Might Also Like: