Wine Country Itinerary: Western Paso Robles

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By Robert P. Farmer
In terms of size and production, only Napa and Sonoma surpass Paso Robles among California's winemaking regions. Some 170 wineries thrive here--Paso, as locals are fond of referring to it--and they harvest and produce from more than 26,000 acres of planted vineyards. Nearly every existing varietals are accounted for, but Bordeaux-style wines have solidified the region's reputation as a serious contender. 

Situated midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, the region is large enough to be approached in sections. In the Western edge, where rolling hills and verdant scenery paint an easy, bucolic picture, some of Paso's best and most popular wineries are welcome visitors.
Stop 1 HammerSky Vineyards
This achingly charming winery and inn could be secured as a home-base for a weekend--or a week--of wine touring in Paso. HammerSky Vineyards is set on 50 acres among the rolling Western hills, and the property is ripe with wonderful cabernet and zinfandel, as well as with familial hospitality. The inn, which can accommodate groups as large as ten, is built into an historic farmhouse, but appointed with the latest in luxe amenities, including HD TV and marble tiled bathrooms. The proprietors are both health and earth conscious, and that aesthetic can be found from the architecture of the facility to the wine in the bottle, which is always nutrients-labeled.
Tasting Room: Tasting room and winery open by appointment. 7725 Vineyard Drive, 949-338-7813
Tasting Fee: Tasting fee may apply

Stop 2 Tablas Creek Vineyard
One of the stalwarts of Western Paso is Tablas Creek, which was founded by the Jean-Pierre Perrin (Chateau de Beaucastel) and importer Robert Haas, who were pioneers in understanding the potential of the area to produce notable wines. Tablas Creek, opened in 1989, is now known for its Rhone varietals, all estate-grown, and internationally acclaimed. Be sure to sign up for a tour, where guides expertly walk guests through the organic vineyards, the onsite vine nursery, and of course the production facility--an up-close look at how these exceptional wines are made as well as a discussion of the winery's over-arching philosophy. The tasting room offers an eclectic assortment of gifts for sale.
Tasting Room: Open daily 10am-5pm.  Adelaida Road, 805-237-1231
Tasting Fee: $10

Stop 3 Carmody McKnight Estate Wines
Founded in 1989 and producing its first vintage in 1995, Carmody McKnight is the brainchild of Gary Conway, who first spotted the land that would become his vineyard from a helicopter as it went down in a crash landing. That sort of legend has to beget great wine, and CM doesn't disappoint, with estate-grown sparkling wine, chardonnay, and cabernet that enjoys critical and popular acclaim. Conway is something of a renaissance man--painting and writing as well as farming his land. His art can be viewed at the winery, alongside tasting from the juicier collection of wines and Tuscan-style estate-grown olive oils.
Tasting Room: Open daily 10am-5pm, 11240 Chimney Rock Road, 805-238-9392

Stop 4 Justin Vineyards & Winery
At the western edge of the Paso wine-tasting trail is the Promised Land known as Justin. One of the most remote, this is also one of the most popular wineries in all of Paso Robles, famed for its widely acclaimed Bordeaux-style wines which are bottled under the names Isosceles and Justification. The winery is gracious and beautiful and worthy of carving out an afternoon for, in order to taste and to tour the winery's expansive facilities and cave cellars. More personalized tours are available by appointment. In the likely event that your afternoon becomes evening or even night, stay and nosh at Deborah's Room restaurant.
Tasting Room: Open daily 10am-6pm.  11680 Chimney Rock Road, 805-238-6932
Tasting Fee: $5

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You listed my favorite wine tasting and staying places. HammerSky Vineyards was more than expected and one of the best weekend getaway and wine vacations I have taken. The HammerSky wine is really good and I ordered as much as I could. They sold out quickly. I can't wait to come back and try the Zin or Cab.
Lunch at Justin is the best. I might also suggest Artisan for lunch or dinner as well.

HammerSky is a charming vineyard with such understated flair. The wine is so good and the owners sat with us in the vineyard and tasted us through the Rose', Zindandel, Cabernet and Merlot. The blends are yummy and friendly. It was just what i imagined wine tasting in France or Italy would be like. The owners really made us feel as we were the only ones to share this special place. I can't wait to stay at HammerSky Inn one day. Justin for lunch was a perfect suggestion and Artisan for dinner just topped off our visit.

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