Grape Escapes

Grape Escape: Paso Robles

Grape Escape to Paso Robles

In March, I attended CAB Camp, but no, it had nothing to do with taxi cabs. It was an entire week dedicated to Cabernet Sauvignon wines grown in the beautiful Paso Robles, California. A group of forty wine buyers from all corners of the country gathered in Paso Robles to explore, taste, and compare Cabernet Sauvignons and other Bordeaux varietals grown in this region.

Nestled between Los Angeles and San Francisco, the grape-growing region around Paso Robles has historically been known for Rhone varietals and affordable wines. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting to be impressed, but Paso Robles had some surprises in store for me – and it wasn’t just the mesmerizing belly dancing at Daou.

Firstly, let’s address the pronunciation: it’s Paso “Robe-Les.” I know, it’s challenging for those of us who studied Spanish in high school, but that’s how they say it.

Paso Robles serves as a significant hub for cattle raising in California, and its name roughly translates to the “Passageway of Oaks.” As you’ll see on a tour of the Santa Margarita Ranch, this region is marked by majestic oak trees and landscapes reminiscent of the Texas Hill Country. The climate here has much in common with Texas – warm days, cattle ranches, and typically not enough rainfall, averaging just 14.8 inches per year. However, in an anomaly, Paso Robles experienced over 60 inches of rainfall by March 8, 2023. One noticeable difference is the daily temperature shift: it may reach 100 degrees during the day, but the nearby Pacific Ocean’s breeze cools things off every evening. (Someone, please bring some ocean breeze to DFW!)

During my time at CAB Camp, I had the honor of meeting legends of the wine world: Jerry Lohr and Gary Eberle. Gary Eberle is known for making California Syrah a ‘thing.’ He established the first Syrah vineyard in California, propagating it from cuttings off the M. Chapoutier property in the Rhone Valley. Unfortunately, I can’t find his wines in Texas.

Jerry Lohr, on the other hand, is the genius behind the J. Lohr wine brand. While producing a staggering 1.8 million cases of wine, J. Lohr remains a family-owned business. In the 1970s, Lohr ventured into Chardonnay production in Monterey County. Then, in the 1980s, he introduced Bordeaux varietals to Paso Robles, California. A deal with Hyatt in 1984 for 84,000 cases of Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon changed everything, propelling J. Lohr and Paso Robles into the limelight. It’s astonishing how a single business deal can alter the fate of an entire region.

At a panel named ‘Cab is King,’ Jerry Lohr and Gary Eberle engaged in playful banter. Lohr believes his wines are underpriced, while Eberle contends that his are overpriced. Most of their wines are priced below $50, which is a common trait in this region. Lohr is correct in stating that Paso Robles wines are generally underpriced; they consistently overdeliver, which is one of the highest compliments one can bestow upon a wine.

You might come across the term ‘fruit bomb’ when discussing wines from the region. While some wines may fit this description, I believe many exhibit more balance, especially those crafted by quality producers. Paso Robles Cabernets tend to be rich, robust, and fruit-forward, yet they retain the structure needed to maintain this style. We even had the pleasure of opening a bottle from 1989 with Gary Eberle, and it was still impressively enjoyable.

Did you know that Paso Robles is at the forefront of regenerative viticulture?



Are you thinking of going? (You really should!) Visit Calcarous; it’s a place of beauty and amazement. I’m very sad that they don’t currently distribute their wines in Texas. The views there are among the best in the region. Don’t forget to pack a picnic and stay a while. If you’re lucky, you might even meet the winemaker, Jason Joyce, who’s incredibly passionate about his craft. Please tell him that Michelle in Texas still has a strong desire for his wines.

Also, don’t miss Glunz Vineyards. Although the Glunz family owns a massive wine distribution company in Illinois, the family rule is that you can’t work for the family business for five years. Matt Glunz took this opportunity to start his own exquisite, albeit small, winery. I only wish his wines were available in our state. They have the most Old-World style I encountered during my time there.

Lastly, consider a visit to Hearst Ranch, located just across the street from Hearst Castle. It’s an experience everyone should have. Be sure to ask them about ‘Eyor’ – their Malbec block.

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Grape Escape: Paso Robles