It's too easy to think of Paso Robles as a place you pass on your way to somewhere else -- Big Sur, Carmel, or San Francisco. The real secret is Paso Robles is on its way to better and better wine, and if you want a sense of that you should attend the CABs of Distinction Grand Tasting on Saturday, May 2 at River Oaks Hot Springs.
"Paso Robles has Napa-like climate and French-like soils," says French-born Central Coast convert Daniel Daou of Daou Vineyards and Winery, hailed as the winery of the year in 2013 by the Connoisseurs' Guide to California Wine. "It has a unique ability to achieve ripeness year after year and producing phenolic-rich [the compounds that create taste, color, and mouthfeel] wines that are yet elegant. In the last few years, Paso Robles wineries started tapping into the potential of the terroir and we are starting to see some of the results. The reality is that we have just seen the tip of the iceberg in this cabernet region and the best is yet to come."
It's not that the Paso region hasn't had its acclaim, of course. Way back in 2000 JUSTIN's Isosceles Bordeaux blend was named the 6th best wine of the year by Wine Spectator. "I enjoy the friendly community of winemakers in Paso Robles and our shared belief that this is the most exciting, up-and-coming appellation in the United States," JUSTIN's winemaker Scott Shirley says. "The potential for outstanding cabernet sauvignon has always existed in Paso, but farmers may have over-cropped in order to sell grapes that went into blends carrying a California appellation. There has been a relatively recent influx of winery owners, winemakers, and vineyard management professionals who have fostered a paradigm shift in the vineyard, to wine-growing for the sake of producing wines that belong in the company of the finest in the world. Paso Robles is not better than Napa, Sonoma, or Bordeaux, but we are proud of the wines that proclaim Paso Robles on the front label because we consistently achieve ripeness, while maintaining a balance of fruit and acidity that best represents the site."
And while JUSTIN and Daou have made big splashes on wine lists across the state and country, Paso has its boutique wineries working cab magic, too. "I have been an explorer most of my adult life, whether mapping the world's longest and most remote caves or exploring the diversity of the wine world," claims Damian Grindley founder and winemaker of Brecon Estate, which makes wines that sell out in three to five months after release and never make it to stores. "For me if I plant a particular cabernet clone in a certain location in the Napa Valley, I pretty much know what I'm going to get. It seems like it has all been done before.
"Going back to our recent plantings at Brecon, I can pretty much guarantee that nobody has planted those particular varieties or clones in our particular location and microclimate and its orders of magnitude more exiting. You don't exactly know what you are going to get. You feel like you are of the verge of a major breakthrough. I think consumers are picking up on the winemakers' excitement with their own voyage of discovery in Paso Robles."
Of course, labeling a wine Paso and thinking that nails all its characteristics is similar to saying "Let's eat Mexican food" and assuming you'll be served some singular dish wrapped in a tidy tortilla. The recent designation of eleven new sub-American Viticultural Areas attest to the differences in soil and microclimates (Napa has 16 sub-AVAs, fyi), for as Daou says, "Paso is larger than Napa and Sonoma put together -- you cannot define a Paso cab."
So you have to taste a whole bunch, say the 75 or so at the Grand Tasting, to figure it all out for yourself. "This year it's truly a rock star list of wineries," Grindley gushes. "If this had been a concert it would have I suspect sold out online in minutes. So I am really excited to attend and showcase our offerings. It will certainly satisfy my inner OCD (Obsessive Cab Disorder) for a while. Where else can you taste so many great, yet diverse cabs in one place?"