Make a Grape Escape to Wineries of San Luis Obispo
San Jose Business Journal

When you think of a wine-tasting weekend, most likely you look north toward Napa and Sonoma.

However, you have another choice to experience a scenic sojourn through verdant vineyards and world-class wineries -- and without the heavy flow of tourists and traffic. Just a few hours south from San Jose sits the peaceful, pastoral landscape of San Luis Obispo Country (SLO) with 70-plus wineries and approximately 17,000 planted acres of vineyards to explore.

The Just Inn
Photo by: Tom Meinhold

Tucked between the towering Santa Lucia Mountains and dramatic Pacific coastline, SLO County offers a diverse topography of fertile soil and microclimates perfect for nurturing the wide array of grapes throughout its two distinct wine regions. Cooler summers and ocean breezes caress the southern Edna Valley Arroyo Grande Valley to produce award-winning chardonnays, pinot noirs, while the warmer weather north in Paso Robles supports the hearty cabernets, merlots and zinfandels.

The county has become the fourth largest premium coastal growing area in California-- after Sonoma, Napa and Monterey-- and the number of bonded wineries has more than quadrupled in the last 15 years, according to the Paso Robles Vintners and Growers Association Report. The University of California Santa Barbara Economic Forecast Project produced for SLO County revealed that wine grape sales for 1999 alone reached $83.6 million. Why the rapid growth and popularity?

"There's more available land in Paso Robles at a reasonable price compared to Napa Valley and Sonoma," says Rachel Dumas of Compli, a government compliance agency for the wine industry. "SLO's wineries have been growing at an exponential rate. This year so far, I've licensed 24 new wineries here."

"People are drawn here from the north because our wineries are reminiscent of Napa 20 years ago-more intimate and spread out, with the added advantage of having easy access to the ocean," says Archie McLaren, chairman of Edna Valley Arroyo Vintners Association.

Perhaps part of the popularity and growth can be attributed to having several of the largest premium wineries worldwide own, control or purchase vineyards here. This includes such noted names as E & J Gallo, Kendall-Jackson Vineyards, Beringer Wine Estates and the Robert Mondavi Winery.

Regardless of the notable development in Paso Robles, neighboring Edna Valley remains a hidden treasure trove for wine lovers. This region, with approximately 24 wineries, is considered a hidden pearl of SLO. "Our paramount goal for Edna Valley is to stay small and special and retain the aura and flavor of the region," Mr. McLaren says.

On September 1st, visitors can experience over 100 wines at the 19th Annual Central Coast Wine Festival in downtown San Luis Obispo, which will benefit the Arthritis Foundation. In addition to wine tasting from the 30 participating wineries, attendees can participate in a wine and art auction. For tickets and information, call the Arthritis Foundation at (805)773-4973.

Also upcoming is the California Mid-State Fair, July 25th through Aug. 5th, which will feature the Grape Escape Day scheduled for Friday, Aug. 3. There will be a Winery of the Day, showcasing the best wines from both Paso Robles and Edna Valley wineries. Contact Paso Robles Vintners and Growers Association at (805) 239-8463. But why wait for an event? Wind your way through some of the following SLO wineries at your own leisurely pace.

In operation since 1923, Presenti is one of the oldest family-run wineries in Paso Robles. Recently, Turley Wine Cellars took over ownership, but third-generation winemaker Frank Nerelli still manages the winery, which prides itself in handcrafted, dry-farmed technique producing full-bodied zinfandels. The award-winning winery continues to offer its 1998 Zinfandel and nonvintage Red Velvet, a rustic blend of zinfandel, syrah, greneche and cabernet. Located at Vineyard Drive between Hwy 101 and 46 West, at 2900 Vineyard Drive, Templeton. (805) 434-1030.

Seven Peaks
Situated in a turn-of-the-century schoolhouse, the winery is named after SLO's seven volcanic peaks. Classic Australian winemaking technology helps produce premium Central Coast varietals .Located at 5828 Orcutt Road. (805) 781-0777.

Claiborne & Churchill
Located in heart of the Edna Valley on Highway 227, this small family-owned winery is the size of a barn. Inspired by wines and techniques of France's Alsace region, the winery provides ideal temperatures for its crisp, dry Riesling, Muscat and Gewürztraminer. Located 2649 Carpenter Canyon Road. (805)544-4066.

Justin Vineyards & Winery
Surrounded in a storybook setting of forests and 160 acres of rolling vineyards, the winery offers its noted Meritage Isosceles blend, along with crisp chardonnays and full-bodied Bordeaux varietals of cabernets and merlots. The winery showcases savory monthly Chef Dinners, featuring top chefs from across the nation. Located at 11680 Chimney Rock Road, Paso Robles. (805) 238-6932.

Eberle Winery
Referred to as the Grandfather of Paso Robles, Eberle has been one of the leading wineries producing world-class wines from 100 percent Paso Robles grapes. You can picnic on the patio, after visiting the tasting room overlooking a panoramic vineyard, or tour 8,000 square-feet of underground wine caves housing a spacious dining room. Some popular varietals include cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, muscat canelli, syrah and zinfandel. The winery is also noted for its Chef Dinners, ranging from Louisiana Creole to classic European cuisine. Located off Highway 46 East, 3.5 miles east of Highway 101, Paso Robles. (805) 238-9607.

Meridian Vineyards
Established in 1988, Meridian has an extensive selection of premium wines from the finest producing appellations. Run by veteran winemaker Chuck Ortman, the winery produces such popular labels as Santa Barbara Chardonnay, Edna Valley Chardonnay and Santa Barbara Pinot Noir, as well as its own sauvignon blanc, merlot and zinfandel. Located at 7000 Highway 46 East, Paso Robles. (805) 237-6000.

Edna Valley Vineyard
The winery boasts some of the most spectacular views from its tasting room touting a 30-foot-long cherrywood bar. Best known for its superbly crafted chardonnay and pinot noir, the winery and its exquisite landscape provide a great place to picnic and enjoy a special event. Located at 2585 Biddle Ranch Road, San Luis Obispo. (805) 544-5855.

As you savor the aromatic blends of some of the world's finest wines, remember to stop and smell the foliage and eye the lavish the scenery. After all, you can now relax.

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