For many of us discriminating wine drinkers, variety is often a key consideration towards our approach in selecting a wine. Sometimes a full-bodied, jammy red is required to lend us some comfort, or maybe a light-bodied, zesty red may be in order. Whatever the desire or occasion, this assortment of reds is hard to find from one wine region alone, yet such is not the case for Paso Robles.
The town of El Paso de Robles (which means The Pass of the Oaks) is home to over forty different wine grape varieties, with a focus primarily on red wines. This Central Coast region offers an incredible array of bottlings, from single-varietal Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and Grenache to Bordeaux-style or Rhône-style blends and beyond. Additionally, there are 200 wineries in this beautiful landscape which is known for mineral-rich soils, hot springs and vineyards which yield full-flavoured wines of character. The ownership of wineries is driven by small family-owned producers such as J.Lohr Vineyards & Wines.
What makes Paso Robles so unique is its exceptional diversity of soil, elevation and rainfall. The Paso Robles AVA (American Viticultural Area) is California’s largest in size. It encompasses over 614,000 acres - three times the size of Napa Valley, of which approximately 33,000 is dedicated to grapevine. In this vast AVA, there are 11 subappellation-AVA’s that were legalized in 2014 and there are over 45 different soil types, including granite, sedimentary, volcanic, sandstone, and it is home to the largest Calcareous-based soil formation in all of California. Calcareous soils are a clay-based soil with high lime content which produces higher pH levels. The high pH reduces the vine’s vigor, allowing for flavour concentration and retention of acidity in the wine.
In addition to soil diversity, the area receives rainfall levels that vary from desert-like 10 inches per year up to 40 inches in the higher elevation regions. And last but not least, the elevation reaches up to 2400 feet on the west side with lower sites in the east starting around 700 feet, further allowing wines to retain high levels of natural acidity.
Interestingly, this incredible area did not start as an agricultural haven. In fact, it was mercury mining that put Paso Robles on the map. For more than 100 years, the Adelaida area, approximately 15 miles west of the city of Paso Robles, produced a large amount of this metal, also known as “quicksilver’’. Communities of miners and their families settled in the region from the mid-1800s through to the early 1900s to extract this mineral. Mining companies-built roads and infrastructure while families founded schools, post offices and farms that blossomed into the vineyards and orchards that still are viewed in the landscape of the region today. You can still see the exhausted remnants of the mines tucked away between the region’s wineries.
Among the influx of new settlers to Paso Robles, some European immigrants noticed that the land’s rich soils and climate were similar to those of their home countries. They planted small vineyards that soon started producing good wine. This was really the wild west of California wines.
By the 1960s, concerns and increased awareness of the metal’s toxicity, most of Paso Robles original mercury mines had closed, while the agriculture industry rose to take their place. The same mineral-rich soil that resulted in profitable mining also laid the foundation for producing renowned California wines.
Due in large part to those who laid down the innovative foundation and to those who continue with their pushing of conventional boundaries – these wines exude opulent, sweet-fruited options with a plush mid-palate, balanced rich alcohol levels, and a surprisingly firm backbone of acidity. Paso Robles wines are typically enjoyed in their youth, although there are many examples that can stand the test of time.
Visit the beautiful wines of Paso Robles:
J. Lohr Paso Robles Wines