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Unpretentious Paso Robles Wineries?

A couple recent threads on Paso area wineries has got me thinking. What wineries in the Paso Robles area would you consider unpretentious or down-to-earth?

What do I mean when I say "unpretentious"? How about some or all of the following characteristics:

-Don't charge for tastings. Or if they do charge, they're not trying to pawn off a souvenir glass. Or if they do give you a glass, they don't make a big deal out of it.

-Lack of attitude. They' re interested in having you taste their wines. They're not interested in convincing you that you're in the middle of Napa Valley.

-Small quantities. They seem interested in making a high quality wine (in addition to a profit). They're not interested in making a profit instead of a high quality wine.

-Low-key tasting room. The tasting room hasn't been remodeled to look like a French chateau. And if it has been remodeled, it's still pretty basic.

-Meet the owners. When you get into the tasting room you have a good shot (better than 50-50) that the person pouring the wine is one of the owners.

-Smaller parking lot. They don't have room for a limo to park. And if they did, they probably wouldn't allow a limo there anyway.

Well, you get the idea. My intent here is to start a discussion about a certain kind of Paso winery (& why they are that kind of winery) but without repeating previous threads that list & describe the best wineries generally. Perhaps even a discussion about how to define "unpretentious" when applied to wineries would be appropriate (agree or disagree with my criteria above?)

Looking forward to your ideas.

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  1. It's been a couple of years since I've been up there but Dunning fit your criteria. During the week, you needed to call for "an appointment" (more like saying you were in the area and was it okay to come by). The owner was always very gracious.


    1. Caparone. Although I haven't been there in a few years, a rough counter next to barrels was the 'tasting room' with owner pouring.

      An unfortunate fallout of the popularity of the Central Coast as winery country destination is the boutique-ification of the whole scene. But it happened in Napa and Sonoma, so I guess it follows that it will happen here. Gone are the days of Rotta and York Mtn. There is just so much pressure to stand out from the crowd with some sort of garish theme.

      But I'd love to be fly on the wall in some of these planning sessions:

      "Now let's see, we'll carve out the side of the hill, build a castle with turrets and a moat, Yeah! and have a whole buch of flags on poles fluttering in the breeze so people will notice us as they drive by (and we don't violate the ordinance that limits the size of our highway signage) and get a cool dog or two as mascots, and maybe a falcon? and bocce ball, gotta have that. And we'll have bbq's of whole roasted pig and have grape stompings and some old wagons and neat old farm equipment and...."

      2 Replies
      1. re: toodie jane

        LOL ! Of course, no on e would REALLY recommend *that* one , now would they? Certainly not anyone local.

        Rotta still pours at the Cider Creek Bakery, don't they? York Mtn......well.

        1. re: toodie jane

          LOVE IT! never did like the pig roast. The bigger the theme, it seems, the more pressure to buy. Someone's gotta pay for all that concrete they wasted with which they could've built a whole village in Guatemala.

        2. Check out Villicana Winery on Adeliada Road., www.villicanawinery.com open Thursday-Sunday. Great wines and friendly owners.
          Also Silver Horse on Pleasant Valley Rd. and Locatilli Winery, all owners present.
          See Paso Web site at http://www.pasowine.com/wineries/prof...

          1 Reply
          1. re: Bruce in SLO

            I would second Villicana, I enjoyed the wines, and the owners were very nice. Another winery that I might suggest is Garretson, I think there should be bonus points for any winery in a business park. I do enjoy Toby James Zins, but I would not call his place low key. They try so hard to be low key, they really are not. Also if you get there at the end of the day it seems that there are way too many out of control tasters, guzzlers? I enjoy my wine and I am for a nice relaxed time, but that crowd gets a little offputting. Yeah and I do miss old York Mtn.

          2. Try Tobin James, It is on the east side of of the valley. If you have kids, they have a free video games for them to play while you are enjoying tasting.

            1. I recommended Vista Del Rey in a previous post, but unpretentious is the perfect description.

              1. I'm thinking also of Dover Canyon, Adelaida and Denner. All have good wines and you won't see the bachlorette parties there. Quiet, and chances of meeting the owners is excellent.

                Adelaida Cellars
                5805 Adelaida Rd, Paso Robles, CA

                Dover Canyon Winery
                4520 Vineyard Dr, Paso Robles, CA

                Denner Vineyards
                5414 Vineyard Dr, Paso Robles, CA

                1 Reply
                1. re: dockhl

                  had an excellent tasting experience a few weeks back at Denner

                2. I just want to add to my list. I guess I do like the wineries down in the edna valley area a bit better, and yes I know they are not Paso but same county. I would suggest Clayborne and Churchill. They have some great whites and the owners are just super. Wolff is about as unpretentious as they come, The old man was there the last time we were in, and cuz he was bored we got the full tour and we did some barrel tasting. Perbacco right off the 101 and Kelsey see are a couple on the west side that are fun. Now Kelsey See's wines might not be the best (those fruit wines are really really sweet) but he has some great stories about the old days as a hard hat diver.

                  1. Thanks for the suggestions so far. I've made a note of many of them. My wife & I get to SLO County periodically so we're familiar with some of the wineries, but there are so many new ones popping up all the time that it's sometimes hard to keep track.

                    When I first moved to SLO (back in the mid-90s) I used to visit Caparone. I stopped going simply because I found other wines that I liked better (Caparone wasn't bad, just not a favorite like other places turned into). I agree that it was definitely unpretentious. Maybe it's time to try it again.

                    Also agree that Clayborne & Churchill is unpretentious. Only went there once but it was nice & the wines were interesting. Again, maybe time for a return visit.

                    Garretson perhaps. The one time I was there (& I realize it was only one time, so maybe not representative) I was a little put-off by how much they bragged about how good their wines were.

                    I appreciate a suggestion that Tobin James is unpretentious. In the sense that they try to be the opposite of the ultra-serious, look down their nose type of wineries, they are not pretentious. But rather than unpretentious, I tend to think of them as "irreverent," perhaps even playful (kind of in the same way as Bonnie Doon's wines & former tasting room used to be). That's not really the kind of place I'm thinking about.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: alanstotle

                      The key to Caparone wines is to save them for 6 or 7 years. They are made in very traditional ways, and they improve greatly in the bottle. A ten year old cab or merlot from there is just outstanding.

                      I generally haven't kept the Italian varieties for as long, but I did savor a 12 year old Nebbiolo a few years ago. Only the zins from there have disappointed me.


                    2. Zin Alley next to the Cider Creek Barn.

                      1. Alan, I'd recalled hearing of this unusual tasting room in east Paso and finally found this in my notes.

                        Clautiere Vineyard
                        1340 Penman Springs Rd.
                        (805) 237-3789
                        Open daily Noon – 5 PM

                        I haven't been able to stop in yet, but these will give you some idea of the place, love the quote from one of the owners, Clautiere Vineyard is "Edward Scissorhands meets the Mad Hatter at the Moulin Rouge."



                        1 Reply
                        1. re: PolarBear

                          Penman Springs across the street is great. Mom and Grandma and a bunch of food on the tasting bar. Free tasting...they even tried me to keep from paying for the bottle I wanted to purchase. Very low key, cool people.

                        2. Everything you described made me think of Fratelli Perata.



                          2 Replies
                          1. re: MunkeeCIAO

                            Fratelli Perata is my favorite winery in the Paso area. I suppose they are the picture I had in my mind when I was writing my original post. I'm glad to know we (me & my wife) are not the only ones who are aware of them.

                            1. re: alanstotle

                              we accidentally found them when we drove the long dirt road to Terry Hoage's (sp?) place only to find out his is by appt only. Fratelli was right there too so we decided to do it. And boy were we glad we did.

                              Also glad to hear other people enjoy it too.

                              I think we had to call at the gate, and it was obvious we were calling them in their home. when asked if we could stop in for a tasting, they thought about it and said, "sure come on up".

                              Someone from the family walked over to the tasting room from their house, opened up the small "non French chateua" tasting room and oured us generous portions of all their wines (8 if I recall correctly).

                              We joined on the spot and carried out our current shipment of 4 wines, including a bonus 1998 Cabernet. They said a "bonus bottle" of somekind is always included in your shipment, this was the current one.

                              We cant wait to go back.



                          2. I agree with all of the Paso Robles recs listed. But since you say you don't want lists and descriptions, I'm only going to do a short one :-) . This a great post and, fortunately, IMO there are more "un-pretentious" tasting rooms than pretentious ones if we apply your criteria.

                            Midnight Cellars would be my top choice for unpretentious. I have mentioned it before but they are very low-key, accessible, and they have GREAT wine.

                            Tobin James is a fun place, but it doesn't meet your criteria in that their production is HUGE, the tasting room is casual, but not low-key and he (Toby) begrudingly allows limos to do the whole "happy-hour" thing someone mentioned.

                            Windward would be a good choice even though the tasting fee is a bit steep ($10 bucks, but you get a pretty Reidel glass).

                            I notice you don't mention price in your criteria. I think it might apply to the "pretentious scale" but it's hard to pinpoint why. I sometimes go to a tasting room, get great service, a knowledgeable tasting room staff, but not feel the wine is a good value. I might buy a bottle anyway. Is this smart wine shopping? Am I buying the service? It's alot easier to walk away from Toby's, or EOS or some other huge tasting room than a small place were the person who has just poured you a taste of their blood, sweat and tears is standing right in front of you.

                            Has anyone else ever used the term "Weekday wine" or something similar to describe a cheap wine they would not feel guilty drinking Monday through Friday, saving the more spendy bottles for weekends or special occasions? Can a winery be considered "good" if they only pour weekday wines?

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: paso_gurl_100

                              Oh, no. I don't think I said no lists or descriptions...at least that's not what I meant. What I meant was (if I'm thinking of the same thing you are) that I didn't merely want to repeat previous posts of "best Paso winery" or "worst Paso winery" when there are already active threads on those topics. Repeated listings from other threads are fine as long as they are low-key. Descriptions are great...preferable even.

                              Hope that clarifies things.

                              1. re: alanstotle

                                Okay, cool. Le Cuvier has always been laid back, no limos, no busses. They vacated their module tasting room, closed the wine club (production is limited to wine club members only, but I think it's been re-opened to new members now). So on paper it sounds really pretentious, but it's really not. John Munch was the winemaker at Adelaida years ago and he views winemaking as an art- I know, sounds even MORE pretentious. But he's actually kind of a hippy. Okay, he's a total hippy. About 7 years ago, we called John and asked for a tour (we had a group coming from out of town). I recommend doing this. It is very educational and you learn how his winemaking sets him apart from the rest because he gives you a complete rundown. Afterward, we walked back to the tasting room, and he went back out to work in the barn. No hard sell, no pressure to buy anything. The same weekend we did a tour at Tablas Creek, also very informative. We got to tour the greenhouse and see the clones that they sell and afterward we ended up in a tasting and hard sell tactics. We like their wine, so it wasn't necessary, but it was an interesting contrast.

                                Tolo, which occupies the former Le Cuvier tasting room is owned by former Le Cuvier employee Josh Gibson. He's an enterprising young man who learned from Munch, et. al. and runs a low-key operation as well. His wines qualify for weekday consumption and I don't feel bad buying just one bottle at a time.

                                On the east side, I have mentioned Falcon Nest before. Give them a try, have Franco make you some Italian food. The tasting room is more like a living room than a store. Same thing with Still Waters, although the gals there can be a bit pushy. Someone mentioned Clautiere. We were members of their wine club when they first opened. Claudine and Terry own the Lobster at Santa Monica Pier. It's a fun tasting room and their wine is good, but once the novelty wore off, we kinda stopped going out there. We went to an event- one of their "boy-lesque" women impersonator vaudeville shows and we were a little disappointed with the whole program in general-the food, amount of wine, show. Nowadays we just go out there if we have company who want to see the wig room.

                                Have you tried any of the downtown Paso Robles wineries? You could park your car at City Park and try Orchid Hill, Pianetta, D'Anbino*, Edwards*, Silver Stone, Arroyo Robles*, Midlife Crisis, and a few more. I have never seen a limo or wine bus downtown. The only one with a theme is D'Anbino, they're former movie biz people and they have some great memoribilia worth checking out. But Carmine and JoAnn are really down to earth. In between, take a break and the kids play in the playground. Then have lunch at Basil.
                                *my faves

                            2. I agree with many of these postings and I'll add a few more:

                              -Villicana is a nice stop and the owners usually pour Thurs-Sat (a girl who's family owns the vineyard next door pours on sundays)
                              -Dunning makes great wines. Tiny tasting room!
                              -Pipestone, down the road from Dunning, is worth a visit. I've always had one of the owners pour for me there
                              -Dover Canyon makes some delicious wines with the owners pouring. The tasting room is tiny so beware of a full parking lot.
                              -Nadeau has some amazing zins. This is also a tiny tasting room.
                              -Minassian-Young, across from Nadeau on Peachy Canyon, is gorgeous with excellent wines

                              For a couple more ideas check out the Far Out Wineries. I think most of these wineries produce great wine but Justin, Tablas Creek, Adelaida,and Opolo are a bit bigger and don't fit your criteria as well.


                              1 Reply
                              1. re: clarksanjose

                                Second for Nadeau. Robert and Patrice are two of the nicest people anywhere, much less running a winery. Dunning is the same. On the Eastside, Chateau Margene has done some great Cab Sauv and Sangiovese. Haven't been for a long time, but Grey Wolf used to fit the bill. Windward was doing some excellent and consistent Pinot Noir.

                              2. Zenaida, on the Westside just a few miles off 101 on the 46 is exactly what you describe. A few years ago I visited Justin (great wines, pretentious people/place) and they warned us that their wine club was nearing its limit of 10,000. When I asked the people at Zeniada about their club they said they were up to 280. I love that. www.zenaidacellars.com

                                1. A few Free wineries:
                                  Wild Horse

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: designjb

                                    Exactly what I am looking for when my S-I-L comes into town in two weeks. Any updates ? (Btw, the wines don't have to be the best, just not total plonk. Looking for a place to take someone who likes to drink but doesn't know wines. Not looking for a drunken orgy, tho.....probably won't go to Tobin James.............)

                                  2. This is a brilliant thread, and pretty much exactly what I'm looking for in a winery experience. I imagine I will be visiting some of the flashier Napa wineries a few days before I make my way down to the Paso Robles area, and I'd love to have a nice counterpoint to that.

                                    The only problem is that I'll have but a few hours to take advantage of the area - we will be swinging through Hearst Castle and probably won't make it to PR until 2 or 3 in the afternoon.

                                    My question is this: are there one or two (or perhaps three if one of the tasting rooms is open later in the evening on a Thursday, the day I'll be in town) must-stop vineyards in this area? At the moment, the ones that have piqued my interest are Opolo, Caparone, Silver Horse, Villicana, Clautiere, Chumeia, Penman Springs, and Fratelli Perata. Choosing between these is quite difficult.

                                    A side note - is there a particularly great wine bar in Paso Robles that we should check out to perhaps sample some of the vineyards we weren't able to make it to?

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: lambretta76

                                      I was up that way a couple weeks back and tried Red Soles. The owner was manning the tasting room. He apparently used to grow for Mondavi and just opened his own winery in the last year or so. The wines were good to great.

                                      1. Thanks to the OP for this post - it was very helpful in our planning. To me, a great tasting room is one that makes you feel human. That you are a person with taste buds vs. a wine buying unit who needs to be told what's good and the awards a certain wine won (as if that should sway you to like or purchase the wine).

                                        Here are my thoughts, based on a trip the week of June 15th, 2008.
                                        Three days of tasting, each day 7-10 wineries, each day had it's "Favorite".

                                        Hands down winner: Adelaida - cross your fingers and hope Dominic is pouring. and pick up a bag of walnuts!
                                        The other two favorites were: Frank at Zin Alley and Cassandra at Chumeia

                                        Other favorites:
                                        --Pennman Springs (yummy bread/cheese & homemade chimichurri)
                                        --Clautiere (loved the wigs)
                                        --Halter Ranch (wanted to love the wines more, but loved how rustic it was and the gal pouring was very pleasant)
                                        --Linne Calodo (steller wine - gets some slack for being uppity, but felt nothing of the sort (other than from fellow tasters). They are building a new tasting room, so right now it's a big of a shoebox feel.

                                        Would skip - either too snobby or manufactured zoo
                                        Tobin James (worst experience - rude staff!)
                                        EOS (ridiculous - we did the reserve tasting, and our pourer seemed only interested in getting us on their mailing list)
                                        Eberle (too mass produced, wines unremarkable)
                                        Robert Hall (felt like the only proper behavior would be to bow down and worship the great wines)
                                        Tablas Creek (snobby)
                                        Eagle Castle (too kitchy)
                                        Wild Coyote (ignored)

                                        There were other, smaller wineries we wanted to visit - but we were there Sun-Tues and most were closed.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: The Oracle

                                          Old thread I know, but zoller wine styling in downtown paso by the train station is informal, and they have a puppy.

                                        2. The new, small Thacher Winery (8355 Vineyard Drive, PR) showing promise - award for its Zindfandel under "Best of Reds" - reported in San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition 2011. http://www.thacherwinery.com/

                                          Thacher Winery
                                          8355 Vineyard Dr, Paso Robles, CA

                                          1. I'd say Minassian-Young, best fits your requirements. Terrific wines. Knowledgeable people in the tasting room....usually the owner or his wife. Always coming up with new surprises. And a very unpretentious setting.

                                            Then Nadeau across the road. Zin Alley for a great Zin.

                                            I also like Opolo. Had some great Zins from them.

                                            1. Among our favorites which meet your requirements is Villacana Winery.

                                              Alex and Monica are great and passionate about their wines.
                                              Check their web site and visit soon.