3 Facts about Paso Robles Wine Country
Updated: Jul 13, 2021
In the heart of California’s Central Coast, there exists a wine-growing region that almost everyone (not local to the area) mispronounces. The name of this region is Paso Robles which is Spanish for ‘Pass of the Oaks.’ It is a Spanish name, so one would be tempted to pronounce it (Paso-Robe-less), but if you listen to the locals, you will hear that (Paso-Ro-Bulz) is the most accurate pronunciation. If you can’t remember this, then just say ‘Paso’ and disregard the extra syllables altogether.
Republic National Distributing Company has teamed up with key Paso Robles suppliers and wineries to bring you, "Just Imagine the PASObilities". A month dedicated to giving back and celebrating wine made in the Paso Robles wine country. Discover wine from Paso Robles and during the month of July a portion of proceeds will be donated to help rebuild the restaurant community after the devastating effects of Covid-19. eRNDC will take you through the prestigious growing region and share three facts about Paso Robles Wine including the region's AVAs, history, and characteristics.
1. Paso Robles Region Includes 11 Districts with 200+ Wineries
Paso Robles is California’s fastest-growing wine region for many reasons. It is located between San Francisco and Los Angeles, making it easily accessible to California’s (and the world’s) wine-consuming public. It has an amazing drop in nighttime temperatures (diurnal swing), which high quality wine grapes really need. Because of its proximity to the Pacific Ocean, it has a maritime climate and a long growing season. The area boasts a range of different soil types, with a particular importance placed on the area’s unique calcareous soils found throughout the region. Paso has over 40,000 vineyard acres planted, over 200 local established wineries and grows over 60 different grape varieties. The region was first given an American Viticultural Area (AVA) designation in 1983 and later subdivided into 11 districts in 2014. They are:
Adelaida District AVA
Creston District AVA
El Pomar District AVA
Paso Robles Estrella District AVA
Paso Robles Highlands District AVA
Paso Robles Geneseo District AVA
Paso Robles Willow Creek District AVA
San Juan Creek AVA
Santa Margarita Ranch AVA
Templeton Gap District AVA
Note: York Mountain AVA is a separate AVA technically outside of Paso Robles established at the same time in 1983
2. The History of Paso Robles Wine
Paso Robles was first settled about 11,000 years ago by the Native American Tribes called the Chumash and Salinan peoples. Unfortunately, neither of those peoples planted grapes, they came for the plentiful game, abundant resources of the coast (and local rivers) as well and the mild climate of the area. Their influence remains in the area with colorful artifacts found all over the region in addition to the thousands of their descendants still living in the Central Coast.
To get to the beginning of Paso Robles’ grape growing heritage, we start with the Franciscan Missionaries who built a series of Missions stretching up the coast from San Diego and going as far north as Sonoma. They built 21 Missions in total and they were meant to convert the local indigenous tribes to Christianity and expand Spanish territory. These Franciscan Friars brought with them grape vines and established vineyards where they built their missions. The two local missions to Paso Robles were the San Miguel Arcangel Mission and an assistant chapel to Mission San Luis Obispo. The Franciscan Friars planted the very first grapes in the area here in 1797. These grapes were used to make sacramental wines for church services and Mission consumption.
The California Missions were secularized by Mexico in the 1830s and the land associated with Mission San Miguel Arcangel became the Rancho Paso de Robles Mexican land grant and later the town El Paso de Robles. The Mission’s vineyards were basically abandoned after secularization until the late 1800s where they were absorbed into the area’s first commercial vineyard, Rancho Saucelito. During this time, vineyard plantings did spread past the Mission itself and in the 1850s, the area later known as The Estrella District was known for producing quality wine grapes. By the 1880s, in addition to the classic Mission grape of the Franciscan missionaries, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, and Muscat vines were imported from Europe and are still part of the area’s thriving vineyard heritage to this day.
One of the Central Coast’s first bonded wineries was established nearby in 1882 by an Indiana farmer who caught the wine bug, Andrew Jackson York. He established the Ascension Winery, which was later known as York Mountain Winery. It ran continuously until the late 1990s. Here some of the regions very first Zinfandel was planted.
3. Paso has a unique climate and makes unique wine
On one hand, the Santa Lucia Range protects the area from the cold and wet weather brought by the Pacific Ocean, creating a sort of rain shadow effect. This rain shadow creates warm sunny days for the grapes of the area to get fully ripe. On the other hand, gaps in the Santa Lucia Range (the Templeton Gap) allow cool maritime air to significantly drop the nighttime temperatures of the Paso Robles region (more so on the Westside). Technically, Paso Robles has a maritime climate on the West Side of the Appellation, becoming a more continental climate the further East you go.
Over 60 different grape varieties grow in the region with generations of experience telling the local growers what grows best and where. Grapes grown in the area range from Bordeaux varieties (more associated with the West Side of the AVA) to Zinfandel, Italian varieties, and Rhône varieties that thrive in the warmth of the region. Red wines dominate production but don’t be surprised to see rosé made from local red grapes as well as warm climate-loving white grapes too. Viognier, Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, and Roussanne are all incredible here, and they develop incredible ripe flavors and textures.
Many of the world’s best wine-producing areas have chalky or calcareous soils. Think of Champagne, Chablis, Burgundy, Alsace, the Loire Valley, Right Bank of Bordeaux (St.-Emilion), etc. The calcareous (chalky) soils that are common in the Paso Robles area are from an uplifted seafloor that contains decomposed sea life (calcium carbonate). These soils offer unique benefits to grapevines:
Water retention during dry weather and water drainage during heavy rain. The structure of these soils is perfect for a limited absorption of water (from the rainy months) which allows sponge-like retention during dry, hot weather and drainage during overly wet weather. Think about a sponge being saturated—after saturation, the water just runs off and does not pool (like a glass of water would).
Preserves acidity in grapes even at high ripeness levels. Calcium displaces potassium uptake in the vines and slows the ripening and acid loss.
Calcareous soils allow for deep root penetration. Soft calcareous clay soils of the area allow for roots to dig deep into the ground (often many yards) in search of nutrients and water.
Paso Robles is a California treasure and should be explored and revered like the goldilocks wine region it is. The climate, the soil, the history, and the local wine community all make it a winemaking powerhouse that is changing what top restaurants and retailers are offering their customers. Paso Robles wines represent some of the best quality and best value from California currently available. Because of that, more and more Paso Robles wines are being enjoyed by consumers who have to be saying to themselves… “WOW! I really need to find out more about Paso Robles (Paso-Ro-Bulz).”
If you want to find more Paso Robles wine to bring into your store, now is the best time. Shop the “Imagine the PASObilities” tile on eRNDC for a list of Paso wine available for distribution near you.
To learn more about Paso Robles Wine you can visit https://pasowine.com/.