For my birthday this year, I decided to do something I never do: Go wine-tasting.
I know that might seem bizarre for a wine-lover like me with loads of wine-country connections. The fact is, it’s work. I taste wine all day, every day. Poor me, right?! But as delightful as my job is, it is a job, and vacations are meant to unplug, unwind and relax—so I usually like to get as far away from wine as possible.
Not this year. Paso Robles was calling.
Almost daily, customers have been coming into the shop and telling me about their adventures in Paso—restaurants, wineries, spas and this thing called Sensorio, a huge outdoor light exhibit. It all sounded so wonderful.
Tastings were booked; restaurant reservations were made; Sensorio tickets were purchased. With a group of family and friends, Paso, here we come.
Our first night there, we dined at a little place called In Bloom. This was a recommendation from my co-worker Dana, who had just returned from Paso and stumbled upon this restaurant by accident. She raved about the food and service, saying it was a must-visit. I had researched restaurants on Google, Tripadvisor and Yelp, and this place did not make it on my radar. Trust me when I tell you: Dana was 100 percent correct. In Bloom was amazing!
The menu is focused on highlighting seasonal produce and local purveyors (the best kind), and the dishes are meant to be shared. So, naturally, we ordered one of everything. Bottles of Pierre Gimonnet Brut Rose Champagne and Domaine Pinson Chablis were flowing; for the red, we made a new discovery—the Thacher Winery cinsault. This pinot noir-like red was filled with crunchy red fruits like cranberries, pomegranate seeds and ripe raspberries. Happy birthday to me, indeed.
We spent the next day in Tin City, an ingenious, walkable compound of wineries, breweries, restaurants and shops housed in an old industrial park that has been artfully updated with an urban chic vibe.
Our first stop of the day was at Union Sacre, where we had the patio to ourselves and sipped on gorgeous wines made with Alsatian grapes like sylvaner, gewurztraminer and riesling. Our host, Crosby, was delightfully laid-back and informative, telling us about the winemaker, Xavier Arnaudin, and the beautiful artwork on the labels created by Philip Muzzy.
We walked over to our next tasting at Sans Liege and Groundwork Wines. A beautiful long wooden table was set up and waiting for us inside the winery. We spent the next two hours with winemaker Curt Schalchlin, sipping some of my favorite wines like the Groundwork counoise, the Groundwork muscat frizzante, and Sans Liege reserve syrah. We were treated to a fabulous lunch of Lebber’s Pizza (apparently Kid Rock’s Paso Robles go-to) with their whole-leaf Caesar salad and “cider birthday slushies” from Curt’s newest project, Tin City Cider. It was probably the most epic wine visit ever, with unmatched graciousness and hospitality.
That night, we had tickets to Sensorio, a 15-acre light installation by acclaimed artist Bruce Munro. Once the sun sets, the rolling hills are transformed into a jaw-dropping sea of colors from the almost 60,000 stemmed globes lit by fiber optics that gently and slowly change color. As you walk along the path and look out at the expanse of small lights, you can imagine yourself as a rock star onstage looking at a stadium full of concertgoers with lighters lit, and phone flashlights turned on, as you belt out your No. 1 ballad. We opted for the VIP passes, which allow access to a private terrace with fire-pits, couches and tables, along with one complimentary beverage. I would say if you planned to spend the whole evening here, the VIP tickets are a great option, but if you just want to walk the exhibit and listen to the band in the common area, you can forgo the added expense.
Day 2 was all about heading out into the Paso countryside. We took it a little easy and only scheduled three tastings, all on the westside of Paso Robles. Our first stop was at McPrice Myers to taste their Rhone varietal wines. It was a hot day in the middle of the summer, and even at 10 a.m. with misters and fans blowing, we were really feeling the heat sitting outside. The wines of McPrice Myers are consistently great, but it was the refreshing rose that we all bought a bottle of.
We were supposed to go to Tablas Creek after lunch, but we found out that due to the extreme heat of the day, they couldn’t accommodate us. They host their tastings outside and have a limited amount of space inside the winery; instead of hosting a subpar experience, they cancelled the tastings altogether. OK … time for Plan B.
We decided to try our luck at Thacher. We were all so impressed with the cinsault we had at In Bloom—and it wasn’t that far from Tablas Creek—we figured we’d roll the dice and see if we could get in without an appointment. As we drove up the winded Peachy Canyon Road, we passed a beautiful modern farmhouse style winery, and the sign out front said Sixmilebridge.
Sixmilebridge?! Stop the car!
About a month ago, some friends came in the shop fresh off their trip to Paso and were lauding a winery they visited called Sixmilebridge. Because my itinerary had already been full, I figured it would be on the docket for next time. We pulled up the gravel driveway, and I headed inside to plead our case and see if there was any way they could accommodate a party of six, unannounced. They require reservations for their tastings, but my sad puppy dog eyes must have been convincing, because they graciously agreed to invite us in.
We were seated in a gorgeous indoor/outdoor room at a beautiful large live-edge table. Our host, Tischa, was the definition of warm hospitality. We learned about owners Jim and Barbara Moroney, and the namesake of the winery, Sixmilebridge, the little town in County Clare, Ireland. We tasted through the sensational lineup of Bordeaux-inspired wines—and I couldn’t help but wonder if we were meant to come here all along. It seemed truly fortuitous.
I spent three days in Paso Robles for my birthday, surrounded by my family and dearest friends, eating delicious food, drinking incredible wine, and making memories to last a lifetime. Maybe I should do this wine country thing more often.