I was at the Paso Robles Wine Country Grand Tasting Event in Oakland last week when I overheard one of the winemakers saying that the most frequent question he gets asked by consumers is, “Where in Napa is Paso Robles?”

Ok, let’s download for a second and just talk about where Paso Robles is and what that means in regards to wine…

Since most people think of SF and LA when they think of California, we’ll use these two major metropolises as reference points. Paso Robles is South of San Francisco by quite a bit (about 200 miles, or a 4 to 5 hour drive), and North of Los Angeles by about the same distance (around 200 miles, but about a 3 to 4 hour drive).

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So the answer to “Where is Paso Robles in Napa Valley” is — it’s not. Napa and Sonoma — the two big names in California wine — are North of SF. Nowhere near Paso.

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Ok, so now that we know where we are on the map let’s talk about what that means. The other thing to note is the Paso Robles AVA’s proximity to the Pacific Ocean. The most Western section of the AVA is just about 6 miles from the water. For the most part, the AVA benefits from two extreme weather conditions: hot days when the ocean air is kept at bay due to the mountainous Santa Lucia Highlands, and cool nights when that warm front sucks in the fog to settle amidst the vineyards (technical term: diurnal fluctuation). This is a good thing for grape-growers because while the hotter temps allow for the fruit to ripen with a full body of juice and sugars, the cooler temps help slow that process down so the grapes won’t bud too early (which can lead to over-ripe, rotten, and often broken grapes). And this is a good thing for winemakers, especially those looking to create Rhone-inspired varietals, as this weather pattern is most akin to that found in the vineyards of Bordeaux.

But remember, Paso Robles is made up of rolling hills and valleys, so those vineyards on the Eastern side will get less of those cool-temps and more of that warm weather, yielding different successful grape varietals. In between these two extremities are vast variations in climate, topography, and soils (read: terroir).

The other thing that makes the Paso Robles AVA so unique is its soil: there are over 46 different types of soil throughout the area. The most desirable — and lucky for winemakers on the West side of the AVA, the most dominant — are the calcareous soils which contain higher soil pH values than other California wine regions (layman’s terms: good acidity in the soil = good acidity in the wine). And, because of Paso Robles’ hilly terrain, rainwater can flow, gather, and soak into the soil without any supplemental irrigation systems, so many winemakers are able to practice dry-farming methods (good for the drought situation).

So there’s a bit of context about how and why Paso Robles really is its own unique AVA. And the winemakers in the area not only know this, but they celebrate it in kind of an old-school way. Whether talking to a small-lot producer or a “major chain,” they all seem to take pride in creating wine that speaks of their specific plot in Paso.

Read the Full Article Along With Wine and Winery Reviews at Girls on Food.

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