Downtown’s Railroad district is morphing into a hip industrial hub of Paso Robles. A handful of automotive garages are transforming into wine tasting rooms and beer bars. Iron Oaks Winery is the latest to join this group of bars and eateries.

Opened in July, the Iron Oaks Winery tasting room is riding on a western theme, probably because owner and “vino cowboy” Doug Burkett is a rancher and winemaker. To put it correctly, Burkett is a wine blending master. 

“I buy stuff that needs another wine to do it better,” he said of his business model. 

Burkett sources bulk wine from local wineries and then adds his blending techniques before bottling it as Iron Oaks wine.

Burkett grew up in Los Angeles and soon found his way to the Central Coast and enrolled at Cuesta College. He worked in the wine business for ten years and had a gig as a self-proclaimed professional mechanical bull rider while bartending in Sacramento. During that period he started the Rebel Coast Winery in 2012. But the family’s cattle farm, the B Ranch in Hernandez Valley near King City beckoned, so he abandoned the wine business for ranching.

The wine world drew him back when Burkett launched Iron Oaks Winery with his first release of four wines from 2016 and 2017 vintages. The wine label art is as wild as the cowboy vibe in the tasting room. The white wine bears flipped images of a mountain range and Los Angeles skyline, the Condor pays homage to the birds found on Burkett’s family ranch and Rage & Romance mimics the tattoo on his arm — of a gun blasting out confetti. 

We started our four-wine lineup tasting with the refreshing Wild As You Rosé, a blend of 13 different Rosés, showing notes of watermelon and guava — an ideal poolside wine. Flipside, a blend of pinot gris, viognier, chenin blanc and sauvignon blanc, had notes of stone fruit on the palate and a fresh mouthfeel.

In the red wine category, the 2016 Condor was a bold fruit-forward blend of petit verdot and cabernet sauvignon while the 2017 Rage & Romance, a merlot driven blend with petit sarah and tempranillo, is a robust wine that would make an ideal pairing with grilled meats.

Burkett plans to keep his annual production small, under 500 cases, and will continue with the four wines that he bottles from sourced bulk wine. However, he plans to source fruit this year for his white wine production. 

“We don’t need to age white wine,” he said, conscious of the financial strain that comes with red wine production. Red wine requires aging and therefore financial return is delayed, he explained. Besides, “white
wines are awesome.”

The inspiration for the winery’s name comes from the proximity to the railroad, therefore the “iron,” and as a homage to Paso Robles, Burkett added “oaks” to the name. 

“I’m in the cattle business so I’m a cowboy,” he said, pointing to the horseshoe on the logo, which is in fact turned upside down, normally a sign of bad luck. “I was born on Friday the 13th so I don’t believe in that,” he laughed. 

But there’s more than wine at Iron Oaks. Burkett pointed to the large freezer tucked under the tasting counter that holds a selection of steaks from his ranch. The beef club program offers three packages — the Ranch Hand, the Foreman and the Land Baron that range from $125 to $250 per box of steaks and assorted meats.

The spacious tasting room sports saloon-meets-industrial decor with exposed ceilings and a patchwork of reclaimed corrugated metal, brick and distressed wood panels as wall coverings.

The room opens onto a courtyard and a deck that overlooks the busy 101 freeway. Visitors can relax on the deck, enjoying Iron Oaks wines or playing corn hole. Nearby, the parked vintage Airstream trailer will soon become home to a food truck-style kitchen serving grub to pair with the wines.

The tasting room is open daily, from noon to 8 p.m. on weekdays and noon to 10 p.m. on weekends. On Wine Wednesdays, the progressive wine pours are quite a bargain with wines priced by the glass at $4 served at 4 p.m., escalating to $5 at 5 p.m. and ending at 6 p.m. with glasses priced at $6.