Paso Robles’ 36th annual Wine Festival was hard to ignore last weekend. Wine-related activities took place at 100-plus wineries over four days starting with Thursday night’s Winemaker Dinners at Thomas Hill Organics and The Hatch on May 17, the May 18 Reserve Tasting and May 19 Grand Tasting in the downtown city park and barrel tastings, food pairings and live music at individual wineries May 20.
Each event has its vinous charms but the wine cognoscenti did flock to Friday’s Reserve Tasting, where a handful of wineries staked out the northeast quadrant of the park to pour library, reserve and futures bottles. The event sold out at the 500-attendees level.
The oldest bottle I found was Victor Hugo’s 2005 Opulence, a Bordeaux-style blend which owner Victor Hugo Roberts said is long gone. “I pulled two bottles from the library just for fun. It still has lots of life though with nice tannins and acidity,” he noted.
Derby Wine Estates offered decanted double magnums of the 2008 ‘Fifteen 10′ Red Rhone blend and 2009 Implico, a blend of four major Bordeaux varietals. Implico, Ray and Pam Derby explained, is Latin for “intimately connected” since the blend represents a marriage between their East and Westside Paso fruit.
Chateau Margene’s Michael and Margene Mooney displayed their 2013 Reserve Cabs and Cab Francs. Michael mused that while he is already out of the ’14s and ’15s, “I still have 30 cases left of the ’13s. That was a year with good quality and quantity.”
Vintage 2008 was well represented by both Lone Madrone (Bollo from Nebbiolo grapes and Cabernet) and Mitchella Vineyard & Winery (estate Cab). Hoyt Family Vineyards featured 2011 in Tempranillo and Cabernet.
Tablas Creek’s Jason Haas, pouring the 2015 Esprit de Tablas at what he reckoned to be his 17th Wine Festival, had team members proudly wearing T-shirts declaring Biodynamic. Tablas’ vineyards achieved that designation last September.

The Dusi Wine lineup. Photo by Brandon Stier

The Dusi Wine lineup. Photo by Brandon Stier – Oak & Barrel Wine Photography + Films

Friday’s special wines got paired with beaucoup meat from many food vendors including Jeffry’s Catering (Angus beef tri-tip), Thomas Hill Organics (short ribs), Enoteca at La Bellasera Hotel & Suites (seared beef tenderloin), the newly opened ON Bar (braised lamb), Restaurant at Justin (pork complete with pigs’ heads for decoration) and The Hatch (pork belly).
Offering a break from the mighty meats were Paso Catering’s “deconstructed” chicken spring roll w/ spicy peanut sauce, Paso Terra’s seafood enchiladas and the Kitchen at Niner Estate’s refreshing cucumber soup. San Luis Obispo’s Fromagerie Sophie offered a lineup of cheeses, all French.
Steve Anglim poured both days as he needed to hand out 3,000 “We’re Moving” notices since Anglim is relocating to a new tasting room near Tin City. Near, mind you, since “the Tin City owners won’t let us use the Tin City designation.” Tin City adjacent?
The massive Grand Tasting arrived in full force Saturday noon. Wine lovers brought folding chairs, Grey Wolf Cellars handed out sunglasses, Gary Kramer Guitar Cellars offered inflatable plastic guitars and Wild Horse Winery & Vineyard distributed tiny rubber horses.
Next Door Bistro dished up Southern-style black-eyed peas while SLO Yum Catering offered Thai and Indian appetizers. By mid-afternoon the lines to score Leo Leo Gelato and Blue Moon Southwestern Grill’s chicken mango salad were significant.
Rio Seco Vineyards & Winery offered no doubt the most unique bottle of the day — a Cabernet Sauvignon that spans seven-vintages! Jake Bartunek explained his late father-in-law Tom Hinkle, who established the winery, always kept a barrel or two of old Cabs. A Napa Valley winemaker once tasted several vintages and asked if he might play around with a blend.
Hinkle said yes and the result, called Stealin’ Home, tastes like a 20-year-old Cab. For the record, those vintages are ’04, ’05, ’06, ’08, ’09, ’10 and ’11.
A new discovery was Rails Nap, so new it wasn’t listed in the program. Owner Pramod Kolanu, who hails from India, named his 30-acre Eastside winery after an 18th century British term meaning a “fenced plot on a hillside.” Among his unusual varietals were a 2015 Tannat and 2017 Picpoul Blanc.
Bob Dunning of Dunning Vineyards, renowned for Bordeaux varietals and Zins, changed things up by focusing on Petite Sirah and Grenache. “We’re branching out,” he mused.
By Sunday more than a few festival-goers were no doubt hankering for something like Rio Seco’s “Hangover Helper Brunch.” This consisted of a green chili & cheddar eggs muffin, cream cheese stuffed French toast casserole, sausages, fruit and wine cocktail. On second thought, hold the wine cocktail.