In its 39th year, event has a new name and a new site — the Paso Robles Event Center

PASO ROBLES — A new name and location gave the Paso Wine Fest a much-needed makeover. From the looks of it and anecdotal evidence, the 2022 festival delivered its new look with pizazz.

Consider this: Sterling caviar on potato chip appetizers were paired with Austin Hope Rosé, a fashionably restored vintage French milk truck offered Daou Vineyards & Winery selection of wines, Barton Family Wines’ breezy lounge contained a cocktail bar handing out Jello shots and cabernet-laced dark chocolates served at Justin Winery’s swanky salon.

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Austin Hope hosted one of the four larger lounges at the Paso Wine Fest. Photo by Celeste Hope

Talk about an elevated experience.

Presented by the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance (PRWCA), the four-day event marked its 39th year and ran from May 19-22. Previously known as the Paso Robles Wine Festival, the Paso Wine Fest made its move from the downtown park to the Paso Robles Event Center.

“We outgrew the park,” explained Joel Peterson, executive director of PRWCA. “And it was a burden for local businesses as the city had to close down the street.” 

Besides, the spacious grounds of the Event Center had much to offer by way of infrastructures such as parking, security, and restrooms.

That infrastructure came with a price, and thus this year’s elevated ticket cost. In previous years (2018, 2019), Saturday’s Grand Tasting was priced at $70. This year it was increased to $179, discounted to $159 for all wineries to pass on to their club members.

At that cost, the Event Center presented a spectacular look with an artfully laid-out plan designed by the San Luis Obispo-based Karston Butler Events working jointly with the PRWCA team.

While the 100 wineries were housed in four large tents, there were some wineries who wanted larger spaces and that’s how the idea came about to offer special sponsorship for the lounges. The four wineries — Justin, Daou, Austin Hope, and Barton — created their own dramatic lounges marking a focal point at the venue’s Frontier Park.

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Austin Hope (right) and Jason Diefenderfer hang out at the Austin Hope Lounge at the Paso Wine Fest. Photo by Mira Honeycutt

“It was a trial run,” Peterson noted, adding that those four wineries bring a good number of visitors to town. “They’ve been flying the Paso flag.”

Turns out that was a stroke of genius.

“We’ve heard from more wineries who want bigger presence next year,” Peterson said.

It’s only natural that this annual fest is popular with out-of-towners wanting to keep up with the growth of the Paso wine region in recent years. 

However, Jason Diefenderfer, winemaker at Hope Family Wines, fondly recalled the quaintness of the early years. 

“The community loved it as a local wine day,” he said. “As 16-year-olds, Austin [Hope] and I would bring wine to the event, I’ve been a part of this for 38 years.”

I heard plenty of positive feedback from wine representatives, commenting on the spaciousness, the coolness under large tents, accessible parking, food trucks, and most importantly, a different crowd of attendees.

Guillaume Fabre, owner/winemaker of Clos Solène, noticed a younger crowd this year. 

“It’s awesome,” he said. “People are interested in wine.”

Paul Sowerby, national sales manager at Adelaida Vineyards & Winery, concurred: “This is quality, not quantity.”

“It’s a great platform for wineries to shine,” commented Maeve Pesquera, senior vice president, strategy and business at Daou Vineyards & Winery. “Makes me proud to be part of this community, what I call Team Paso.” 

This year’s fest drew some impressive Paso names such as Saxum, My Favorite Neighbor, Denner, Law Estate, Linne Calodo and L’Aventure, among the 100-plus wineries pouring around 500 wines for a crowd of 1500 people (including paid attendees, winery staff and volunteers). Eight food trucks and two live bands kept the crowds well-fed and entertained. The four-day festivities included dinners at local restaurants, seminars, grand tasting and Sunday open house merriment at various wineries.

After a two-year postponement of the festival, emerging now with an all-new look, Jenny Barton exclaimed: “Why not come back with a bang?”