Call it the Paso Downtown Wine Vibe!

Downtown’s wine group of over two dozen tasting rooms/lounges has re-branded itself as Paso Robles Downtown Wine District (PR DTWD). And there’s no better way to explore the district than at holiday time to check out gift packages and discover a cozy spot for a taste of Paso’s bold red blends to take the winter chill off.

Ray Terri Blake
Raymond Smith (Indigené Cellars), Terri Harrington (Serial Wines) and Blake Pacheco (Alamar Wines) at the Vibe Grand Tasting
Photos: Mira Honeycutt

The Downtown Wineries group has recently endured growing pains searching for an identity along with the COVID shutdown. This year, the wine merchants have collectively “regrouped” focusing on awareness of the diversity and number of tasting rooms downtown.

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Sip & Savor

“We felt the Downtown Wine District name creates a more definitive recognition of our tasting rooms group,” commented Caitlin Pianetta, owner/winemaker of Pianetta Winery and president of the DTWD association. 

From the looks of it, the new branding of Paso Robles DTWD was off to a good start when it hosted The Vibe Grand Tasting event on October 14 held at the Paso Robles Inn’s Ball Room; a change of venue from previous downtown wine stroll events.

“We have had a great overall response from participating wineries,” said Pianetta.  “A lot of people who attended were surprised at the number of tasting rooms in downtown. I feel that having the main event at the Paso Robles Inn Ballroom, where all the tasting rooms are under one roof, really emphasizes the diversity and number of tasting rooms.”

Cailtlin Pianetta
Caitlin Pianetta at Pianetta tasting room
Photo: Dianne Zwick

The weekend festivities included a range of activities from  a winemaker dinner hosted  by Hayseed & Housdon and Bushong Vintage Company to vertical tastings – featuring Grenache at Timshel Vineyards and Tempranillo at Hoyt Family Cellars;  and a Progressive Petit Verdot experience at The Blending Lab, downtown’s newest addition.

Saturday’s Vibe Grand Tasting brought together some 20 downtown wine brands each one featuring its specialty, from Bordeaux and Rhône-style blends to Spanish and Argentinian wines. Symbiosis, Cloak & Dagger, Tudor, Dracaena, Stilson Cellars, Pianetta, Sea Shell Cellars, Derby Wine Estate, Cypher and Crazy Woman Cellars were among the winery participants.

New to downtown, Innate Wines’ owner/winemaker Nathan Decamps is an anomaly in the wine world. Exploding with high-octane energy and signature low-alcohol wines, he enthralls you with his hands-off approach to winemaking. “Whole cluster grapes are foot stomped by me, fermented in open top puncheons, unfined, unfiltered, using native yeast.”  His mantra is “Let the innate character of the grapes show.”

Nathan Decamps at Innate lounge
Photo: Dianne Zwick

Decamps’ creative and explorative mind leads him to source unusual varieties from all over California. There was a refreshing Chenin Blanc from Santa Ynez Valley’s Jurassic Vineyard and a Sagrantino with grippy tannins and a rustic Alicante Bouschet. Of the latter, a French variety native to Provence, “This is a Prohibition grape. I made it in a semi-carbonic style. Don’t think of it as a fine wine grape.” 

When stepping in at Innate’s artistically designed eye-popping cubicle of a tasting room, Decamps will ask you, “How much time do you have?” So, allow yourself to spend at least an hour or more sipping (and spitting) a lineup of some 20 different wines.

Another newcomer to downtown is Blake Pacheco, whose Alamar tasting room is tucked in the back of Jeffry’s Wine Country BBQ courtyard. He admits he learned winemaking via online courses and hands-on experience with friends in the industry. “Lots of people helped me through this process,” he said of Paso’s wine community.

Carol Hoyt, Nancy Hoffman (Hoyt Family Cellars) and Deb Stilson (Stilson Cellars) at the Vibe Grand Tasting

Pacheco’s annual production of 550 cases is focused on Central Coast vineyards, sourcing fruit from various appellations within Paso and Santa Barbara County. For a newbie winemaker, Pacheco’s wines were impressive, reflecting distinctive expressions of individual appellations. Among them, the salmon-hued Rosé of Cabernet Sauvignon made in the saignée method, its fruit sourced from Santa Margarita Ranch, and Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from Santa Lucia Highlands’ Boekenoogen Vineyard in Monterey.

I came across an orange wine, Citrine, meant to pair with one of the seven chakras of our body as Ashley McPhail, assistant winemaker at Timshel Vineyards, explained. A blend of Roussanne and Viognier, the wine got its hue from a 70-day contact with grape skins. “The orange chakra signifies self-confidence,” McPhail claimed with confidence.

Bordeaux bottles Serial Lounge
Crazy About Bordeaux? tasting at Serial Wines lounge

At Hoyt’s busy table, owner/winemaker Carol Hoyt offered her Chardonnay and Viognier. “We are the only winery at the Malibu farmers market pouring and selling our wines and doing very well,” said Hoyt, who divides her time between her Paso westside vineyard estate and Malibu. 

Sunday morning’s panel aptly titled Crazy About Bordeaux? addressed the two sides of this region, wines reflecting Bordeaux’s Left Bank and Right Bank styles from Paso and Napa. Staged at the swank Serial tasting lounge, the event featured Serial Wines, Indigené, LXV Wine and Napa’s Alpha Omega.

The downtown scene has certainly expanded its diversity in recent years. Take Alpha Omega Collective’s (AOC) fashionable lounge offering wines from three distinctive regions: cool-climate Tolosa Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays from SLO Coast AVA, Alpha Omega’s powerful Cabs and Bordeaux-style blends from Napa Valley and the Perinet portfolio of wines from Spain’s Priorat region. 

Kacia Burrell and Christian Camacho at AOC

On my recent visit to AOC, wine educator Kacia Burrell presented an impressive tasting lineup of all three brands.  We savored Tolosa’s minerally Stone Lion Chardonnay alongside Alpha Omega’s expressing caramel notes; Perinet’s Carinneya from different vineyards and Alpha Omega’s flagship ERA, a powerful age-worthy Napa Cab.   

I’d be remiss if I didn’t include Paso’s cocktail scene which is just as vibrant as the wine vibe. Among them is The Remedy, downtown’s hidden gem and a cocktail lounge like no other. Accessed through an unmarked side door, it’s part of The Alchemists’ Garden group. This is where mixologist and   consummate showman Tony Bennett creates molecular  gastronomy. “I’m pushing the boundaries,” he says of his sensory experience offered in an intimate (seating limited to 10) room furnished with classic furniture sourced through country-wide estate sales. 

Tony Bennett
Tony Bennett at The Remedy

Be prepared for a lesson in chemistry as you embark on Bennett’s drama and theatrics with “amuse booze,” a seductive blend of Brazilian Cachaca laced with honey, lime and orange Curacao. 

Get mesmerized as he regales you with his time-intensive complex techniques creating elixirs and potions fashioned into creative libations on his mobile bar cart. “We season our cocktails as you would season food,” he insists, handing me Casa de Seven margarita, a delicious concoction of Patron with roasted banana Agave, toasted coconut caressed with dehydrated banana dust. Campari morphs into caviar beads, deftly created by Bennett in front of you, served in a mini bowl alongside The Admiral, a molecular Negroni Bianchi, a whirl of Awayuki gin, perfumed with rosemary, thyme and lemon peel-infused Lillet blanc. 

Bennett’s digestif, A Cure for What Ails You, doubles as a remedy for cold winter nights. The house Amari blend mixed with green Chartreuse is topped with a delicate spray of the 160 proof Stroh Austrian rum, the glass warmed by a flicker of flame releasing heady caramel notes.

Tommy Booth (Wine Boss), Glenna Thompson (Symbiosis Wines), Bow and Dan Tudor (Tudor Wines) at the Vibe Grand Tasting

With such dramatic lounges and eclectic tasting rooms and more to come in the future, the downtown vibe is headed for growth in size and awareness. “We are identifying ourselves as a destination to explore, similar to that of the Backroads Wineries, Far Out Wineries and Tin City,” Pianetta asserted. Going forward there will be changes, Pianetta informed. The Vibe Grand Tasting will likely move to summer and a series of intimate panels and seminars planned throughout the year.

As a columnist and observer of the local wine/beverage scene, Paso’s recent growth can only be encouraging not just for the wine industry but also related businesses. And it’s a delight to see downtown merchants creating engaging experiences and events for locals and out-of-town visitors.


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