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What about the Eastside?

Some folks are pretty set when it comes to declaring what they think they like in Paso by splitting it in two- using U.S. Highway 101 as the North-South seam that defines Eastside and Westside districts. Seems the Westside wineries garner much of the buzz and press, but I say, “Wait a minute!” Yes the terroir is quite different on the Eastside- flatter, dryer with less green vegetation, and yes, there is less ocean influence which means smaller diurnal temperature swings, but some Eastside vintners say that their terroir has the perfect combo for growing great Bordeaux’s, and many hot weather varietals. And I’m so happy to help prove it.

I’ve been doing wine tours in both San Luis Obispo County, and Santa Barbara County since 2005, and I must say there are some fantastic wineries to visit on the Eastside of Paso. One of the reasons I like the Eastside is that on a Saturday, you’ll find these wineries way less crowded. We’re not talking the drive-by’s of East Hwy. 46 here. We’re talking Eastside boutique wineries well off the 46, that don’t get trampled by the madding crowd on a big weekend. They’re always quite happy to see you.

Below is a list of notable Eastside wineries. Tour stops are broken down by Diamond (regular tasting), VIP, and Elite experiences to provide a better understanding of what each type of experience category entails, including time and cost. Diamond is a basic wine tour. Adding a VIP or Elite experience to your day adds depth and makes the tour richer, more special and unique. Mix them together any way you like. A tour can easily visit both East and Westsides in the same day.

What’s all this Diamond, VIP, and Elite experience stuff? It’s my simple way of showing what the possibilities can be from a simple regular tasting Diamond level experience- to VIP or Elite upgrade possibilities: what you get, how long it takes, and what it costs per person. VIP and Elite are about expanding your wine enjoyment opportunities, and in no way does any sort of income accrue to me (maybe a pat on the back and a thank you) to hook you up with these quality experiences.

  • Consider adding a VIP or Elite experience to the two hundred or so available excellent Diamond experiences (regular tastings) to put a crowning event on your day, usually for just a few more dollars paid to the winery- sometimes none
  • VIP and Elite experiences are defined by being fixed appointments with the winemaker, owner or key employee of the winery: private or small group tasting, library wines, reserve wines, barrel tasting, winemaker one-on-one’s, vineyard tour and tasting, etc.
  • My rate is for the overall tour and has nothing to do with tasting experiences chosen

All tours are tailored to your wine preferences, but feel free to use my encyclopedic knowledge of SLO and SB County wines and wineries. I have done over 1,000 wine tours since 2005.

  • Regular tastings, VIP and Elite experience possibilities for the Eastside are described below
  • Wineries also offering regular tastings along with VIP and Elite are noted in their listings
  • Click on this gallery link to see photos of interesting, scenic and fun wine experiences available on my tours.

Start with Diamonds:
Start with diamonds in your glass- my basic tour. Use all my knowledge and great services that come with my tours to choose fantastic walk-in regular tastings.

  • Hundreds of high quality wine stops available on-the-fly/day of tour, or planned in advance (I always call ahead to make arrangements)
  • An average regular tasting room stop takes about 45 minutes. Tasting fees average between $8 and $20. Many wineries offset tasting fees with bottle purchase, or wine club membership
  • Food planning- if logistics allow I pick up to-go before your tour at no extra charge. I set up your picnic while you taste. There are also stellar sit-down dining possibilities on your tour if you wish
  • Clean tablecloths and bottled water included
  • Pro-photos capture your day
  • Wine cases are kept tasting room temp in my special cool bags. Wine shipping can be arranged
  • Full concierge and limo style service- wine and packages carried to car, along with all the perks that come with me being a seasoned limo driver
  • Spit cups available- tasting room peeps think you’re pretty cool if you enjoy your wine that way
  • Tasting fees are paid directly to the winery and not included in quoted rate

August Ridge– great Italian varietals. Very good Sangio. Best Dolcetto in Paso. Great Cab. Huge values under $30

B&E– Patty and Jerry Bello are old time growers that sell fruit to some of Paso’s top shelf wineries. They offer award winning red varietals and blends at good prices

Cass– great sit down, under $20 lunch stop with complementary tasting

Graveyard Vineyards– fun-themed winery acknowledging the pioneer graveyard at the bottom of the hill. Lots of whites, rosés, and reds: Cab, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Tempranillo, and dessert wines with varied price points starting at $20

Hearst Ranch at Jack Ranch– the eastern most tasting room in Paso, right next to the James Dean memorial on Hwy 46 East, deserves a check-out. Really good wines at good prices. A great stop if you’re headed to Parkfield Café for a burger

Mitchella– great reds and whites. Extensive list of well-priced whites, reds, and dessert

Ranchita Canyon– owner/winemaker Bill Hinrichs is recognized as a winemaker’s winemaker. He sells most of the fruit on his 75 acres, but keeps the best blocks for his wines. Tons of superb whites, and reds at excellent, excellent values

Sculpterra Winery– the good doctor’s estate wines are just as interesting as the very large, priceless metal sculptures on the property. Yummy copious mounds of estate grown pistachios too

Steinbeck Vineyards– The renowned Steve Glosner, famous for putting Paso on the map in the ‘90’s for his version of Justin’s Isosceles, makes fruit forward, easy on the palette whites and reds from the Steinbeck family’s vineyard. They’ve been farming on the property since the early 1920 ’s, and in Paso for seven generations

Tackitt Family Vineyards– Really nice reds and whites at excellent prices. Leon Tackitt, a career Navy man, is very involved in supporting his fellow veterans with sales of his EOD label along with TFV. For white lovers he does a rarely seen in Paso dry Gewürztraminer. Their wood fired pizza rocks

Tobin James– one of Paso’s winemaking godfather’s, along with Gary Eberle (Eberle), and John Munch (Le Cuvier), who all toiled together at the old Estrella back in the late ‘70’s. Reserve tasting recommended. Regular tastings are still free, and they’re open until 6:00

Via Vega– Larry Gomez, whose resume includes stints at Wild Horse, J. Lohr as Director of Red Winemaking, and twice winemaker at Lockwood, offers an incredibly long list of varietals, and lots of entertainment via his personality, the SF Giants, and the huge TV covering a whole wall in his tasting room. Larry is very passionate about wine- don’t be surprised if he takes you into his barrel room for an impromptu sampling or blending. Very reasonable prices

Vina Robles– recommend their reserve tasting for $10 pp- well priced wines- good bang for the buck. Amazing concert venue

VIP Experiences:
VIP experiences include all the services shown on the Diamond list. Walk-in regular tasting is noted where available. VIP stops are by appointment in advance with the winemaker/owner: small group or private tasting, one-on-ones, barrel tastings, library tastings, reserve tastings, vineyard tours, and so on. Depending, it may be possible for me to hook up a VIP experience the day of your tour. Typically VIP experiences add another half hour to 45 minutes to a stop, and cost can be $0 to $20 pp with the wineries listed below. Picking one VIP experience to add to your day can make a tour extra special.

Bon Niche Cellars/Birdland Cellars– by appointment only: enjoy a private tasting of Wally Murray’s medal winning whites and big reds

Cinquain– by appointment only: owner/winemaker Dave Nagengast makes a million gallons a month at his day job as Director of Winemaking at Scheid in Monterey County. Cinquain (pronounced sin-cain) is his home winemaking “kit”, nestled onto 13 acres in San Miguel. Tons of medals, huge scores, lots of varietals, super nice people

Gelfund– by appointment only: Len Gelfund is unapologetic for harvesting ripe estate fruit with lots of sugar to make big, chewy, balanced wines that tend to run above 15% alcohol. Just straight up unhampered, un-manipulated winemaking letting nature do what it does. His wines sell out year after year

GreMarK– by appointment only: Greg Keezer comes from big league winemaking at the old Golden State Vintners, where he turned out vast volumes of bulk wine for many varied clients, and their well-known house labels on a monthly basis. Greg and his wife Marina have settled onto a 14 acre estate vineyard, where they carefully craft under 14.5% alcohol Cab, Zin, Malvese blend, rosé, three whites and dessert wines

Hansen– by appointment: barrel taste with owner/winemaker Bruce Hansen- $20 pp. Amazing Cab and Zin. Walk-in regular tastings also available

Mystic Hills Vineyard– by appointment only: about 10 minutes down the road from Ranchita Canyon Vineyard and Villa San Juliette, just inside the Monterey County line, their gold medal winner at SFCWC 2015, Unforgiven, properly frames Joel Cox’s Oscar win for editing the classic western movie, and his passion for farming and making wine. Incredibly good wine for $30 a bottle

RN Estate– by appointment only: Roger Nicolas was a French restauranteur/chef in his career, and now makes beautiful wines in a Paso influenced French-leaning style, using estate fruit, and Pinot and Chard from acclaimed vineyards in Santa Barbara County. Private tastings for up to 12 people are held in his great room overlooking Estrella River Valley

Shadow Run– by appointment: barrel tasting with owner Les Evans. Walk-in regular tastings also available

Victor Hugo– by appointment only: with owners/winemaker Victor Roberts or Leslie Roberts

Elite Experience:
Elite experiences are winemaker one-on-ones, include top tier wines, and barrel tasting from several barrels. This is truly a special educational wine experience that might include a quick vineyard tour on farming practices and varietals chosen to match terroir, and then it’s into the barrel room. This is the experience for enthusiasts who buy and enjoy very good wine. Elite experiences can cost more, and can run up to two hours long, but so worth it if you are a serious wine lover.

Chateau Margene– by appointment: Clonal Cabernet Barrel Tasting with Mike Mooney of Chateau Margene and Mooney Family Wines. Mike is one of the founding members of the Paso Cab Collective. You’ll begin, a few steps from the winery, by spending 15 minutes in the vineyard where Mike explains his unique style of planting young vines, farming practices, and vineyard overview. Then it’s into the barrel room where Mike introduces you to several Cabernet clones from the barrel that are seldom tasted individually from the bottle- he also talks extensively about his winemaking style, and the peaks and valleys of blazing new trails in Paso Cabs, and winemaking in general. A detailed tasting, illuminating several types of foreign and domestic oak barrels, that broadens palette antennae as to what other influences are brought to bear in a finished wine. In Chateau Margene’s intimate tasting room you’ll be treated to an impressive flight of Chateau Margenes’s Bordeaux wines, and also Mooney Family Wine’s Pinot and Chard-centric selection. Time frame is two hours. Cost is $40 pp, and offset by bottle purchase or club membership. Walk-in regular tastings also available

Eastside Wrap Up

Like diamonds in your glass- a wine tour with hundreds of high quality wine possibilities, along with unparalleled limo-style services…

  • There are a ton of great winemakers and wineries on the Eastside
  • Wine country picnics are a great break from a steady stream of one ounce pours
  • Adding a VIP or Elite tasting can make your day really special
  • A tour can easily visit both East and Westsides in the same day

Call John at 805-689-7898 for lots of great ideas, possibilities and rates. Cheers!