There’s a certain amount of enthusiasm and fascination when people speak of tasting in a wine cave. A sense of private privileged exclusivity and romance heighten the experience. It’s definitely a great way to beat the heat on a hot Paso summer day.
These structures, usually just 30 feet below ground level, have a singular mission- keep the wine stored at a constant average temperature around 60 degrees. It’s both a huge energy saving enhancement, and a giant financial commitment.
Winemaker Gary Eberle is Paso Robles’ original wine cave pioneer that literally forged this new ground
Gary’s winemaking career is full of firsts: California’s first Syrah vineyard in 1975. Paso’s first modern wine production facility in the late ’70’s- originally the Estrella River Winery, which spawned several acclaimed winemakers: Tobin James, Tom Meyers (Castoro), Vic Roberts (Victor Hugo), John Munch (Le Cuvier) and winegrower Howie Steinbeck. It’s now recognized by the sign on the north side of Highway 46 as you enter Paso from the east: Meridian Winery. Gary Eberle is a co-founder of Paso Roble’s original AVA in 1983.
He built Paso’s first wine cave in 1996. It wasn’t easy. In his case being first with a wine cave meant finding a bureaucracy that would permit a hole dug in the ground to use for wine storage and winery hospitality. Since the County didn’t know what to do with his request, he moved on with his plans to the federal level for approval- the U.S. Bureau of Mines. Tours are included with tasting reservations, and happen on the hour and half-hour. VIP Tour and Cellar Tastings also available. https://www.eberlewinery.com/
Saxum Wine Cave – the Promised Land you’ll never get to
Saxum became one of the most sought after, exclusive and limited availability wine labels in Paso Robles after winemaker Justin Smith graced the cover of Wine Spectator magazine, and Saxum was declared Wine of the Year in 2010. Pebble Smith developed his Rhone-centric vineyard as consumer awareness of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre was building in the ‘80’s. In this case, what was originally thought to be Mourved’ turned out to be the Spanish version identified as Motaro. Son of Pebble, winemaker Justin Smith’s thing is blends based on these three varietals from some of Paso’s most highly lauded vineyards, plus their own James Berry Estate Vineyard (Pebble’s real first name is James).
The cave was built in the later teens of the 2000’s. I’ve been there once, driving one of my entertainment industry clients. They don’t do tastings at the winery as a rule, but this individual is connected. At least on the first visit. Two years later, the clients, whom I’ve been driving for over a decade, asked me to see if they could go back again. The answer was a stone cold “No.” Everyone talks about “the list to get on the list.” It takes around eight years plus, to work your way up to getting on the allocation list to actually purchase wine. They produce around 8,000 cases per year. And as I found out during the probably one and only Saxum cave visit in my lifetime, they don’t sell wine out of the winery. I’m patiently biding my time on the waiting list to get on the allocation list. https://www.saxumvineyards.com/
Paso Robles Wineries Offering Wine Cave Tasting Experiences (at time of publishing)
- L’Aventure: Cave Tour and Tasting Experience
- Booker Vineyard: Cave Tour and Tasting Experience
- Justin Vineyards & Winery: Ebike Ride with Cave Tour and Tasting, Hidden Cellar Tasting…and more
- Robert Hall Winery: Cavern Tour and Barrel Tasting with Cavern Select Wines and Paired Small Bites
Other Wine Caves in Paso Robles: Enthusiastic, supportive Wine Club member at Denner Vineyard, Epoch Winery, Law Estate Winery, or Halter Ranch?
In this case, supportive and enthusiastic mean you express your support by buying lots of wine from them, and may be rewarded for your loyal patronage. It doesn’t hurt to ask.
As we’ve slowly dug our way out of CoVid, and staff talent and eno/brand knowledge has gradually been nursed back to full capacity, there is a strong possibility wineries like Justin and Halter will once again be offering cave tasting experiences/cave tours similar to what they were doing pre-CoVid.
Things change month to month around Paso Robles, so click on the links to see what elevated wine cave experiences and tastings might be offered:
- Halter Ranch: they’ve got the largest wine cave in our region. https://www.halterranch.com/
- Denner Winery: its gravity-fed design was above-the-norm forward wine production thinking back when it was built in 1999, based on collaborative input from renowned Paso winemakers Justin Smith and Scott Hawley. Scott was founding winemaker, and also designed the production side of their facility at Law Estate. Now he’s pretty much dedicated to his Torrin label, working out of a small facility and tasting room on Peachy Canyon Road. The Torrin label pre-dates his Law tenure. Early in Scott’s career he was the youngest winemaker in California to lead a winemaking team at a major winery: Wente Vineyards in Livermore.
- Epoch Winery: they occupy the original site of iconic York Mountain Winery, the first bonded winery on the Central Coast, built in 1882. The 2003 San Simeon earthquake turned this historic brick building into a pile of rubble. Last of the great oil field wild-catters, Bill Armstrong, came to the rescue and restored the original winery using painstaking archeological techniques and improvements to create an awe-inspiring tasting room true to original design and build, complete with giant antique wooden basket press mounted in the rafters.
- Law Estate Winery: I’ve scheduled private tastings for club members in their wine library at the rear of the barrel room.
And yes- the rhetorical question needs to be asked.
Does wine taste better in a wine cave?