Mar 26, 2008

Vina Robles

I decided to go to Vina Robles ( because I kept hearing about this Swiss-owned huge, beautiful, new tasting room near Robert Hall on 46 East. Despite all that I’d heard in passing, when I finally made it out there I was floored. The tasting room is huge, beautiful, and very new.

The building that houses the tasting room is a sort-of U shaped, high-ceilinged, stone extravaganza with crazy glass-looking art covering the walls. The tasting room bar area is only half of the bottom of the U shape while the wing of the building that comes off the tasting room is full of very expensive and classy tasting room paraphernalia. And when I say “very expensive and classy” I mean Dean and Deluca cooking supplies alongside bookshelves of coffee table-type food and wine books. My personal favorite area of the shopping portion of the building is the table dedicated to all things Swiss. Need a Swiss watch? Head to Vina Robles. A Swiss Army Knife? Definitely at the Vina Robles tasting room.

So the tasting room is very grand and modern and it plus the souvenir area fills about half of the U shaped building. I asked the tasting room attendants if the rest of the building was the winery and I was told that the remaining portion of the building would be a restaurant that would accompany a non-existent, future bed-and-breakfast. So clearly Vina Robles has some large-scale plans for their 46 East property. But those plans do not appear to include an on-site winery. That seemed a bit strange because clearly the Swiss owner is pumping some serious money into the hospitality side of things at Vina Robles…but what about the wine-making side? At this point I have to admit, I can’t recall much about the wines because I was so overwhelmed by the ambiance but clearly they weren’t standing out as either crazy delicious or awful. The wines are passable and it will be interesting to see how this site progresses.

*All photos are taken from the Vina Robles website:*

Mar 24, 2008

Tobin James

When I think of wine tasting I think of rolling hills and vines and beautiful sunny people and dogs and bottles of wine. I do not think of a saloon. Or pizza. Or a raucous crowd. This said, I was a little surprised by the decor of the Tobin James tasting room. I was also surprised by the size of the space. And I was especially surprised by the dozens of loud people having a raging good time.

Tobin James is actually one of the older wine establishments in Paso. Toby knew Gary Eberle before Eberle wines existed and he's been a staple in the wine community ever since.

When you walk in to Tobin James you'll see the antique bar top straight ahead (apparently brought in from Missouri). Upon entering, on one side you'll be flanked by an island surrounded by tasters and on the other side you'll pass multiple racks of Tommy Bahamas short-sleeved button-up shirts. It's quite a scene!

After fighting my way through the crowd, I sidled up to the bar and was promptly greeted by a very friendly man behind the bar. The pouring service was efficient but not rushed and the everyone stationed around the island was having a grand ol' time. At one point I was offered a fresh piece of pizza--I have no idea where it came from or who gave it to me but it was delicious.

I've always heard legend of the Tobin James tasting room and the winery's rabid 17,000 person wine club, the "James Gang". Before going myself I didn't think it sounded relaxing or enjoyable at all. And it's not relaxing! But it's actually completely enjoyable. It's a place where they're doing their own thing their own way: Tobin James wines are much more affordable than many other options in Paso and they're not bad. And Tobin James is catering to a different crowd...bus loads of people come in and are not only welcomed, but the tasting room is actually set up to accommodate larger groups effectively. I feel like this is a place that's hooking new wine drinkers and making it a fun experience rather than a pretentious experience. This tasting room won't be the place to bring a wine collector but for any regular wine-drinking person this is a fun stop that offers a different kind of wine experience.

*Photos from Tobin James website:*

Mar 21, 2008


I have to admit...I'm not the most thorough when it comes to preparation for my tasting room visits. I like to think of it as playing it like I see it--not forcing other peoples' opinions on myself before I experience something for myself. Of course all that is secret code for "I'm lazy" but in the case of L'Aventure the press on this place is hard to avoid. Stephan, the very French winemaker, is the media darling of the Paso Robles wine industry so I was very interested to see the place for myself and I have to say it was an interesting experience.

The religion at L’Aventure is undoubtedly “Stephan”…the religion of “Stephan” reigns supreme throughout all who work at this winery (which to the casual observer seems slightly creepy until you taste the wines!). The wines coming out of Stephan Asseo's facility are like ambrosia to both employees and patrons! And that level of dedication seems necessary when it comes to wines that are priced so high…Many of Stephan Asseo’s estate blends are priced over $65. To many related to the winery, “Stephan” has somehow (to those that are either local or part of his totally booked wine club) entered that world of those who can get away with only one name. Politicians like Fidel or Mao; the infamous like O.J. or Kobe, or the self-proclaimed single-named famed of the world such as Bono or Prince. Even within Paso Robles as a whole most of those related to the wine industry know “Stephan” as either an idea or a man.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Imagine visiting Paso for a casual weekend of wine tasting. You probably won’t stumble across L’Aventure because it’s at the end of a non-descript dirt road. The building is situated in a lull in the vines and only a very small portion of the building is designated to the tasting room. Now I have to admit, I’ve been twice and I’ve had two very different experiences. According to the L’Aventure website ( the tasting room is void of “gimmicks” and exists as an educational tool for those that would like to learn more about the wines of Paso. In theory that’s great, but the first time I went I arrived with my companion just behind a bus, which made my personal wine education take a distant second to the selling of wine to those involved in the area tour. However, the second time I went it was a very intimate, personal situation. So it seems this tasting room really depends on when you're there. I mean, let’s be honest, you can’t go wrong with delicious wines, so you will have a worthwhile visit to L’Aventure…but occasionally you can hit this tasting room at a bad time and it could feel less worth your while.

The L'Aventure tasting room is surprisingly small, which adds to the problem of it being over-crowded at times. The bar surfaces where the wine is poured are pretty aesthetically neutral but the decor on the walls looks generally unorganized. There are framed articles covering much of the wall space and then some good visual data about the vineyard but all this appears to placed totally randomly throughout the small space. The pourers were quite knowledgeable and they had some excellent recommendations of other wineries worth stopping by. My general impression of the tasting room is that they can get away with it being totally plain because the wines are excellent and people will make the trip anyway.

**Each of these deliciously staged photos is available on the L'Aventure website ( under the "Press" section. I had to restrain myself from including more...


I find myself here, a month after my initial 'Bobby Wino' post, finally making my first tasting room driven blog posting. I found myself this afternoon at Calcareous Vineyard because I closed my eyes and put my finger in the "middle" to Paso Robles wine country. Granted that's not exactly a scientific approach but you have to start somewhere.

First of all, the site for the Calcareous winery is incredibly beautiful. There are 360 degree views for miles and they provide some lovely umbrellaed tables outside. But something I don't understand is the building itself. It's situated on the top of this beautiful hill but the winery building makes no attempt at blending in with the surroundings let alone adding any aesthetic value to the site. The landscaping around the front of the winery is nice but the building is an eye sore. And the outside picnic area has great tables but the the backside of the winery gets a better view back toward Adelaida Road than the patio tables for guests. But having said all this about how disappointing the building is, the remaining view is still worthwhile. Plus, there are a couple of vineyard dogs that loll about the grounds and, other than their terrible breathe, they're a very nice addition to the experience!

The tasting room is a surprisingly small space with no windows other than those facing the industrial interior of the barrel room. The afternoon I visited the cellar workers were blasting the music from the movie Juno,which I found to be a delightful soundtrack for my tasting! The fellow that was pouring for me seemed very knowledgeable on where the grapes are grown and purchased versus the varietals that are grown on the property. Sadly, the very friendly pourer was a bit scattered and had a hard time keeping track of where the various tasting parties were on the list. But in general the attention he did spend with me was very nice and he included a couple wines that weren't on the tasting room list, which is always a good way to make tasters happy.

Overall I think Calcareous is a worthwhile stop. If you're trying to decide on where to go to enjoy your packed lunch this is the place because the views are unbeatable. The wine is generally lighter than many Paso wineries and I enjoyed the whites that were available, in particular the Roussanne and the Viognier. I think they could use a bit of work on their presentation...they're just not taking full advantage of the physical location they have. This is a spot that I'm curious to know what others think of it so send me an email with your thoughts.

*Photo is from the Calcareous website:*