Visitors ought to pack a sense of adventure on the Central Coast. It's a huge swath of land that stretches from Santa Barbara to Monterey, more or less the middle third of coastal California. But for all the region's immensity, many of the finest wine producers are grouped in small areas, amenable to exploration by the enterprising wine lover. Check out the areas highlighted in this story: Santa Barbara, Paso Robles and the Santa Lucia Highlands. Plus, hit these wineries, reviewed by Wine Spectator's editors. For Arroyo Grande and the Edna Valley, near San Luis Obsipo, check out our San Luis Obispo tour.
Please note that prices, hours of operation and wine availability can often change. We recommend that you call ahead before you go.
For more wineries worldwide, see our Winery Search.Tablas Creek Vineyard
The Perrins of Château de Beaucastel and Robert Haas, their importer since 1970, founded Tablas Creek Vineyard in 1990. They chose their 1600-foot elevation site in west Paso Robles because of its chalky clay soils and its climate similar to the Southern Rhône Valley. They imported selected French cuttings of Mourvèdre, Grenache, Syrah, Counoise, Roussanne, Viognier and Marsanne and multiplied, grafted and planted their own vines, which they farm organically. The wines, in the image of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, are 100 percent estate-grown and bottled.Justin Vineyards & Winery
Well off the beaten path but worth seeking out, Justin is the sort of showplace you might find in Napa, but the appeal goes beyond the visuals. Justin produces some of the best Cabernets in the area, particularly the Cabernet-blend Isosceles. Former banker Justin Baldwin and his wife, Deborah, were among the first to lay claim to west Paso, launching their winery in 1981. In addition to the fashionable tasting room, the winery also has JUST Inn Bed & Breakfast and Deborah's Room, a small restaurant with a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence-winning wine list. In late 2010, Fiji Water purchased Justin, though the Baldwins continue to run the day-to-day operations and help market the brand.Qupe Wine Cellars
In the early 1980s, Bob Lindquist was one of a handful of winemakers who believed grapes from the Rhône Valley region in France had a future in California. He was right. The boom in Syrah plantings all along the California coast, from Santa Barbara to Monterey, has been a boon for him. These days this Syrah pioneer has a choice of grapes grown in cool climates or warmer sites. He mixes and matches the grapes to create blends like his Central Coast Syrah. Because of the abundance of fruit, Lindquist can also keep the price down to the $15 range. He also produces two Bien Nacido Chardonnays for around $20 to $30, depending on the vineyard site. But don't stop there. Look for gems such as Los Olivos cuvée (a cool-climate, Syrah-driven, Rhône-inspired red blend), as well as varietal bottlings of Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier and Grenache.Four Vines Winery
Winemaker Chris Tietje likes wines jammed with personality. His Zinfandels and Syrahs are full-bodied and hedonistic, yet each retains a distinctive sense of place. Paso Robles is his main grape source, but he harvests Zin from Sonoma for The Sophisticate and from Amador for The Maverick. While the winery is on the other side of Paso, the tasting room is located at the intersection of two major wine roads: Highway 46 and Vineyard Drive. It's a small but busy space, situated behind the gourmet country deli Farmstand 46, which Tietje and his partners also own. Snare a table outside and squeeze in lunch while you're there.Linne Calodo Cellars
With wines labeled Problem Child, Nemesis and Outsider, winemaker Matt Trevisan shows not only an independent streak but a dry sense of humor. One of the pioneers of west Paso, Trevisan makes blends of Zinfandel, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Grenache. Thanks to the rocky, limestone soil of the region that gives the winery its name, the wines are dense, complex yet sinuous creations. "There's a bit of elegance to be found by combining different varietals together," he says. Each wine diplays a singular personality; find your favorite as you sample them in the visitors center, a distinctively contemporary building done in geometric angles and polished cedar.L'Aventure Winery
After making wine in his native France for 15 years, Stephan Asseo was lured by the promise and freedom of Paso Robles and launched L'Aventure in 1998, placing him at the forefront of a new wave of producers west of Highway 101. Asseo has about 56 acres (both Bordeaux and Rhône varieties) planted in the rolling hills around the winery, which is down a winding gravel road. The tasting room is a modest salon but offers L'Aventure's top wines, including a Rhône-style blend called Côte à Côte that has both finesse and muscle, and the Estate Cuvée, a blend of Cabernet, Syrah and Petit Verdot that's fleshy, focused and minerally.Caliza Winery
One of the newest players in west Paso, Caliza is already producing a short list of impressive red and white blends from an area known as Templeton Gap. The winery's name, Spanish for limestone, is a nod to the soils that dominate the area. Entrepreneur Carl Bowker launched a second career in 2002 when he began studying viticulture and enology. He then planted 20 acres of vines in the south-facing hills of west Paso. There's a Rhône white blend called Kissin' Cousins and a Rhône red blend, Azimuth; both layer complex and intense fruit with crisp and earthy minerality. The tasting room is a stylish den where you're likely to find Bowker and his wife, Pam, pouring.
Passionate about wine? WineSpectator.com seeks a highly motivated digital journalist for an assistant editor position in its New York editorial department.
Sips & Tips | Wine & Healthy Living
Video Theater | Collecting & Auctions
New! Ratings Flash