The charming city of Paso Robles — midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles — is a wonderful destination for wine lovers and foodies alike. With its rolling hills, lush vineyards and picturesque orchards, El Paso de Robles, (the formal name, meaning The Pass of the Oaks) has grown over the past few decades from 3 wineries to over 300. People can enjoy visiting a myriad of tasting rooms and fabulous eateries, which makes it a perfect vacation spot to sip and sup.
One of the special things about Paso wine tastings is that they aren’t just “tastings” – they are “experiences.” Many of them offer unique encounters for guests that make the visits extra special. Some have tours of caves or caverns, or a walk through their vineyards; others offer entertainment; and some have culinary events to gratify your appetite as well as your thirst. There’s an extremely personal touch when visiting these wineries – the owners or general managers are often on site to meet and chat with guests. Read on to find some of my favorite wineries and restaurants in the area.
I was excited to meet the owner of Eberle Winery, Gary Eberle, since we’re both from Pennsylvania, we both got advanced degrees in biology, and both changed careers to do something entirely different! I became a writer and Gary became a winemaker. (Oh well, they both start with a “W”).
Gary is a congenial and gracious host with a fascinating background. He was a college football player at Penn State University where he got his degree in biology. While continuing his scientific studies in cellular genetics at Louisiana State University, a professor introduced him to the joys of wine. It changed his whole life path.
Gary moved to California and earned a doctorate in Enology and Viticulture from U.C. Davis. In 1973 he co-founded the Estrella Winery. Then, in 1979 he opened the Eberle Winery and has spent the past 40 years bringing great spirits as well as wonderful spirit to the Paso wine community.
One of his idols is Robert Mondavi, who advised him that if you give them free tastes, they will buy. So, Gary offers complimentary wine tastings as well as complimentary cave tours at the Eberle Winery. A unique aspect of the property is the underground cave, which is comprised of 16,800 square feet of winding tunnels 30 feet beneath the winery. They also have an outdoor patio overlooking the vineyard, where special events are held with live music.
Gary, who is known as the Godfather of the Paso Robles Wine Industry, is at the tasting room every day, greeting guests and giving them information and chuckles with his jovial, warm, and welcoming personality. In addition to his love of wine, he has a love of standard poodles, and his two pets, Sangiovese and Barbera, are there every day. Which means it’s a dog-friendly winery and you can bring your pooches along – just please don’t share your wine with them!
Another interesting tidbit – Gary was a pilot and for many years he would fly across the U.S., visiting various states and delivering Eberle wines to cities there. He has worked with distributors and restaurateurs in 30 states and six countries extolling the virtues of the Paso Robles American Viticulture Area (AVA), which he helped co-found in 1983. He has been honored with many awards, including the American Wine Legend Award from Wine Enthusiast magazine in January 2021. Gary Eberle was also the first to plant Syrah on the Central Coast and produce a 100 percent Syrah varietal wine in the United States.
Eberle Winery Tasting Room – 3810 East Hwy 46, Paso Robles, CA 93446
Our visit to Robert Hall was awesome. Caine, the general manager spent time with us as we enjoyed their award-winning Cavern Select wine tasting. My favorite was the 2021 Carbonic Carignan and we got a bottle to take home.
We also snacked on a delicious cheese and charcuterie platter, and then took a tour of the amazing spacious cavern below, where the wine-making process takes place.
We even got to drink right from a barrel – really fun and a great way to get even more of a buzz.
Caine told us the history of the winery and explained their mission of embracing a tradition of living well through hard work. Their wines are a tribute to a way of life and the reward for it. The estate-grown varieties have big, bold characteristics and are crafted with rich, complex flavors.
In addition to offering Cavern Tours, Robert Hall Winery also offers a five-course Paired Culinary Experience created by their chef using locally farmed produce.
There are numerous special events during the year where you and your friends can enjoy a glass or a bottle of wine with live music outdoors under the olive trees. They also have winemaker dinners that are festive and delicious.
Robert Hall gets my highest recommendation. And if you go there, make sure to take the Cavern Tour – it is a wow!
Robert Hall Tasting Room – 3443 Mill Road, Paso Robles, CA 93446
Our visit to the Vina Robles Hospitality Center was delightful. Grace, our server, shared information on their history while pouring five different wines for tasting. The winery is Swiss-owned and offers memorable experiences with wine, food, and music.
We were there on a Tuesday afternoon, when not many other people were in the tasting room. We chatted and laughed with the one other couple there, who snapped our photo. You can tell what a beautiful room it is by the high ceilings and the impressive painting behind us. We sampled an excellent Petite Sirah and three fine Cabernet Sauvignons and savored goodies from a cheese and charcuterie board.
We learned that the family business has 25 years of farming experience in the Paso Robles area, which includes six SIP Certified sustainable vineyards in five sub-districts. SIP stands for Sustainability In Practice, which means the winery is committed to the 3 P’s of Sustainability – People, Planet, and Prosperity. They believe in the protection of both natural and human resources as they tend their vineyards and make wine for your enjoyment.
Right next to the Hospitality Center is the wonderful Vina Robles Amphitheatre, one of the largest outdoor venues for arts and entertainment in San Luis Obispo County. It features performances by world-class artists April through October each year. Some of the upcoming artists include Bonnie Raitt, Incubus, George Lopez, Ringo Starr and His All Starr Band, and comedian Chelsea Handler.
We want to return on a weekend so we can indulge in more of the exceptional wine and cuisine at the Vina Robles Hospitality Center along with a show under the stars. I can’t wait to come back for another wonderful wine country experience!
Vina Robles Tasting Room – 3700 Mill Rd, Paso Robles, CA 93446
Vina Robles Amphitheatre – 3800 Mill Rd, Paso Robles, CA 93446
The Allegretto Vineyard Resort Tasting Room is another winery we visited while we stayed at the marvelous property. They welcome both locals and tourists to their tasting room and offer Vineyard Tours as well. Read more about their divine wine and heavenly resort in my accompanying Splash Magazine article describing our weekday getaway.
Allegretto Vineyard Resort Tasting Room – 2700 Buena Vista Drive, Paso Robles, CA 93446
Likewise, the Cello Ristorante and Bar at the Allegretto Vineyard Resort is a lovely, romantic restaurant in Paso Robles. It has excellent food, charming ambiance and sensational views. Check out my review in the Splash article about the resort.
Cello Ristorante and Bar – 2700 Buena Vista Drive, Paso Robles, CA 93446
If you like outdoor dining, farm-to-table cuisine, and a wonderful wine list – Thomas Hill Organics definitely fits the bill. They are a cozy and intimate restaurant in downtown Paso Robles that has been a winner of Traveler’s Choice and Restaurant Guru Awards.
They have a creative and unique menu with organic ingredients sourced from the finest California purveyors for poultry, fish, beef, lamb, and exotic meats. Their fruits and veggies are super fresh-from-the-earth and come from nearby farmers, and their breads are crafted by local bakers.
The staff was friendly and welcoming and sat us at a table in the back of the patio – a quaint and cozy area that is relaxing, yet upscale at the same time. Since we had just come from three wine-tastings, we didn’t want to order any libations – a shame since their wine list was extensive.
Onto the food menu! I always like to try things that are different, so upon perusing the appetizers, I spotted their Ricotta Galette right away and ordered it for us to share. A smart choice, since it came as two tart-like puff pastries, filled with ricotta, roasted garlic, squash, onion, and fennel. It was creamy, tasty, and quite filling – so I ended up taking some home, which was terrific for my late-night snack cravings.
For our main courses, Michael chose the Lamb Ragu Pappardelle with braised lamb, sofrito, pecorino and basil, which he loved. I opted for the Porchetta with patty pan squash, roasted garlic potato puree, arugula salad, and Italian salsa verde. I confess I wasn’t sure what Porchetta was, but when the waitress described it, I was hooked. At Thomas Hill Organics they made it in a special way: the savory, boneless pork roast was stuffed and swirled like a pinwheel with a thin layer of roasted garlic and Italian salsa. With crisp pork belly skin on the outside layer and succulent, full-flavored pork roast inside, it tasted as luscious as it sounded.
For dessert, we shared their specialty – Olive Oil Cake. It was deliciously moist, with icing and edible flower petals, and we were happy to gobble it all up.
Restaurateur Debbie Thomas used to own a 10-acre organic farm, so it is not surprising that she is an imaginative wizard with farm-to-table cuisine. She used to prepare baskets of fresh produce to the locals of Paso Robles – now she provides scrumptious breakfasts, lunches, and dinners to locals and tourists alike at Thomas Hill Organics.
Thomas Hill Organics, 1313 Park Street, Paso Robles, CA 93446
All photos by Michael Melamed unless otherwise noted.