Walking into a wine store and asking for a bottle of wine from Paso Robles is kinda like walking into Nordstrom and asking for a pair of shoes. You need to give just a little bit more detail as to what you’re looking for, because chances are – they’ve got it.
At just over 612,000 acres, the Paso Robles AVA is California’s largest appellation geographically. Over 40 different grape varieties are grown within the AVA. However, Cabernet Sauvignon from the west side is going produce a very different wine than Cabernet Sauvignon from the east. And these will both differ from a wine produced from somewhere in the middle.
These variations are practically unavoidable in an AVA of this size. Smaller, better defined appellations produce wines of more consistency due to similarities in the area’s soil (Red Mountain), climate (Ancient Lakes), etc. But Paso Robles has its Salon shoes mixed up with its BP shoes – so it’s challenging to know what you’re going to get just by choosing a wine with “Paso Robles AVA” on the label.
There are three primary reasons for the range of different wines produced in the Paso Robles AVA:
- Climate: the western boundary of Paso Robles is only six miles from the Pacific Ocean which results in a cooling effect on these vineyards, as well as wetter weather (over 30 inches of rain annually!) Compare this to the eastern side of the AVA where the climate is much more arid and dry with rainfall at only about 10 inches per year.
- Elevation: the west side of the AVA reaches up to 2,400 feet in elevation whereas the east side tops out at around 700 feet. Vineyards at higher altitudes have cooler temperatures than those on flatter areas so they are better able to preserve acidity in the grapes.
- Soils: there are over 30 different soil series throughout the Paso Robles AVA. Limestone and calcareous soils are more prevalent in the western portion, while sandier and more fertile soil is found to the east.
⇒ Time for some dorking out on dirt: Calcareous soils are well draining and often contain lime – which produces higher pH levels. The high pH reduces the vine’s vigor, allowing for flavor concentration and retention of acidity in wine. Additionally, some of the most well-known wine regions in the world possess calcareous soils (Champagne, Burgundy, Southern Rhône).
Overall, Paso Robles AVA is a very warm growing region with daytime summer temperatures often reaching over 100°F! If this heat isn’t managed in the vineyard, it can result in fat, overripe grapes and boring, flabby wine. Climate, elevation and soil type all play important roles in preserving acidity in the grapes – particularly those on the west side of the AVA. But this doesn’t mean that those grapes on the eastside are screwed! Thanks to the region’s overall diurnal shift – where nighttime temperatures can drop by 40-50°F – even grapes on the warmer, drier eastern side of Paso Robles are able to maintain acidity and produce refreshing, delicious wines.
In an effort to assist consumers make a more informed choice as to wines from Paso Robles AVA, the area was recently divided into 11 sub-AVAs. (And if you know my obsession with sub-AVAs, you know this has me positively giddy!) The goal is to allow these smaller areas to develop their own identities and give consumers additional knowledge as to what’s in that bottle of wine they’re eyeing to purchase. Time will tell if 11 sub-AVAs was overkill . . .
So back to my Nordstrom analogy – give the salesperson a better idea of what you’re looking for. A timeless classic like Tory Burch ballerina shoes? Try a Cabernet Sauvignon from Eberle Winery (founder Gary Eberle is known as the “Godfather of Paso”). If you’re more of an ass-kicking Dr. Martens boot person – a big bold Zinfandel or Petite Sirah from Turley might fit you better. Or if you like to be a little different and sport a pair of futuristic sneakers, then Rhône Ranger Tablas Creek is probably up your alley.
And if you’re looking for Christian Louboutins- try anything from Saxum.
Until I have time to delve into the 11 sub-AVAs – here’s the outline on Paso Robles.