Road Trip: Central Coast, California

By John ~ April 18th, 2008.

Wine country began again as we approached the Central Coast region around Paso Robles on Monday afternoon. We planned to visit a number of tasting rooms in the area on Tuesday, but we decided to go ahead and visit the Edward Sellers Vineyards & Wines tasting room since it is closed on Tuesdays. I’m really glad we made the stop because they had some good wines, and Kendall, the hostess, was very informative, not only about their wines but about other wineries in the area.

20080418_pasorobles.jpgWe tasted five Rhone reds at Edward Sellers, and as a group they were very good, especially for a new winery offering only their second vintage. Our favorite was the 2005 Edward Sellers Le Thief, a Rhone blend of 59% Syrah, 23% Grenache, 13% Mourvedre, and 5% Cinsault. We were also very impressed with the 2005 Edward Sellers Syrah Selectionne. The 2005 Edward Sellers Cuvee des Cinq, a traditional Rhone blend may ultimately be their best wine, but it needs more time to mature. Right now, it comes up a little short of the first two for us. The other two wines we tasted were the 2004 Edward Sellers Grenache and the 2005 Edward Sellers Vertigo, a 70% Grenache blend. Edward Sellers looks like an up and coming winery with a bright future. Right now, their distribution is on the East Coast as well as direct through their tasting room, wine club, and online store.

After leaving Paso Robles, it was on to San Luis Obispo and the ostentatious Madonna Inn, an over-the-top inn that we last stayed in over twenty years ago. Amazingly, it is still in excellent repair and still as gaudy as ever—in a good way. Every room is different with its own theme and décor. This trip we stayed in the Matterhorn Room with a balcony overlooking the mountains.

Monday evening we ate another take-out platter in the room and had a private tasting with two wines in the same price range, the 2005 Novy Christensen Family Vineyard Syrah we bought last Friday at our tasting at Siduri/Novy in Sonoma and the 2006 Mollydooker The Boxer Shiraz from Australia that we brought from home. Once again, the Aussie was the clear winner for us, although both were good wines.

Tuesday morning we drove miles and miles west of Highway 101 in the Paso Robles area through hills and down winding roads before we saw any vineyards. We saw quite a few trees, lots of working cattle ranches, walnut orchards, and olive trees. I kept asking myself, “Where are the vineyards?” Finally we found some but not the grand expanse of vineyards I was expecting. Rather, we found a vineyard here and a vineyard there interspersed among the trees. It was different than just about any wine area I’ve ever visited anywhere in the world.

Our first stop was Justin Vineyards & Winery, where we tasted five wines. The tasting room was nice, albeit remote. Unfortunately, the host was not very knowledgeable and yet quite cocky. Their best wine was the 2005 Justin Isosceles red blend, but we didn’t think it was worth the price at $62. The other four were the 2005 Justin Sauvignon Blanc, the 2007 Justin Chardonnay, the 2006 Justin Orphan red blend, and the 2004 Justin Obtuse, a port-style dessert wine. Justin sells primarily through its wine club and claims production of 80,000 cases per year.

Our next stop was Tablas Creek Vineyard. We were looking forward to this visit because they have a good winery blog, but they weren’t pouring any Syrahs, only percentage Mourvedre blends, so we moved on. A tasting room in the middle of nowhere that’s hard to find, and when you do find it wants to charge a $10 tasting fee yet you can’t taste what you came to taste, does not hold my attention, no matter how good their blog.

Not too far from Tablas Creek was our next stop at Adelaida Cellars. The tasting room had a nice hostess, and they had a couple of decent wines. Our two favorites at Adelaida were the 2005 Adelaida Syrah and the 2005 Adelaida Reserve Zinfandel. The other wines we tasted were the 2005 Adelaida Roussanne/Grenache Blanc, the 2005 Adelaida SLO Pinot Noir, the 2005 Adelaida Version Glenrose Vineyard (Rhone blend), and the 2005 Adelaida Cabernet Sauvignon. Adelaida has about 15,000 cases annual production, mostly sold through their wine club and online.

Next we went to Linne Calodo, a relatively new winery with wines we thought were too pricey for the most part. We tasted four wines, all red blends: the 2006 Linne Calodo Sticks & Stones, the 2006 Linne Calodo Cherry Red, the 2006 Linne Calodo Leona’s, and the 2006 Linne Calodo Outsider.

20080418_hearthills.jpgAfter stopping for a picnic platter lunch, we visited Four Vines, a winery whose Zinfandels were already fairly familiar to us. We were blessed with a very knowledgeable host and tasted two of the best wines of the day, the 2006 Four Vines NAKED (no oak) Chardonnay and the 2004 Four Vines Phoenix (red blend), although we could only justify purchasing the Chardonnay. The other three wines we tasted at Four Vines were the 2006 Four Vines “Heretic” Petite Sirah, the 2006 Four Vines “Loco” Tempranillo, and the 2006 Four Vines “Anarchy” (Rhone Blend). Four Vines produces about 50,000 cases per year (30,000 cases of the NAKED Chardonnay and about 12,000 cases of their Old Vines Zinfandel). The rest of their production is small lot specialty wines like some of those we tasted at the tasting room. It’s obviously been a very successful business model for them.

Our last winery stop of the day was at Cass Vineyards and Winery. Carly, the hostess, was the highlight of the day’s tasting room visits. Friendly, knowledgeable and helpful with directions and suggestions, she is destined for marketing stardom in this business in our opinion. We tasted seven wines at Cass and one was one of our favorites of the day, the 2005 Cass Rockin’ One, a GSM blend. Other Cass wines that we tasted: 2006 Cass Viognier, 2005 Cass Grenache, 2007 Cass Mourvedre, 2005 Cass Syrah, 2005 Cass Cabernet Sauvignon, 2005 Cass Cabernet Franc.

After our last winery visit of the day, we set out to see if we could find an old friend from our registered cattle business days in Texas, Bill Twist. Sure enough, we found the old Twist Ranch and had a great visit with Bill Twist and Walt Nielsen, his son-in-law. Bill is one of the sharpest 91 year old guys you’ll ever meet. We caught him mowing his yard as we drove up. We also found out that Bill and Walt are now growing grapes on about 30 acres of their ranch, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.

20080418_cambria.jpgWednesday may have been our best day in wine country so far on this road trip. The beautiful hillside vineyards along the Central Coast coupled with many good wines made for a great day. We started off in Santa Maria with a visit to the scenic Cambria Winery & Vineyards. There we tasted four reds and one white wine. Our favorites were the 2005 Cambria Syrah-Tepusquet and the 2004 Cambria Estrella Syrah. We also tasted the 2006 Cambria Julia’s Pinot Noir, the 2006 Cambria Bench Breaks Pinot Noir, and the 2005 Cambria Late Harvest Viognier. Cambria produces about 250,000 cases a year, mostly oaky, buttery Chardonnay in which we had no interest; however, their Pinot Noir has enough production to also be available at retail stores. All the other wines are available through their online store.

Our next stop was Foxen Winery & Vineyard. There we tasted five wines, our favorite being the 2005 Foxen Williamson-Dore Vineyard Syrah. The others we tasted were the 2005 Foxen Chenin Blanc, the 2006 Foxen Chardonnay, the 2005 Foxen Sangiovese Volpino, and the 2005 Foxen Merlot. Foxen produces about 10,000 cases annually, mostly Pinot Noir, with the other offerings in small lots sold at the tasting room or online.

Next we visited the Andrew Murray Vineyards tasting room in Los Olivos. Andrew Murray specializes in Rhone reds and does an excellent job if the wines we tasted are any indication. Our favorite was the 2005 Andrew Murray Syrah Santa Ynez Valley. A close second in our estimation was the 2005 Andrew Murray Syrah South Slope. Other wines we tasted were the 2005 Andrew Murray Syrah Brave Oak Vineyard, the 2005 Andrew Murray Syrah Roasted Slope Vineyard, the 2005 Andrew Murray Syrah Zee Clones, the 2006 Andrew Murray Syrah Tours les Tours, the 2005 Andrew Murray Esperance (GSM), the 2004 Andrew Murray Enchante (Roussanne/Marsanne), and the 2006 Andrew Murray Viognier. Andrew Murray produces about 9,000 cases per year, the vast majority of which are Syrahs and Syrah blends. They sell primarily through their wine club and online. I would suggest that any serious red wine lover consider their wine club.

Down the street from Andrew Murray was Consilience Wines. They were probably the weakest lineup we tasted. The two best offerings at Consilience were the 2005 Consilience Syrah “Rodney Shull Vineyard” and the 2005 Consilience Petite Sirah. The other wines we tasted were the 2006 Consilience Viognier, the 2006 Consilience Grenache Blanc, the 2006 Consilience Pinot Noir, and the 2005 Consilience Grenache.

Further down Grand Avenue in Los Olivos was the Daniel Gehrs Wines tasting room. We tasted seven mostly undistinguished wines. Their best offering was a Daniel Gehrs 10yr Tawny Port. The others we tasted were the 2005 Daniel Gehrs Fireside (Ruby) Port, the 2005 Daniel Gehrs Syrah, the 2005 Daniel Gehrs Zinfandel, the 2006 Daniel Gehrs Vixen Vivant Dry Syrah Rose, the 2006 Daniel Gehrs Riesling, and the 2005 Daniel Gehrs Unoaked Chardonnay.

While we were in downtown Los Olivos, we stumbled upon the filming of a made-for-TV movie, Generation Gap, taking place at the Country Market where we were buying lunch. We were told it is a Hallmark movie. So if you’re watching TV this fall and your eyes do a double-take, yes, it’s us.

20080418_blackjackranch.jpgMoving on to the Solvang area, we visited Blackjack Ranch Vineyards and Winery which gained notoriety in the Sideways movie. We tasted seven wines at Blackjack with our undisputed favorite being the 2004 Blackjack Maximus Syrah. The others we tasted were the 2003 Blackjack Billy Goat Hill Merlot, the 2004 Blackjack Harmonie (Bordeaux blend), the 2005 Blackjack Double-Down Syrah, the 2005 Blackjack Allusion Cabernet Franc, the 2004 Blackjack Pinot Noir Alix de Vergy, the 2005 Blackjack Chardonnay Wilkening Vineyard, and the 2005 Blackjack Chardonnay Blackjack Ranch Vineyard Reserve. Blackjack produces 6,000 cases per year, mostly sold through their tasting room and also available online.

Our final stop of the day was one of the best, Lincourt Vineyards. They may have had the best combination of red and white wines of any winery we’ve visited so far on our road trip. Our favorite of their wines was the 2005 Lincourt Syrah Santa Barbara County. The other wines we tasted were the 2005 Lincourt Pinot Noir, maybe the best Pinot we’ve had on the trip; the 2006 Lincourt Sauvignon Blanc which according to LaGayle, who prefers New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs, is the best domestic Sauvignon Blanc she has tasted; the 2006 Lincourt Chardonnay, pretty good for an oaky Chard; and the 2007 Foley & Phillips Dry Rose.

Wednesday evening we had another take-out meal in our room and had a private tasting between the 2004 Ravenswood Southeastern Australia Shiraz that we bought in Sonoma and one of our all-time favorites, the 2002 Peter Lehmann Shiraz. While the Ravenswood was pretty decent, especially for the price, the Peter Lehmann was still our pick of the evening.

Wednesday concluded our California wine tour. While we always enjoy visiting Sonoma and Napa, our Central Coast tour was a special treat because it was our first visit to the area to taste wine, it is so beautiful in its vineyard settings and quaint small towns not yet overrun by tourists, and the high overall quality of its wines, especially the Syrahs and Syrah blends. If you haven’t been to the Central Coast, you ought to do it before the thundering herds arrive.

In coming weeks, we’ll report again as our road trip continues and we taste wines from other regions of the country. Stay tuned!

In order to keep these notes manageable as we tasted 80 different wines, I have broken down the list into Quality rating categories. Under each Quality heading, the wine name will be listed along with price and QPR rating. All prices given are winery/tasting room prices. Wines in bold type received a QPR rating of 5 bangs for your buck (out of 5).

Quality: 4 stars (out of 5)
2005 Andrew Murray Syrah Santa Ynez Valley, $25, QPR: 5
2005 Lincourt Syrah Santa Barbara County, $20, QPR: 5
2006 Four Vines NAKED (no oak) Chardonnay, $14, QPR: 5
2005 Andrew Murray Syrah South Slope, $30, QPR: 4
2005 Edward Sellers Le Thief, $30, QPR: 4
2005 Edward Sellers Syrah Selectionne, $32, QPR: 4
2004 Blackjack Maximus Syrah, $48, QPR: 3
2005 Cass Rockin’ One, $42, QPR: 3
2005 Foxen Williamson-Dore Vineyard Syrah, $44, QPR: 3
2004 Four Vines Phoenix, $64, QPR: 1

Quality: 3.5 stars (out of 5)
2004 Ravenswood Southeastern Australia Shiraz, $10, QPR: 5
2005 Adelaida Syrah, $26, QPR: 4
2005 Cambria Syrah-Tepusquet, $19, QPR: 4
2005 Lincourt Pinot Noir, $30, QPR: 4
2005 Andrew Murray Syrah Brave Oak Vineyard, $28, QPR: 3
2005 Andrew Murray Syrah Roasted Slope Vineyard, $34, QPR: 3
2005 Andrew Murray Syrah Zee Clones, $34, QPR: 3
2005 Adelaida Reserve Zinfandel, $35, QPR: 3
2005 Cass Syrah, $36, QPR: 3
Daniel Gehrs 10yr Tawny Port, $44, QPR: 3
2003 Blackjack Billy Goat Hill Merlot, $40, QPR: 3
2006 Lincourt Sauvignon Blanc, $16, QPR: 3
2004 Edward Sellers Grenache, $25, QPR: 2
2006 Four Vines “Heretic” Petite Sirah, $40, QPR: 2
2004 Blackjack Harmonie, $35, QPR: 2
2005 Edward Sellers Cuvee des Cinq, $42, QPR: 1
2005 Justin Isosceles, $62, QPR: 1
2006 Linne Calodo Sticks & Stones, $65, QPR: 1
2005 Cass Cabernet Franc, $42, QPR: 1
2004 Cambria Estrella Syrah, $48, QPR: 1

Quality: 3 stars (out of 5)
2005 Cambria Late Harvest Viognier, $16 (375 ml), QPR: 5
2006 Andrew Murray Syrah Tours les Tours, $16, QPR: 4
2006 Cambria Julia’s Pinot Noir, $20, QPR: 4
2006 Justin Orphan, $18.50, QPR: 4
2004 Justin Obtuse, $26, QPR: 4
2005 Daniel Gehrs Fireside (Ruby) Port, $36, QPR: 4
2005 Adelaida Version Glenrose Vineyard, $26, QPR: 3
2005 Consilience Petite Sirah, $24, QPR: 3
2005 Daniel Gehrs Syrah, $20, QPR: 3
2006 Lincourt Chardonnay, $18, QPR: 3
2006 Cass Viognier, $15, QPR: 2
2005 Cass Cabernet Sauvignon, $42, QPR: 2
2005 Consilience Syrah “Rodney Shull Vineyard”, $26, QPR: 2
2005 Daniel Gehrs Zinfandel, $24, QPR: 2
2005 Blackjack Double-Down Syrah, $26, QPR: 2
2005 Edward Sellers Vertigo, $30, QPR: 1
2006 Linne Calodo Cherry Red, $55, QPR: 1
2006 Four Vines “Loco” Tempranillo, $40, QPR: 1
2005 Foxen Chenin Blanc, $20, QPR: 1
2005 Foxen Merlot, $32, QPR: 1
2006 Consilience Viognier, $22, QPR: 1
2005 Blackjack Allusion Cabernet Franc, $30, QPR: 1
2004 Blackjack Pinot Noir Alix de Vergy, $48, QPR: 1
2007 Foley & Phillips Dry Rose, $20, QPR: 1

Quality: 2.5 stars (out of 5)
2007 Justin Chardonnay, $19.75, QPR: NR
2005 Adelaida SLO Pinot Noir, $18, QPR: NR
2005 Adelaida Cabernet Sauvignon, $30, QPR: NR
2006 Linne Calodo Leona’s, $48, QPR: NR
2006 Four Vines “Anarchy”, $40, QPR: NR
2007 Cass Mourvedre, $28, QPR: NR
2006 Cambria Bench Breaks Pinot Noir, $48, QPR: NR
2005 Foxen Sangiovese Volpino, $30, QPR: NR
2005 Andrew Murray Esperance, $22, QPR: NR
2004 Andrew Murray Enchante, $22, QPR: NR
2006 Consilience Grenache Blanc, $24, QPR: NR
2006 Consilience Pinot Noir, $30, QPR: NR
2005 Consilience Grenache, $28, QPR: NR
2006 Daniel Gehrs Riesling, $19, QPR: NR
2005 Blackjack Chardonnay Blackjack Ranch Vineyard Reserve, $35, QPR: NR

Quality: 2 stars (out of 5)
2005 Justin Sauvignon Blanc, $15, QPR: NR
2005 Adelaida Roussanne/Grenache Blanc, $27, QPR: NR
2006 Linne Calodo Outsider, $45, QPR: NR
2005 Cass Grenache, $28, QPR: NR
2006 Foxen Chardonnay, $32, QPR: NR
2006 Andrew Murray Viognier, $25, QPR: NR
2005 Daniel Gehrs Unoaked Chardonnay, $18, QPR: NR
2005 Blackjack Chardonnay Wilkening Vineyard, $38, QPR: NR

Quality: 1.5 stars (out of 5)
2006 Daniel Gehrs Vixen Vivant Dry Syrah Rose, $20, QPR: NR

Filed under: American Wine, Australian Wine, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, California Wine, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Dessert Wine, Five-Bangs For Your Buck Wines, Grenache, Merlot, Mourvedre, Petite Sirah, Pinot Noir, Port, Red Wine, Riesling, Sangiovese, Sauvignon Blanc, Shiraz/Syrah, Tempranillo, Viognier, White Wine, Wine Travel, Wines NOT To Buy (1 & 2 Star), Wines Over $25, Wines Under $15, Wines Under $20, Wines Under $25, Zinfandel

Reader's Comments

  1. Jason Haas | April 18th, 2008 at 3:58 pm

    Hi John,

    I’m sorry you missed us! We do make a Syrah each year (though we’re more Southern Rhone than Northern Rhone in our focus, which is why our blends tend to be heavier in Grenache and Mourvedre). And, even if we’re not showing it on our tasting rotation that day, we’re always happy to bring it out for people who ask about it. One of the challenges of making ~15 different wines each year is that you can’t reasonably (or, in fact, legally) pour them all at any given time. So, we pick 7 or 8 and rotate them around.

    The $10 tasting fee that you mention is refundable on any purchase. We instituted it at the beginning of this year to discourage some of the party limos and buses we’re starting to see even in our remote corner of Paso Robles.

    Thanks for your notes on the Central Coast; I enjoyed reading the recap.

    All the best,

    Jason Haas
    General Manager
    Tablas Creek Vineyard

  2. John | April 20th, 2008 at 5:38 pm

    Hello Jason,
    Thanks for your comments. I’m glad you clarified your policy, even though that was not our experience the day we visited. FYI, staff at other tasting rooms in the area seem to have more discretion regarding tasting fees for the non-party bus crowd.

  3. Deena Coutant | May 26th, 2009 at 4:42 pm

    Thanks for sharing this post with us. We just returned from our vacation to the Central Coast and stopped at the 3 tasting rooms you recommended. Lincourt was very enjoyable, and we were bummed that they didn’t yet have a license to ship to Texas (application pending). We also enjoyed the Syrahs at Blackjack Ranch and Andrew Murray, and had cases from each shipped home, in addition to cases from Epiphany, Qupe, and Kenneth Volk. We spent most of our time in the Solvang / Los Olivos area, so are already thinking about another trip to be able to explore Paso Robles. We had a great time and John’s notes really guided us on places to hit or miss. Thanks for the great info!

  4. John | May 27th, 2009 at 9:45 am

    Deena. You are very welcome. Glad our recommendations worked out for you.

  5. Kori | May 27th, 2009 at 10:01 pm

    So glad to hear that you had a wonderful vacation to the Central Coast and enjoyed Dad’s recommendations. I think you’d enjoy the Paso Robles area as well. I’d also encourage you to consider visiting Washington State on one of your wine vacations. Cheers!

  6. Hotel Santa Barbara | July 31st, 2010 at 4:13 pm

    Sounds like a great vacation/ getaway. I have done something similar plenty of times… I could recommend it to anyone!

  7. Combi Boilers · | November 3rd, 2010 at 6:43 pm

    party buses are the coolest vechicles on town, riding them is so much fun ..