Paso Robles: Crash Courses at Steinbeck Vineyards

By Kori ~ May 26th, 2010.

Looking for a unique wine country experience that takes you beyond the tasting room? The Crash Courses at Steinbeck Vineyards in Paso Robles, California, could be the answer for you. Members of the Steinbeck family, who have been farming in the Paso Robles area for six generations, teach the courses. Participants have the rare opportunity to experience the vineyards firsthand.

The Steinbeck family has been farming in the heart of California’s Central Coast since 1884. Howie and Bev Steinbeck, fourth generation Paso Robles natives, founded Steinbeck Vineyards in 1982. The family grows thirteen different grape varieties on 500 acres. Their daughter, Cindy Steinbeck Newkirk, and her husband Tim moved back home in 1997 to join the family business. Tim gave up a career as an air traffic controller, and Cindy had been a youth minister. After working with Cindy’s parents to grow the vineyard business, Cindy and Tim decided it was time to do something that could be “theirs” and would honor the heritage of the family’s vineyard. They founded Steinbeck Winery in 2006. Only 1 percent of their fruit annually goes into their wine program while they continue to sell 99 percent. Cindy and Tim’s son, Ryan Newkirk, and his wife Caitlin have also returned to the vineyard to pursue Ryan’s dream of working side-by-side with his grandfather. The Steinbeck’s are in the process of transitioning the vineyard management from Howie to Ryan.

Cindy has a background in education with a Masters in History and Theology. She loves people and teaching and developing the Crash Courses was her idea. About six years ago, she crafted a business model that would bring people onto the ranch and give them an experience in the vineyard. Formerly known as The Wine Yard at Steinbeck Vineyards, the Crash Courses feature six different modules on a variety of topics, with each session lasting one to one and a half hours. Participants board a vintage jeep that takes them through the vineyards and to the Steinbeck schoolhouse for their class. Each module concludes with a complimentary wine tasting at the Steinbeck Winery tasting room.

Crash Course module topics:

  1. Sustainable Wine Growing—vineyard practices, planting a vineyard, and conservation efforts
  2. Home Tours and the History of the Paso Robles Region—tour historic ranch homes, learn the history of agriculture and wine growing in Paso Robles
  3. Economics of Vineyards and Wine—economics of planting vineyards and growing grapes, selling wine, building toward the future
  4. Taste of Steinbeck—offered in September and October, taste ripe fruit in the vineyard, learn ripeness factors and the logistics of picking
  5. Farm Equipment and Modern Mechanization—equipment used in farming wine grapes, mechanization versus hand work
  6. My Father’s Vineyard: The Wisdom of the Vine—Scriptural perspective on life in the vineyard

On my trip to Paso Robles in March, I had the pleasure to visit Steinbeck Vineyards and Winery and meet Cindy Newkirk. We got to take a ride through the vineyards in one of the vintage jeeps that is used for the Crash Courses, a 1975 Jeep 715 from Camp Pendleton. If our brief peek into the Crash Courses was any indication, I think that wine enthusiasts of all levels would enjoy them. I am not aware of another wine education opportunity like this but would like to see more wineries around the country offering similar agri-tourism experiences.

Filed under: American Wine, California Wine, Vineyards, Wine Travel

Reader's Comments

  1. Stevie | May 26th, 2010 at 1:02 pm

    The Crash Course sounds really fun! Paso Robles is an exciting wine region in California which I fear is too often overlooked by Napa, Sonoma and even Santa Barbara enthusisats. Great to learn more about it.

  2. Kori | May 28th, 2010 at 8:56 pm

    You are absolutely right. Paso Robles is often overshadowed by other CA wine regions, which is a real shame. Hopefully, these posts will help introduce others to it. Cheers!

  3. Donna Hull | June 2nd, 2010 at 9:39 am

    My husband and I took one of the Steinbeck crash courses while visiting Paso Robles. We found it interesting to learn about the wine-making process from the grower’s perspective. We loved the Paso Robles area and will be visiting again.

  4. Kori | June 2nd, 2010 at 3:32 pm

    Thanks for sharing your experience. Always glad to hear from someone who has “been there and done that”. I look forward to visiting Paso Robles again too. Cheers!