Travel, Etc.

Travel, Etc.

Travel, Etc.

Travel, Etc. --> Exploring Paso Robles Part I

Exploring Paso Robles Part I
A Visit to "My Favorite Neighbor"
By, Doug and Linda Pendleton

Linda and I have visited Paso Robles and Central Coast California wine county three times in the past 25 years, and each time, the number of wineries and the atmosphere have changed dramatically. In 1998, we stayed at Pismo Beach and spent the day in Paso, about a 30-mile drive. It was our first introduction to diurnal shift.  A diurnal shift is the difference between the average daytime high temperature and the average nighttime low temperature. Large diurnal shifts allow grapes to maintain higher acidity while getting very ripe. When we left Pismo, it was 62 degrees and reached a high that day of 72. At lunch in downtown Paso, it was 102 degrees and would drop to 60 at night, and the nicest restaurant we found was a BBQ joint, and we were out of place without sweat-stained cowboy hats. There were only about 50 wineries back then.

The next visit was in 2008, and the region had grown to include 170 wineries. There were two really nice boutique hotels, and it had developed a fine dining scene with multiple restaurants to choose from.

Today, there are over 250 wineries, and the city is filled with a variety of fine and casual dining options, boutique hotels, quaint shops, and a plethora of VRBO options, of which we took advantage. Traveling with friends, we rented a comfortable, two-king bedroom and bath, second-story apartment, with a well-equipped kitchen, and a friendly outdoor cat that made Linda happy. It was located a block off the central square, allowing lots of walking before and after dinner.  And in a sign of the times, Paso also features 12 breweries and 14 distilleries, sort of making this a destination for drinking tastes of all kinds.

One of our favorite winery visits was at Booker Vineyards, where “rock star” winemaker Eric Jensen still runs things after being acquired by Constellation Brands in 2021. Eric has maintained control over the original Booker Rhône-style wines as well as the explosive new My Favorite Neighbor Cabernet-based blends  that debuted in 2016 to incredible critical acclaim that has been maintained throughout every vintage since… think consistent 94 to 97-Point scores.

The new winery is breathtaking, and the minimalist open-air hospitality space set at the edge of a vineyard was the perfect spot to spend time with Eric, his agricultural manager, Hilary Graves, as well as Zionsville native Sara Prust, the assistant tasting room manager. This first-class facility, courtesy of the Constellation acquisition, is now producing all the Booker Rhône-style wines as well as My Favorite Neighbor.

Eric makes a big first impression in his signature stained, wide brimmed hat . He believes in opulent wines that should be ready to drink when purchased and that aging wine is a thing of the past. All of his vineyards are organically farmed, most are biodynamic, and he is working to ensure that all of his My Favorite Neighbor growers are organic as well. Beginning with his Booker wines in 2005, he built his name on his highly acclaimed Rhône varietals from his 100 acres.

In 2016, inspired by his neighbor Stephan Asseo of L’Aventure Winery, where they specialize in Bordeaux-style wines, he moved on to Cabernet Sauvignon and the other Bordeaux varietals.  Sourcing from all over San Luis O'bispo County, Hilary is his secret weapon for finding the fruit and ensuring its quality for the Favorite Neighbor wines. In fact she was named Paso Robles Grape Grower of the Year in 2022. And, almost as a winery within a winery, My Favorite Neighbor wines have their own adjoining tasting room.

It’s obvious that My Favorite Neighbor is what attracted Constellation’s big investment, but as long as Eric and Hilary are controlling the quality as production grows, I don’t think we will see a repeat of what happened to Dave Phinney’s Prisoner brand when it was acquired. These are truly exceptional wines.

 

Our first evening in Paso, we visited an old friend with a new name. Since our last visit in 2008, Bistro Laurent has become BL Brasserie…same chef/owner, same restaurant, and we’re pretty sure the same posters on the walls. But best of all, the same great food. The extensive wine list, which featured many great wines of the Rhône Valley, along with Rhône varietals produced in Paso Robles, was impressive. We were able to try an excellent Rhône-style blend from the winery Linne Calodo, named for a type of crushed limestone found in the Paso region. Unfortunately, the wine is not available in Indiana. Fortunately, it did pair beautifully with the French-inspired menu, featuring classic dishes such as bouillabaisse, roast chicken, mussels and frites, and even a croque monsieur. Both the food and wine were excellent and reasonably priced.