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Friday, July 31, 2015

Visiting Wine Country - A Wine Buyer's Manifesto

Take a shot glass. Put half an ounce of water in it. Pour it in a wine glass. That tiny bit of liquid is what you usually get when you get a taste of wine in a tasting room. 
No problem…wineries aren’t bars and they don’t want their patrons getting drunk and driving around on the rural roads that usually appear in wine country (by the way, you’re not supposed to swallow’re supposed to taste it and spit it out into the bucket provided so the alcohol doesn’t erode your sense of taste).
We love wine here at The World on Wheels. We love that, in our biased opinion, we live in the greatest wine producing area in the world.
Many of our trips involve wine tasting and drinking. Some are even taken just to taste the wine and we usually come home with at least two cases of wine in our trunk.
Winery owners…take note of that last sentence above…at least two cases, a lot of the time, even more.  Now, let me tell you how you’re killing the golden goose…wine buyers like me.
Here are the reasons that I’m really starting to sour on going to wineries for tasting and wine buying…

Exorbitant tasting fees.  Wine tasting used to be free. This perk is fast diminishing.  Then it became a token fee, to dissuade from getting plastered and driving down those narrow country lanes.
Let’s face it, a $5 fee isn’t going to break the bank and, if you let me apply that price to my purchase, not a problem.  The problem comes when I go to a winery, they charge $12 to $20, or more,for 5 small sips (the minimum going rate in many wine destinations these days) and then tell me I can’t apply that amount to my purchase.  First, I’ll probably look you in the eye, say “are you serious?”, and turn around and walk out when I find you are. Second, I won't be back and I won't be buying your wine.
I usually visit 5 or more wineries a day. I’m not going to pay $24 or more (for at least my wife and myself) at each stop for the “privilege” of sampling wine (see the first paragraph for how much of a taste you get) at each one, especially if I can’t use that amount for my purchase.
High Wine Prices.  I realize that some wines are so good, so lovingly had crafted with great care by the winemaker that they justify quite a premium. However, I just paid for the gas to drive my butt up to your vineyard, to (probably) pay for the “experience” of tasting your wine. I just saved you plenty in shipping costs alone. I don’t want to pay $25 a bottle for your wine, then drive down the hill and see it on the shelf of Albertson’s for $6.99.  If they can sell it to me for that price, you sure can too.

Wine Clubs. The latest lame excuse to extract more money from winery customers to get them to buy more.  I don’t know of any winery that doesn’t have a wine club these days.  The come on is “join our wine club and you’ll get free perks” like free tasting, discounts on wine, and other special promotions. The catch is that you’ll have to buy at least a couple of bottles of wine that they select for club members that are not cheap, and pay for shipping if you don’t live nearby, several times a year. On average, with shipping, this will cost you at least $60 for each two bottle shipment.
At many wineries, this is the only way you’ll get a discount and that is usually measley…something on the order of 10% per case. Hell, my local Ralph’s offers me a 30% discount on 6 bottles now, how is this supposed to entice me – especially if you just have a few selections of wine that I’ll get over and over?  And am I expected to join every winery’s club?  All 3,300+ in California?
Give me a meaningful case discount without having to join an expensive club. Give me a club where I don’t have to pay (Sobon Estate, for example, only asks for your e-mail address to join the club and get a 20% case discount).

Or if you absolutely must have a club, why don’t you join forces with other wineries in your area and have a regional wine club? Can you imagine what a wine club featuring selections from all the Sonoma wineries would be like?
(NOTE: There are several independent wine clubs that get wine from all over the world and not charge you an arm and a leg for the privilege – one I’m a member of and highly recommend is The Wine of the Month Club in Monrovia, California.)
Nightclub Atmosphere. Recently, on a wine tasting adventure, we stepped into a winery tasting room. It was like entering a disco. Loud live band, crowded, dancing, complete with bartender wiping down a spot saying “twelve dollars each, what’ll you have?” Turned around and walked out. If you’re going to foster that kind of atmosphere, just stop calling yourself a winery and say you’re a bar or nightclub.

Okay, now that I’ve listed my biggest pet peeves, know that I still find some outstanding examples of wineries that mostly do it right. Props go to the wineries of Amador County – home of some of the best red wines on earth – for scoffing at the idea of charging for tasting, at least for now (though a couple of pretentious newcomers are trying to change that); Galleano for hanging on by a thread, charging a modest fee ($5) that can be applied to their very inexpensive and delicious selections (they’ll even give you a coupon to have a glass of their wine at a local Basque restaurant); and the increasingly hard to find, honest winemakers of California that prefer to let their wine to the talking before you open your wallet.
For the rest of you, please take some of this commentary to heart. I’d like to enjoy trips to the wine country again.
Copyright 2012 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, July 27, 2015



California has 100 American Viticultural Areas (AVA).  An AVA is a distinct wine grape growing region with boundaries set by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF).  Some you’ve heard of…Napa Valley, Paso Robles, Sonoma Valley, Mendocino, Russian River…others may have escaped notice such as North Yuba, Seiad Valley, or Covelo.
Once, the MAJOR wine producing area of the state was 40 miles east of Los Angeles in the Cucamonga Valley, better known today as the Inland Empire.  With commercial vineyards dating back to 1838, it is among the oldest wine grape growing areas in the state.  At over 20,000 acres at the start of Prohibition, it was also the largest.  At that time, it had more vineyard acreage than Sonoma and Napa Counties combined.

Watch the Video!

With the booming expansion of the Los Angeles metro area, development pressures hit this area hard.  Skyrocketing land prices found many vineyards being sold, plowed under, and becoming housing tracts, shopping centers, highways, factories, and warehouses.  Little is left of the wide-open countryside I enjoyed as a youth.
Still, the old, historic vines have not completely disappeared but they still face enormous pressure.  Now, two larger producers and a couple of very small boutique wine makers are all that are left.  Sitting beneath the snow-covered peak of Mt. Baldy, this is California’s most endangered wine producing region.
It’s a Saturday with rain off and on, mostly on.  We start our day at the Original Pancake House in Orange County’s Yorba Linda.  After a filling breakfast of 49’r Flapjacks, we head over one of the last rural roads in the area, Carbon Canyon Road, which connects the area to the Inland Empire community of Chino Hills.  From there, we make our way over to our first stop, Galleano Winery in Mira Loma.

My grandmother lived a few blocks away when I was a kid.  We’d ride our motorcycles and horses for miles over the wide-open countryside here.  Now, it’s covered with houses, factories, and warehouses but at the junction of the 15 and 60 freeways, if you look to the east , there’s several acres of grapes being grown in the sandy soil.  On the street, you’ll be surrounded by warehouses.  If you turn at just the right stop sign (at Wineville and Merrill), you’ll enter a time machine and be on a small country lane with barns, farmhouses, animals, and the winery itself. 

This is exactly the way I remember Mira Loma from when I was a child.  It’s also so out of place these days as to be called “historic.”  The area is known for growing big, bold red grapes.  Zinfandel, Grenache, Mission, and Mourvèdre…all good grapes that stand up to the valley’s intensely hot summers.
At the back of the former truck mechanic’s garage is a small house that now serves as the tasting room.  Five tastes are $5 per person, price will be applied to any purchase.  While white wines are available (Galleano sources these grapes from other areas or contracts with other wineries to produce them), the reds are the star of the show here.  Cucamonga Peak Red, Legendary Pioneers Zinfandel, Old Vine Zin, Port, and Sherry are made very well here.
The valley terroir has a strong taste that infuses the wines made here.  Galleano is very good…and also very reasonable in price.  Wines here start at around $5 a bottle…good wine, too.  Many of the wines are also available in 4L jugs which make the price even lower and are great for parties.  We particularly like the haute sauterne, port, and Chianti in the jugs.

Be sure to grab a flyer from Centro Basco, a local Basque restaurant, which includes a coupon for two free glasses of Galleano wine with your dinner.
If you bring a picnic, this is a great place to grab a bottle.  Borrow a couple of glasses from the tasting staff, go outside to their little park, and have a nice relaxing lunch.  Nearby is a small zoo with farm animals such as geese and donkeys.  Hundreds of guinea pigs roam in their enclosure and a few peacocks preen.
I could spend an entire, relaxing day here but we’ve got another stop to make.

A few miles to the north, in the town of Rancho Cucamonga, is the other large wine maker here.  Joseph Fillippi has a winery and tasting room set up on Baseline Road, just east of Day Creek Boulevard off of the 210 freeway and a few blocks north of Route 66.  While there is a very small vineyard here, you can see the houses built right up to the winery’s walls…an eerie reminder that this place may not have too much of a future left.
More businesslike and industrial than Galleano, Filippi’s tasting room is a large retail establishment.  Tasting is not free here…$5 gets you five poker chips.  You trade a chip for a taste of wine.  With over 20 wines available for tasting, those five chips won’t get you very far.  If there are a few of you, share tastes with each other so you can try a larger variety of wines.
We taste several wines starting with the chardonnay and the Alicante rose and ending up with their cab/franc, zinfandels, and a variety of ports.  It’s all good but not quite as good as the wine we had earlier in Mira Loma.  That, and the fact that we just spent our money on tasting, meant that we bought the day’s wines at Galleano…not Filippi.
When will wineries stop being greedy with the tastes?  I always end up buying more where I can at least deduct my tasting fee from my purchase…this is not the case at Fillipi.
Still, they have decent wine and bottles starting at $3.95, which makes them quite a bargain compared to wineries up north and to the south in Temecula.
There is also a small appetizer bar here.  You can buy a bottle to take outside and share an app.  Not a bad way to spend the day.
I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you about the area’s other major tasting room, San Antonio Winery off of the 60 freeway in Ontario.  It’s also a nice place with complimentary tasting and they too have a small zoo.  A branch of the main winery in Los Angeles, this winery does not grow or produce wines here in the valley…it is strictly a tasting room.
At the end of the day, we drive back over the Chino Hills to Anaheim and have a nice dinner at the Phoenix Club, a private German club which has a restaurant and pub that is open to the public.  Here we finish the adventure, dining on schnitzel, sausages, and pretzels and wondering how much longer that handful of wine makers over the hill can last.

Copyright 2011 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

ADVENTURES CLOSE TO HOME: Living In a Disaster Movie

Southern California may be seen as a blessed-by-nature, sunny paradise but there's a darker side to that coin. We are also cursed with a range of natural disasters.

It's summer. Hot, dry, and ready to burn. With little rain in the last four years, we have millions of acres filled with dry brush, dead trees, and even shrubs that will spontaneously combust.

Walking outside and smell smoke? Well, it could be one of my neighbors having a barbecue but I glance up to the mountains behind our house to make sure I don't see any plumes of smoke.

There are plenty of natural or accidental causes to fires but the worst are the people who go up into the wilderness to either start them on purpose or do things that they should know better not to, like the three brain dead cretins who went up to have a campfire and smoke pot. They ended up starting the Colby Fire last year that burned thousands of acres and more than a few homes.

You don't want to look up and see this yellow plane flying low over your house. It's a super scooper, a plane that flys low to scoop up water from a nearby lake then dump it on a fire. This one was snapped from our driveway during one of last year's fires.

While we've been lucky so far, we did have the van loaded up and ready to go for the evacuation order that was coming until our firefighters finally stopped the advance of the Colby fire.

Fire news on our local stations also come in two flavors.  In dry years..."the vegetation is super dry so we need to be very careful not to set in on fire," or in the wet years..."the rain has made everything grow so fast so we have to be very careful not to set it on fire now that it's dry."

Basically, any way you look at it, we're screwed with fire. 

Speaking of wet years, after a big burn, you can bet the next big rain storm will be washing all of that burned off soil into people's homes.  Mudslides are another big disaster we need to deal with on a regular basis.

In the desert, they have to be on the lookout for flash floods. In fact, just a couple of days ago, a flood took out a bridge on the main L.A. to Phoenix freeway.

While we don't usually deal with hurricanes, we do have wind storms.  Every couple of years, there seems to be a major one taking down trees and cutting power in our neighborhoods. We get more damage from this in our area than anything else. In fact, my mother lost the roof to her garage several years ago to a small tornado.

And last, but certainly not least, earthquakes are our claim to disaster fame.  We tend to shake 'em off...slight pun intended...because, what else are you going to do?  They only last a minute or so and for the most part, people aren't really hurt by them. There are a few in concentrated areas that can make it scary if you dwell on it but it's kind of like flying. You know people crash and die but the odds are extremely long that it will happen to you.

So, living here, you need to know that you can easily get shaken, burned, blown away, or flooded but you'll get over it.

At least we don't have hurricanes.

Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Friday, July 17, 2015

TRIP REPORT: Southern California - Inland Empire Wines

Continuing with our Inland Empire (IE) theme, did you know that it's the home to one of the state's oldest wine producing regions? Granted AVA status in 1995, the Cucamonga Valley is home to acres of zinfandel, mission, grenache, and Carignane...all red wine grapes that do well in the areas very hot summers and sandy soil.  They've been at it here since 1838.
Massive ongoing construction has uprooted many farms and ranches here.

It's also one of the state's most endangered wine countries.  The IE has long played the role of relief valve to the exploding population of the region.  What was mostly empty stretches of vineyards, citrus groves, farms, and ranches 40 years ago is now full of homes, freeways, factories, and warehouses.  Most of the area's grape plantings have been ripped up, paved over, and built upon.

Two major wine producers plus a couple of smaller wineries still make a go of it in the area, however. J. Filippi and Galleano are the majors.  Rancho de Philo and Hofer are the smaller producers.

You can visit Filippi and Galleano wineries almost daily.  Fillipi is in Rancho Cucamonga, Galleano is in Mira Loma near the junction of Interstate 15 and the 60 freeways.

The Galleano farm is a step back in time.  Exiting off of the Etiwanda exit of the 60 freeway, you might think you've taken a wrong turn.  You're immediately in the heart of factories and warehouses...not a grape in sight.  Follow the signs and you'll soon find this slice of old California tucked in between.

The old farm buildings house the tasting room, the winery itself, and the residences of the Galleano family and their workers.  A nice lawn is on your left.  Beyond that, many farm animals in a small zoo.  It's peaceful, pretty, and looks just like the whole area did when I used to visit my grandmother here back in the 1970's.

Past the old motor bays and the antique gas pumps, a banging, wooden screen door guards the entrance to the small tasting room.  The staff will be happy to pour you several complimentary tastes.  If Don Galleano is there, odds are that he'll try to sell you a membership in their wine club.  He's a great talker...odds are that you'll join and receive two of their wines every few months.

Get a little cheese, buy a bottle (hint, the same good wines come in large jug sizes with different names at a huge discount), and have a little picnic on the lawn.  Especially good are the local zinfandels...a highly endangered and rare grape...and their fortified ports and sherries.

I don't know how to describe it, but the terroir here imparts a strong, unique taste to the wines.  If you taste 
a Cucamonga Valley wine and taste it again years later, you'll recognize it.

Another hint for Galleano.  A great, local Basque restaurant...Centro Basco in nearby Chino...proudly pours Galleano as their house wine.  Pick up a coupon here at the winery and have a free glass with dinner at this historic and great restaurant.  If you want more, the Galleano Claret is only $8 a bottle at the restaurant.

Copyright 2010 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015


Our traffic is legendary here in Los Angeles and the surrounding metro area. I've seen worse around the world but it is pretty stifling here. Depending on who's calculating, there are 17 to 18 million people here.

That's 44% of the entire state of California's population.

It sometimes seems like every one of those 17 million souls are on your freeway sometimes.  As residents, we create strategies to minimize our time on those roads.

For example, we won't travel west of Interstate 110 more than a couple of times a year. I haven't seen the beach in Santa Monica in over a decade.  Malibu? Might as well be in another state.  It takes less time for me to drive to Bakersfield than Marina del Rey most of the time.

The biggest curse is to have to navigate that traffic every day. The biggest blessing is to be 'going against' traffic on your commute.  Even driving to our church on a Saturday evening is a car-filled slog across the San Gabriel Valley.

One big disadvantage we have in the valley is it is bisected from north to south by a river. That the 'river' is nothing but dry dirt 90% of the time is of no consequence.  There are still only nine bridges in the 12 miles from the bottom of the valley to the mountains. Three of those are freeway.  Block one, and the rest are hopelessly gridlocked.

I've heard of people begging off of family wedding invitations because the 15 miles they'd have to drive would take a maddening 90 minutes or more.

Our beach drive is usually to Seal Beach because it's not only among the closest beaches to our house but there's also a carpool lane on the 605, giving us a slight advantage in travel time.  

I commute to my job in downtown Los Angeles by driving not into L.A., but over to El Monte to catch an express bus that goes in it's own reserved lane on the middle of the freeway. Soon, when the next light rail expansion is finished, I can dispense with that and take a trolley from a station five blocks from my house.

When we're not cooking dinner and my wife wants me to go and get takeout, our dinner choice is limited to what is in the local area that I don't have to sit in traffic to get to. 

Even our narrow, two lane street get's clogged at rush hour because it has a dubious distinction of running east to west from one end of our city to the other.

Of course, the real culprits are drivers who value a few seconds shaved over the safety of others on the road, get into accidents, and clog everything up. Even the president can get traffic snarled here, woe to those who get stuck in Obamajams.

True, we do get to live in a good climate but I admit, I get tired of the headaches we have to deal with to live here at times and this is one of the biggest.

Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, July 13, 2015

Paso Robles, California - Part 3

After a couple of days spent exploring the trails, the vineyard, wines, and entertainment of Paso Robles, our final day has us hitting the road.

Watch the Video!

The Pacific Ocean is only 25 miles west via highway 46. Many interesting sights await at the coast. Upon hitting highway 1…a major destination in itself…a left turn takes you south to the classic beach towns of Cayucos and Morro Bay, and the tiny town of Harmony.  Turn right to the quaint village of Cambria and Hearst Castle perched high upon a local mountain.

We go beyond both of these northern landmarks to the beach at Piedras Blancas.

Four miles beyond Mr. Hearst’s estate, this stretch of rocky sand is home to a colony of formerly endangered elephant seals.  Now protected against molestation, the seals have made a nice comeback and live in a few colonies along the coast.

Large, fat, and lazy, the elephant seals seem to be content to lie on their bellies, flipping sand occasionally on their backs as a sort of natural sunscreen.  Now and again, a couple will flare up…barking at each other, butting heads, maybe even biting…but as soon as it starts, the animals seem to lose the strength to continue and flop back down on the sand, content to rest until another flash of energy enters into their blubber lined bodies.

The human spectators gather in the parking lot and along the top of the sand. A fence keeps the two species separated, allowing plenty of opportunities to spectate.

In the water, a few seals joust with each other bashing heads, barking loudly, and occasionally biting each other while the waves crash against them.

The animals are much bigger than the harbor seals of Morro Bay or the sea lions crowding around the local wharves, very similar looking to the manatees of the east coast.

Fat squirrels and aggressive sea birds fight for scraps of food from the visitors.  A seagull takes a nip at a squirrel and flies off with an inch of the rodent’s tail while the squirrel takes cover under a car.

As we return, we make a short stop in Cambria to shop and have a snack.

Back in Paso Robles, we take a little time to relax at the hotel and go for a swim.  Across the street from our base of operations, the Best Western Black Oak Inn, is the local fairgrounds.

Many of our fellow hotel guests are driving big pickup trucks, wearing Wranglers and cowboy boots, and walk with a swagger.  They’re competitor in a regional team roping competition going on across the street.

Letty and I, curious about this, walk over to the main gate of the fair and walk in.  There is nobody around, no signs, no ticket booths…not a soul in sight. We walk tentatively to the north end of the fairgrounds, waiting for the inevitable security guard demanding to know what we’re doing here, but nothing.  Nobody. Not a single luxury.

Eventually we hear a buzzer, follow the sound to a large shed, and find some activity.  We wander inside and find the team roping competition going full force.

It’s like going to one event in a rodeo. Team roping consists of a team of two riders on horseback. A calf is released who tries to run away. One rider attempts to lasso the horns while their partner tries to throw a loop around the hind legs. A special cap is worn by the calf to prevent injury and the animal is released as soon as it is caught.

Teams compete for the best time with penalties assessed for sloppy roping. If either team member misses, no time is given.

It’s fun and exciting for a little while.  After watching the same activity time and time again for 45 minutes, it gets a little old so we take our leave, heading back to the gate where we entered.

Again, it’s back into the deserted grounds. We get to the gate…and it’s locked. We walk to the administration building. It’s locked and so is the gate next to it. Again and again, we walk along the perimeter fence. Every gate is locked. We can find no one.

At the end of the fairgrounds, there is one last gate. It is also locked but has a gap.  Letty can fit through but not the bigger dimensions of my body.

Uh oh…

(You can see our fairground adventure in the video above)

We walk waaay back to the other end of the fairgrounds where the roping is going on. The lady who seems to be in charge doesn’t know where we should go except to try to go out where the trucks go in.

It’s quite a walk, but we find the access road and eventually find our way out and then walk about another mile to get back to our hotel.

With our escape , we call it a day and in the morning high tail it back home…Tim’s camp called.  He’s sick and they need us to come pick him up right away.

Paso Robles now just a quickly fading memory in our rear view mirror as we speed to the San Bernardino Mountains, we say goodbye and face up to getting our son better.

The epilogue? Tim is sick but not real bad. We have a couple of frazzled days of caregiving getting him back up to health but he’s fine and we can all look back at it with a smile now.

Copyright 2011
Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Friday, July 10, 2015

Paso Robles, California - Part 2

Previously, we went hiking along the Salinas River in Part 1. Today, we'll find out just what makes Paso so famous...

Paso Robles is known for wine, so today we’ll concentrate our efforts towards that. First, it’s time for breakfast.

Watch the Video!

Yesterday we had great pancakes at Springside CafĂ©, today, it’s chilaquiles, chorizo, and eggs at Joe’s Place. Formerly a Mexican restaurant called Lolo’s, now it’s a greasy spoon diner with a surly chef and a wisecracking waitress…at least that’s what the description on the menu says.  We never got to meet the cook and had a friendly server.

The food was great, now it’s time to work it off.  Letty goes for an early morning run through downtown while I go for a walk.

It’s nice to see a town in the morning by foot. You see so much more than you do just driving by. These two pit bulls kept a close eye on me as I walked by the store they were guarding.

I also walked around the fairgrounds and the Pioneer Museum.

Time to taste some wine.  We picked up some coupons from the front desk of our hotel, the Best Western Black Oak, and hit the road.

First, we went to the west side of town to a castle on the side of the road. This is Eagle Crest Winery in a custom built castle on top of a hill. (Ed - this winery has since closed)

It even has a moat.

I had seen a banner back at the fairgrounds for this winery where the fine print said they were selling mixed cases for $100.  If the wine’s good, that’s a bargain.  Other wineries in town had some cases on sale for $75 or $80 but just on certain varieties.

In the tasting room, I asked the server what the conditions were for the price.  Just pick any wine from the list, make up a case (12 bottles) any way you like…mix or match…and it’s $100.  Even for the $30 wines.

We tasted, we liked very much, we bought a case.  Nice winery, great wines, and good staff.

Just down the road, we visit Castoro Cellars.  Here we also taste some nice wines, but a bit overpriced.  Many of the same wines are on sale at the local Albertson’s for $7.

They do have some nice chocolate truffles, so we get a bottle of late harvest zinfandel port to have a little dessert picnic overlooking the vineyard.

Heading over to the east side of town, we go along the Union Road wine trail to Maloy O’Neill winery.  Here we taste some average red wines going for $26 and up.  Nice place, but just too expensive.

Our last stop was the Tobin James Winery at the eastern end of Union Road.  Decent wines, just a bit expensive but with a little impatient attitude at the tasting counter.

Summing up our quick tour, we liked Eagle Crest best, Castoro, and the east side wineries a little less.

If you'd like to see more of our wine tasting adventure, watch the video from this week's Cocktail Hour, below.

Watch the Paso Robles Wine Tasting video!

After a swim and nap break back at the hotel, we head over the city park in downtown.

It’s Friday, so we’re in time for the first concert in the park for the summer season. Tonight, local band Rhythm Method is playing in the gazebo while ribs, wine, and beer are sold off to the side.  Many other attendees bring their own picnics and drinks.

I go across the street to the Goodwill, buy a cheap picnic blanket, get some wine, beer, and food, and we settle in for the show.  Very nice and relaxing way to end the day.

Stay tuned for part three.

Copyright 2011 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, July 6, 2015

Paso Robles, California - Part 1

If there is one California bias I would admit to, it’s that my home state makes the best wine in the world. Yes, the French make a great product…so do the Italians, Australians, South Americans, and even a few other states…but the grapes of this state just taste so much better to me. If you doubt this, try a glass of J. Phelps Insignia - especially if you can get someone else to pay for it - and let me know.

The wine terrain of California ranges from cool to blisteringly hot, extremely well developed to almost non-existent, from a Disney-like atmosphere to a shack in some guy’s backyard but the vintners here almost all have a lot of passion for their work and put it all on the line and in the bottle.

Watch the Video!

Grazing around the wine chatter online and in print, a lot of talk about the next big “thing” in California wine is the Paso Robles area, sitting south of the Monterey wine country and just north of the San Luis Obispo area.  Mornings here are cool, with clouds and fog wandering over from the nearby Cayucos coast, turning hot and sunny in the afternoon.

The two main growing areas here are pretty neatly cleaved by the 101 freeway between the cooler west side vineyards and the sun drenched east side wineries.

With Tim away for another session at camp, Letty and I decide to head up here for a few days of wining, dining, hiking, and beaching.

The afternoon is aging fast as we cross the hills from McFarland, through the James Dean Memorial Junction, and then right to our hotel. This time, we’re staying at the Best Western Black Oak, just on the other side of the 101.

The hotel has a few accessible rooms with king or queen sized beds and your choice of roll-in or bathtub bathrooms. We’re here without Tim and the wheelchair, so we opt for a deluxe king size room on the second floor.  This room is different from the standard king room mainly because there is a recliner in the room.

It’s a nice room with a comfortable bed and includes such amenities as a refrigerator, coffee maker, microwave, hair dryer, flat-screen TV, wireless or hard-wired Internet, and a nice selection of toiletries. 

Outside is a nice pool area with a lot of plants and shady areas, a kids playground, a picnic area with barbecues, and a diner attached to the hotel. Guests can get a $5 coupon for Margie’s Diner at the front desk.

Since we’re celebrating my birthday also, the management thoughtfully left a bottle of champagne and a couple of glasses in the fridge.

In the morning, a drive over to Spring Street takes us to Springside Restaurant. In this converted old house, we sight by a bright window overlooking their flower garden. Breakfast is omelets and pancakes…Letty had spinach and cheese while I had linguisa and cheese. The pancakes were a perfect mix of slightly crunchy outer layer with a fluffy interior, covered with melted butter. It was delectable.

Tummies full, loaded with protein and carbs, we head over to Larry Moore Park. From here, trails wind over to the Salinas River in the shadow of the freeway. Today, the river is more of a creek with most of its water flowing underground. We hike across two dry channels before reaching the water where dozens of small frogs hop around.

We spend a few minutes playing catch and release with the amphibians before moving on. Back on the bank of the channel, we turn to bird watching and catch sight of a thrasher and a flycatcher. A few more trails lead into shady groves of trees with loads of wild anise growing underneath.

A few hundred calories and a couple of miles later, we’re back in the car heading off to the hotel.

Be sure to stay around for part two of our time in Paso Robles coming very soon.

Copyright 2011 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved