Vines on the Marycrest Wine Tasting Paso Robles, CA

The hot summer days and cool coastally influenced nights may have been great for growing almonds in years past, but Victor and Jenni of Vines on the Marycrest believe they’re even better for growing grapes. Specifically the Zinfandel, Tempranillo, and Rhône varieties such as Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, and Viognier they grow on their 26 acres of steep hills on the Westside of Paso Robles. The almond trees on the property when they purchased it have been replaced with dry-farmed vines that send their roots deep into the rocky, limestone soil in search of water. The sustainable farming practices and natural approach taken to winemaking result in wines that are a true expression of the land they come from.

Producing their 6 handcrafted blends and 6 varietals each year is not the only passion at Vines on the Marycrest. A love of great music and art also influences the wine and the winery. Open air concerts are held several times a year featuring remarkable musical artists from around the country. Wine club members receive a specially commissioned CD with each shipment. Music is always playing in the tasting room and the winery. And all their handcrafted blends are named after songs.

If you are looking to enjoy great wine in a hip, modern setting, Vines on the Marycrest is a great place to visit!

Driving through the vineyards

The Paso Robles Wine Country is a large and diverse region. The designated AVA (American Viticultural Area) covers 614,000 acres with close to 40,000 of those in vineyards. It produces a large number of varietals. While the first vines planted in the area in the late 1700’s were Zinfandel, the most common now are Cabernet Sauvignon. In fact, red varietals currently make up over 80% of the area’s vines.

The explosive growth of vineyards and wineries in the area led to the establishment of 11 distinct AVAs in 2014. These were identified and defined by their differences in annual rainfall, elevation range, soil type and temperature range.

With over 200 wineries in the larger Paso Robles AVA, knowing which sub-AVA a winery is located in can give an indication of what varietals they grow. But wineries often buy grapes from growers in other AVAs or even plant their own vines elsewhere.

Categorizing the sub AVAs into more general listing can be helpful in determining which varietals are more likely to be grown there.

The western hills of the Santa Lucia Mountains include the Adelaida, Paso Robles Willow Creek, Templeton Gap, and Santa Margarita Ranch Districts. With up to 2400 feet of elevation, annual rainfall of up to 30 inches and calcareous and alluvial soils, this area is great for Rhone varietals.

The inland valleys east of Highway 101 include the San Miguel, Paso Robles Estrella, Paso Robles Geneseo, and El Pomar Districts. The alluvial, clay and loamy soils, lower elevations (700-1600 feet) and lower rainfall make for great Italian and Spanish varietals, as well as Cabernet Sauvignons and blends.

The far eastern inland hills contain the San Juan Creek, Creston and Paso Robles Highlands Districts. At about 1600 feet of elevation these areas have the least amount of rainfall and the biggest diurnal temperature shifts (50+ degrees).  These areas are becoming known for Portuguese and Spanish varietals.

While knowing the general characteristics of each area can be helpful, visiting the wineries themselves and tasting their offerings is still the best way to find your favorite new wine.

Wine Tasting 101

Perhaps the thought of wine tasting conjures up mental pictures of stoic wine snobs swirling, squinting at, sniffing, slurping, and spitting that make the process look tedious and tiring. Why would you spend a beautiful Paso Robles day doing something so mundane? There are reasons the pros do what they do but the rest of us just want to have fun. So here are a few things to remember on your next (or first) wine tasting foray.

If you feel awkward trying to look suave swirling and sniffing the wine, consider that your sense of taste actually begins in your nose. The “nose” or “bouquet” of a wine is as important as the taste. Swirling lets the wine breathe and sniffing it allows you to experience the full complexity of the wine as you taste.

Sip and spit? Ick! While there is a point to it (especially when you’re tasting glass after glass), to get a full understanding of the wine you need to know how it goes down and to experience the aftertaste or finish. And in the spirit of not wasting good wine, in Paso Robles you ALWAYS sip.

Should you taste wine with food or naked (sans food not clothes)? That’s entirely up to you. A truly good wine is enjoyable all on its own, but pairing it with food can bring out the best in it. And a knowledgeable server will know which food goes best with which wine.

Most importantly, remember wine is still an individual preference. And when you do find a wine you love buy a bottle, or buy two and put one away for a special occasion. If you find a winery that you love join their wine club; you’ll get new wines to try and save on members’ only deals.

So the next time someone mentions wine tasting, don’t start yawning and making excuses to not go. Get out and taste a few new wines now and then – it can be a heck of a lot of fun.