This Episode's Region

Paso Robles, California

Paso Robles, California

Paso Robles Wine Country is known for its fine wines. Located in San Luis Obispo County, CA at about the midway point between Los Angeles and San Francisco, this viticultural area is expansive with more than 180 wineries and 26,000 vineyard acres.  It stretches from just north of the city of San Luis Obispo, all the way to Monterey County.  The Salinas River runs north-northwest, bisecting the zone.  West of the river, along the Pacific coastline, there is higher elevation, overall cooler climate, and hilly terrain.  East of the river, farther inland, there are much warmer temperatures; the terrain is flatter and the soil richer.  This unique geography produces many different distinct microclimates within the Paso Robles AVA which produces than 40 winegrape varieties, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Viognier, Roussane and the area's heritage varietal Zinfandel.

The first vineyards of Paso Robles were planted around 1797 by Franciscan missionaries, under the direction of Fr. Junipero Serra at the San Michel Arcangel Mission.  The wine produced there was used almost exclusively for sacramental purposes.  In the late 19th century, the Zinfandel grape variety was introduced to the region, planted primarily by European immigrant wine-makers.

Paso Robles has the largest swing between high daytime and low nighttime temperatures of any region in California as a result of the cool marine air that flows east through the Templeton Gap and south along the Salinas River Valley from the Monterey Bay.  In the summer, daytime high temperatures are typically between 85 and 105 degrees Fahrenheit, with nighttime low temperatures that can drop by 40 to 50 degrees.  As a result of cool nights, warm days, and typically late rains, Paso Robles vines tend to have a longer growing season and grapes have more hang time compared to those from other wine regions, resulting in fully mature fruit whose acid chemistry is kept in balance through the area’s overnight cooling.  Paso Robles is noted for its large, powerful wines—often 15% alcohol.  Zinfandels from the area are dark red, sometimes almost black.

For more on Paso Robles Zinfandel, click here.

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Tasting Notes From This Episode

• El Paso de Robles (“The Pass of the Oaks”) was the original name of the town and region now known simply as Paso Robles.  The Paso Robles Wine Festival is an annual local wine-tasting event that takes place in the city park in May. for more details and more information on the region.

• The exact origin of Zinfandel was a mystery until the 21st century when DNA testing revealed the Primitivo of Italy and Zinfandel of the U.S. to be genetically identical.  Both are clones of the Crljenak Kastelanski or “Kastela Red” of Croatia.

• The origin of the name “Zinfandel” is not at all certain.  In the early 19th century, written reference was made to a shipment of grapes from Europe to New York in which the product was called “Zinfardel of Hungary.”  Another less likely possibility is that this name was somehow derived from the Hungarian word tzinifandli or czirfandli, borrowed from the German word Zierfandler.  However, these terms apply to an entirely different, white grape—the Greuner Sylvaner of Austria.

• During the California Gold Rush of the 1850s, the Zinfandel grape was sent by ship from the east coast of the U.S. to California for planting.  What had once been called “Zenfandal” evolved linguistically into “Zinfandel.”  These vines were widely planted and grew beautifully in the soil and mild climate of California.

• In 1857, the first bottles of Zinfandel wine were produced in California’s Napa Valley.  At the end of the 19th century, Zinfandel was the most widely planted grape in the state.  The best premium Zinfandels, such as those prized by winemakers of the Paso Robles region, have robust color and flavor and come from the fruit of very old vines—some planted more than a hundred years ago.