Saturday, June 28, 2014

Paso Robles

Monday morning we picked up the big Ford Expedition we had rented, so all 6 of us could ride together on our adventure to Paso Robles.  Bob and Linda have become quite knowledgeable about wines since they came to California years ago when Bob joined the faculty of Cal State Fullerton.  They belong to several wine clubs of vineyards in different areas, and had been looking forward to introducing us to Paso Robles and its environs.  Neither Bill, Mary, Trisha nor I had ever been here and none of us were familiar with the wines of this region, so we were in for quite a treat.  It's a beautiful drive to Paso Robles--after you clear the LA traffic, of course, and we stopped along the way for lunch and then later in the afternoon in a little town called Los Olivos.  Los Olivos is a quaint little town, with lots of interesting old houses and buildings, many of which are either galleries or wine tasting rooms.  All throughout the various wine-growing regions of California there are just tons of wineries, many of them small, that make excellent wines, but that are just not known in many other parts of the country.  While most wineries have tasting rooms in the vineyards themselves, apparently in Los Olivos, the town has established a tradition where many wineries set up tasting rooms all in the same downtown area.  Since Bob and Linda live here in southern California, they've been here a number of times, and they told us that this is an effort to promote the area wines, to allow consumers to sample many different labels without having to drive to all of the individual wineries throughout the countryside.  Anyway it was a very pleasant little stop for an hour or so, including one visit to an olive oil tasting room, where Bill found some olive oils he really liked and ordered.

Then back on the road to Paso Robles, where we arrived in time to get settled in and rest a bit before going to dinner at Buona Tavola, a very nice Italian restaurant.  Paso Robles has many wonderful restaurants, so we are having a delightful time selecting among the many different cuisines for our time here.  Dinner was a leisurely affair, and though it was getting late by the time we got back to the hotel, we ended the evening with a lively game of Farkle!  This is a fun little dice game we first learned when grandson, John, got it for Christmas a few years ago, and we've enjoyed it ever since.  Amazingly simple, and a lot of fun.  When Jeremy was teaching in Ethiopia we took it with us on our visit and the locals were always fascinated to gather around our table to watch us play wherever we went.  The proprietors of the hotel where we're staying--The Oaks--kindly opened the restaurant room so we could have a table big enough to accommodate all six of us while we played--very nice indeed!

Tuesday morning Trisha and I took a good long walk into town before breakfast--good to get out when it was cool, as the temps climbed into the 90's before the day was over.  Most of the wineries open at either 10:00 or11:00, so we headed first to Halter Ranch Winery, one of Bob and Linda's favorites.  We got there right when it was opening at 11:00, so the tasting room was not at all crowded, which was good.  There were a couple of staff behind the tasting counters and we were delighted to have Nick as our host, as he turned out to be not only extremely knowledgeable and helpful as he described their winemaking process and the different wines, but displayed a wonderful sense of humor as well.  The six of us have been friends for so long and have so much fun together, but we're a pretty outgoing and engaging group, and can be a tough crowd at times to others, I'm sure.  But Nick loved it and fell right into a rhythm and banter with everyone.  Anyway, Trisha loved the wines, and we ended up joining their wine club, which will give us the chance to get some shipments at a discount later in the year.

Then it was off to Tablas Creek Winery, which has a beautiful tasting room, with huge glass windows all around, allowing you to see the giant casks used in the winemaking process.  The tasting host at this winery was another knowledgeable person, a woman who was very nice and helpful.  Very interesting to observe the differences in the ways different wineries conduct their tastings--generally similar, but with some variation in the way they do it.  They generally have a wine tasting sheet, with information about each of the wines they're offering, sometimes completely different varietals, sometimes the same ones, but with different vintages, to show how the difference in a given year's climate conditions show up in the final product.  Typically they will offer about 6 different wines to taste, pouring a fairly generous tasting amount into each glass.  Takes a bit of getting used to in order to know when to drink all of the individual sample or when to take only a small sip and pour the rest into the bucket.  Since I don't drink, I was the designated driver, which is a must for a tasting tour if you're going by car!  They generally offer some crackers along with the samples, mainly to cleanse the palet in between different wines, but everyone agreed it would be a good idea to bring along a good loaf of bread to have along with the wines--suffice it to say that everyone was in a really good mood after the second winery!

The countryside in this area is just beautiful, with vineyards everywhere, spreading up the hills, sometimes in different little sections, reflecting the differences in micro climates that produce different types of grapes for different wines.  It was an enjoyable drive, beautiful sunshine-filled day, though it did get hot--temps in the 90's by midday.  We stopped at AronHill Vineyard for lunch, a small winery up on a hillside, just a gorgeous setting.  They had a small outside cafe area, where we enjoyed some delicious portobello mushroom sandwiches and roasted beet salads, basking in the sunshine and the beauty of the surrounding hills.  While we were there, a van load of folks arrived for tastings--on something called the Wine Line--a great idea:  a van that circulates among various wineries so you don't have to drive--much safer for everyone on the roads!

After lunch we visited the Opolo Winery, another of Bob and Linda's favorites, then the Pasolivo olive oil farm, where we tasted a number of different olive oils.  This was really fascinating, to experience so many different varieties of olive oils, along with different vinegars.  They give you a little bag of bread chunks, and you put little spoonfuls of different spices on a small paper plate, then make your way down this counter while the host describes the different blends and flavors of each variety, offering you a small cup of each so you can dip the bread, and then dip into the spices on your plate.  Learned a lot about how they grow the olive trees and then blend them to come up with the different flavors.  Tuesday evening we had dinner at Estrella, a Spanish restaurant in downtown Paso Robles.  Had a very spicy black bean/cactus paddle soup--quite good.

Wednesday we took a break from wine tasting and explored the shops in downtown Paso Robles that morning.  Bob has had to get up every morning to spend a couple of hours working on this big grant proposal for the project he's spearheading for the Provost at the university, so he took his computer to this beautiful park in downtown where he could sit and work while we walked around.  Fortunately he was able to get it mostly done by the end of the morning.  So we headed off toward the coast, stopping in Cambria for lunch.  It was really interesting for us, as we had driven much of this same route last year on our RV trip, stopping in Cambria, and spending a night at San Simeon State Park, near Hearst Castle.  We drove by this park on our route and being in the same area brought back lots of good memories!

After lunch we drove on to the coast, to this one place where there is a rookery for elephant seals.  These are huge animals, some weighing several tons, and there were so many of them lying on the beach, as this is the time for molting, shedding their outer layer of fur.  This takes about three weeks, and they look pretty scruffy during the process.  It's amusing to see these enormous animals lying there, using their flippers to scoop up sand and throw it across their back, some of them lying on their backs, scratching their stomachs with their claws on the end of the flippers--guess it itches when this molting is going on.  Some of the males were still squaring off against each other to establish dominance, though the mating season had occurred several months earlier.

Left the seal rookery and drove to Cambria Point, where we hiked along a trail right on the cliff top above the ocean.  As the afternoon wore on, the fog started rolling in and it was quite windy, making for much cooler temps, but we enjoyed the hike.  Met a very nice couple who were excited to see Santa and Mrs. Claus, and were delighted to get signed Santa pictures for their grandchildren.  We drove back to Paso Robles in time for dinner at a marvelous restaurant--Thomas Hill Organics--which turned out to be probably our favorite of the trip.  While they had many many choices for the herbivores among us, they also had some unique vegan appetizers and salads.  Since there really weren't any vegan entree choices, I asked the waitress to see what the chef might come up with for a vegan, and it was just super.  He used faro, some grilled peppers, asparagus, fingerling potatoes and a verde sauce, garnished with some edible flowers--just a wonderful dish, and the chef obviously wanted to be creative.  We really enjoyed it.  And there was an extended family at the table next to us with a couple of young children who were fascinated to see Santa--the mother told Trisha that her daughter was at the age where she was on the fence about believing, so we helped keep the belief alive for her.  Apparently the grandparents were from Holland, so I talked about Sinter Klaus and some of the Dutch traditions with the little girl and her brother.  They took lots of pictures and we all had fun.

Thursday we drove back to Anaheim, stopping at the River Bench Winery for the last tasting of our trip, where Trisha found a very nice Riesling she enjoyed.  We stopped for lunch in this very interesting Danish-themed town of Solvang for lunch.  Reminded us of Helen, Georgia, but on a much larger scale.  Then we had the classic LA traffic experience of arriving just in time for rush hour to take us through downtown LA.  Bob and Linda have been here for nearly 40 years, so even though they know the best ways to navigate through traffic,  for us outsiders it seems like it's pretty much rush hour 24/7!  Anyway, we got back to the kennel in Anaheim just in time to pick up Sophie from boarding and she was as excited to see us as we were to see her!  This boarding facility is in a pet hospital, and is very nice--in quintessential California style, they offer lots of extra amenities, including "turn down service each night with a bark-b-que biscuit treat!"  They even gave us a report card for Sophie when we picked her up--what a hoot!  But she got a good report, so we were happy!

This morning we'll take Bill and Mary to the airport and pick up Todd and John, who are flying down from Seattle for a week of Disneyland and other sightseeing--excited to see them!

Lunch on the way to Paso Robles
Beautiful bougainvillea when we stopped for lunch
Stopped in Los Olivos, this quaint little town with lots of interesting buildings, beautiful flowers and wine tasting rooms

Display of different olive oils

Vineyards along the way
Dinner at Buona Tavola on Monday night

Sorry for the out of order pictures, but some more from Los Olivos

The Gang of Six

Bill, enjoying an olive oil tasting

At Halter Ranch Vineyard, Tuesday morning

Some of their award-winning wines
The five of them, enjoying some wonderful Halter Ranch wines
Since her last name starts with "H" Mary just had to have this Halter Ranch hat!
Lovely old tree on the banks of a creek running through the Halter Ranch property, near their B & B operation
In place of a downspout, they had these interesting looking cups to catch the water coming out from a gutter
Lovely Lavender on the Halter Ranch grounds
Second tasting, at Tablas Creek Winery

Lovely tree covered drive through the wine country
View of the vineyards from the patio cafe at AronHill Winery

The tasting room at AronHill
The owners of Opolo Winery, the third winery we visited on Tuesday
Tasting at Opolo

The Pasolivo Olive Oil Farm tasting room

 Olive orchard
Dinner at Estrella, Tuesday evening

 Flowers in Cambria

 Driving along the coast, near Cambria Point

 Cute name for a yarn store!
 Linda got Trisha this mug that shows a trailer and "Happy Camper!"
 More pics of Cambria Point

 The seal rookery

 Some of the buildings on the Hearst Ranch Conservancy property, near the castle

 Long shot of Hearst Castle, from down near the schoolhouse in the picture above with the horse
 Again, sorry for the out of order, but more pics of hiking along the shore at Cambria Point

 Sea otters at play

 At River Bench Winery on Thursday
 Old church on the River Bench property
Danish-themed town of Solvang

 Couldn't pass up the chance to take this picture of a big Santa statue on the way home
 Flowers in downtown Paso Robles

 Dinner Wednesday evening at Thomas Hill Organics, one of the best restaurants we visited

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