San Luis Obispo – Undiscovered Wine Treasures

Signal file photo: View of Avila Beach located in San Luis Obispo Bay. (courtesy photo)

Wine lovers from Southern California are spoiled. Within a half day’s drive, we have; to the south, Temecula (great for bridal parties, I hear); to the north, Lodi, home of hundred year-old Zinfandel vines and some sites that do not charge for tasting (shocking, I know); and to the northwest, Santa Barbara Wine Country (re-live your own Sideways) or Paso Robles, with all those great Rhone wineries to discover (check my recent columns for suggestions).

But often forgotten is the almost midway point between Santa Barbara and Paso Robles, the San Luis Obispo Wine Country. Yes, Paso Robles is in San Luis Obispo County, but it sets itself apart from the rest of SLO. It has its own advocacy and marketing group. Also Paso’s weather (hot and dry, not unlike Santa Clarita) differs markedly from the invigorating climes you find in Avila Beach, Edna Valley, Arroyo Grande Valley, and Pismo Beach.

Terry and I recently spent a delightfully long weekend in Avila Beach, staying at the Avila Village Inn (reminiscent of the Green and Green architecture gracing Pasadena), visiting a few SLO Wineries, thoroughly enjoying the collaborative winemaker dinner “Crafted On The Coast” held at the enchanting Ocean Grill featuring pairings from Chef Bryan Mathers, and attending the Grand Tasting highlighting offerings from about 30 SLO wineries.

SLO Wine County encompasses the Edna Valley AVA and the Arroyo Grande AVA. Besides the coastal weather enjoyed year-round, you will find soils ranging from sandstone to petrified oyster shells, which provide for quick draining watering.

There’s a predominance of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay (to be expected in this coastal cool zone), with the typical offerings of both Bordeaux and Rhone varietals. One thing that surprised me was the number of wineries either experienced in or experimenting with Alsatian/German varietals like Riesling and Gewürztraminer.

I was surprised for two reasons.

1) These are not the varietals that you find at the top of most sales charts, like Cabernet or Chardonnay. So, it takes some guts to focus on grapes that most people cannot even pronounce, to say nothing of combating the perception that these types of wines are generally one-dimensional and sweet. But that’s one of the beauties of boutique wineries. They can decide to venture into something uncharted and see what happens. If they sell even as much as 1,000 cases, they’re thrilled.

2) Some of these guys and gals really know what they’re doing. Two truly memorable wines for us were the Dry Riesling and the Gewürztraminer from Claiborne and Churchill. I will cover them more in depth later, but I advise you to get any bottles of this available. Both were dry, nuanced, well-balanced, and delicious.

We really loved the Avila Village Inn. Besides the hot tubs in our room and the free breakfast, the hotel also provides (gratis) bikes to carry you into the beach community. The Inn is on the Bob Jones Bike Trail, that winds its way along the adjacent Avila Beach Golf Resort right into the Pacific Ocean. For those more adventurous, Pismo Beach is less than ten miles away (see attached photo). And, going from our hotel opposite way from the beach, in about a mile we found Avila Valley Barn, with locally grown produce, fresh baked apple bikes, massive grilled corn on the cob, a candy/ice cream store, and all sorts of other goodies.

One of the other really nice things was that despite this being a busy weekend for the area, there were not massive crowds. You should spend some time here.

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