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The World of Wine: Paso Robles

Tablas Creek Vineyard
The gorgeous Tablas Creek Vineyard. Photo: Tablas Creek

Paso Robles is one of my favorite American wine regions. I love the spirit of collaboration that oozes out of every pore of its winemaker community. Here, vintners help each other out, and cohesiveness rather than competition is helping the region become one of the most popular wine areas in the country.


I’ve had the chance to meet several of Paso’s top winemakers and try their wines. Here are three of my favorite Paso Robles Wines.


High Camp Estate Reserve

High Camp wine
High Camp's Flagship wine. Photo: High Camp

I met Millennial winemaker Megan Mouren over a lively dinner in Paso Robles. I was fascinated by her career shift from stylist to big-name acts like the Jonas Brothers, to winemaker in her family’s new venture, High Camp Wines.


“We believe that wine is made in the vineyard. We are fortunate to have an incredible terroir on the estate that produces high-quality fruit,” Mouren explained. “Our goal is to let the characteristics of each varietal shine with very little intervention.”


I recently tried High Camp’s flagship wine, its 2021 Estate Reserve. The wine is a spin on a Bordeaux Blend with Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Verdot, but shakes up the classic mix with the addition of Petit Sirah and Sangiovese. The result is a supremely smooth wine with good structure. It’s a medium-body red that pairs well with food, but can also stand alone.


Volatus TOPGUN Cuvee

Trio of red wine by Volatus
Volatus TOPGUN Cuvee. Photo: Volatus

At the same dinner I met Megan, I also got to know Hal Schmitt and his unique path to owning Volatus Wine. Hal spent 15 years in the Navy and was one of the elite fighter pilots accepted into the iconic Top Gun flight school. He also served as an instructor at the school twice after.


During the late 1990s he was stationed just 90 minutes from Paso Robles and he and his Navy buddies would often go wine tasting.


 “At the time I didn’t know anything about wine and didn’t really like it. In fact, I was usually the designated driver,” Hal quipped.


That all changed when he met a local winemaker, tried his Cab Franc and got hooked.


Today Volatus (the word for flight in Latin) is flying high making a wide variety of wines, many named for flight terms like its flagship TOPGUN Cuvee. This 2021 Bordeaux Blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Verdot and Malbec is more fruit-forward than many French Bordeaux which makes it easier to drink in its youth. The wine is smoother than I would expect at this stage, but with still noticeable structure and tannins.


Tablas Creek Esprit Blanc 2021

bottle of white wine
The greatest white wine from Tablas Creek. Photo by Tablas Creek

When Jason Haas, the general manager and partner of Tablas Creek Vineyards told me that the 2021 Tablas Creek Esprit Blanc was the greatest white wine the vineyard has ever produced, I HAD to try it.


What has impressed me most since meeting Tablas Creek’s viticulturist Jordan Lonborg when I was in Paso, is the winery’s commitment to its people and the land. Tablas Creek was the first vineyard in the world to be Regenerative Organic Certified (ROC) in 2020 and in 2022 earned the gold-level certification.


“We were already farming organically and biodynamically, but once we learned about ROC it just made sense to us,” said Haas. “And we loved that it looked not just at farming, but also things that people might otherwise associate with a B Corp certification: how you interact with your community, how you treat your working animals, and how you compensate your farm workers.”


I love that part of the certification requires that you pay your workers a living wage. Radical, eh?


The Esprit Blanc is everything I look for in a white wine, meaning that it spreads its wings beyond the flood of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc in the U.S. market. This flagship blend is a mix of five Rhone varietals, Roussanne, Grenache Blanc, Picpoul, Bourboulenc and Clairette. Like in all good blends, each part adds a needed component to the overall sum to result in a sophisticated sip. When I taste the wine it’s the citrus notes of the Picpoul and Bourboulenc that stand out the most. The Roussanne gives the wine a weighty backbone that helped it pair great with the chicken dish served with it.

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