A luxurious and tasty stay in Paso Robles
I’ve been on a red wine kick lately (and if you aren’t, also, I recommend picking up the habit). I’m also always on the lookout for easy weekend getaways—and considering my recent wine fetish, where better to visit than Paso Robles, Calif., where the wine flows like water? Centrally located between the Bay Area and Los Angeles, the sleepy Old Western style town has a booming wine industry that’s giving Napa a run for its money. So, armed with an extraordinarily low wine I.Q. but some eager taste buds, I headed to Paso (as the locals call it) for a wine country staycation.
I opted for luxury accommodations, which means only one place in Paso Robles: Hotel Cheval. Indulgent but not over-the-top, the charmingly rustic 16-room inn is located in the heart of Downtown Paso Robles, just steps away from a variety of impressive restaurants, boutiques and—you guessed it—wine tasting rooms. Befitting to the hotel’s name (cheval means “horse” in French), each room is named after a different horse. They range in price from $225 to $450 per night depending on time of year. The highlights of my room—the “Hightower” room—were the soaring beam ceiling and sumptuous shower. The turndown service was also a memorably cute touch: something I’d usually have them skip, I was pleasantly surprised to return to my room after dinner to find jazz music coming from the stereo and horseshoe shaped chocolates and a football-sized cork on the bed, the latter of which had the words “Hotel Cheval: Sweet Dreams in Wine Country” printed on it. The hotel’s adorable outdoor alcoves and fireside sitting areas were also lovely places to relax.
Hotel Cheval is home to the Pony Club, a hotel bar that is surely envied by other hotels, where both the wine connoisseur and the wine rookie can feel at home. Offering wine, cheese and chocolate throughout the day, the Pony Club turns into a happening downtown spot in the evenings with live music on the outdoor patio and a refined selection of wines, beers and champagne. On the weekends the bar hosts a generous continental breakfast for the guests—laying out a spread of fine coffee, teas, fruit, cereals, bagels and quiches on the horseshoe-shaped zinc bar. Be sure to load up on this free, hearty breakfast before heading out to the wineries … which brings us to the real draw of Paso: the wine.
Wine enthusiasts can thank late 18th century missionaries for planting the first wine grapes in Paso Robles, which is now home to more than 26,000 vineyard acres and 180 wineries (up from 35 wineries 10 years ago). Needless to say, wine is the town’s growth industry. There are more worthy wineries than there is time for visiting in one weekend, and choosing can become a bit overwhelming. Luckily, the friendly front desk staff at Hotel Cheval (or anybody you ask, for that matter) has great suggestions and tips.
Based off a recommendation from my parents (who are both wine lovers and Paso frequenters), we headed a ways out of town to Carmody McKnight Estate Wines—the most noteworthy of the wineries we visited. After a drive through the gushing green countryside, we arrived at our destination: a beautiful, old, white farmhouse amidst a landscape of trees, ponds, farmland and, of course, vineyards. The tasting room was small but airy and staffed by cheerful wine experts. Of the tasty selection of reds, whites and dessert wines we tried, the Cheval Rouge stood out (keeping with my weekend’s horse theme, “Cheval Rouge” means “Red Horse”) and I took a bottle home with me for $46. The Cheval Rouge is 75 percent Cabernet Franc, 25 percent Merlot, and although I’m just beginning my wine education, I know enough to say that it is absolutely delicious.
But the story behind the winery is just as good as its wines. The owners are Gary Carmody, aka Gary Conway, the famous actor and star of the 1960s television series “Land of the Giants”, and his wife Marian McKnight, who was Miss America in 1957. About 30 years ago the couple was flying over the Central Coast, scoping for purchasable land when their helicopter serendipitously crashed. They bought the land where they crashed, which is now the site of the thriving Carmody McKnight winery. Carmody, an amazingly energetic 74-year-old man, is also a distinguished artist (his studio is also on the property) and the painter responsible for the striking, colorful labels on their wine bottles.
Carmody, who strolled through the tasting room during our visit, told our group the tale of his Sicilian ancestors whose secret to a long and healthy life was threefold: tomatoes, olive oil, and wine. Wine is the oldest medicine, he said. With about three pounds of grapes in every bottle, I’m more than happy to find my fill of antioxidants in something as tasty as a bottle of Carmody McKnight’s Cheval Rouge.
Photos by Jamie Foster
If you find yourself in Paso Robles, don’t miss:
Thomas Hill Organics—This 100 percent organic restaurant is popular, so be sure to make a reservation ahead of time.
We Olive—“The Olive Oil Experience” shop just a few blocks from the main square where you can go olive oil tasting any day of the week, a trend that’s gaining attention in the area.
River Oaks Hot Springs—Paso Robles is also home to natural mineral hot springs too alluring to skip out on.
Amsterdam Coffee Shop—This funky coffee shop is the perfect place to caffeinate in between wine tasting excursions. Try the Garden of Eden Ice Tea—a black tea blend and refreshing pick-me-up.