Cabernet Franc – Much More than a Blending Grape

Central Coast Cabernet Franc: not just a blending grape.

Cabernet Franc, known and used primarily as a blending grape (it’s one of the main varietals in Bordeaux blends), also makes a great single varietal wine.

Why? It’s generally a lighter wine with more acidity, making it food-friendly. It has many of the appealing characteristics of bigger reds (good body and deep fruit flavor) but doesn’t overwhelm with boldness.  And it’s generally budget-friendly, as well.

While 100% Cabernet Franc can be a bit hard to find, it’s well worth seeking out wineries that offer it. Lucky for all of us, the Central Coast (especially Paso Robles) is home to a several wineries that produce it.

We’re excited to share what we found on a recent excursion – from barrel tastings to single varietals to high-percentage blends – plus tips on a few wineries that should be releasing a Cabernet Franc in 2019. The goodness awaits.

Great Flavors doing some wine tasting at Adelaida Cellars.

A Bit About Cabernet Franc

Cabernet Franc, which is thought to originate in the Basque country of the western Pyrenees, is the parent grape of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Carménère. Grown most widely in France’s Loire Valley and Bordeaux region, Cabernet Franc is a contributor to Bordeaux blends, which also include Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon in percentages that vary depending whether it’s Right Bank-focused (Merlot) or Left Bank-focused (Cabernet Sauvignon).

The second largest producer is Italy, and third is the USA, including Napa and the Central Coast of California.

Typical Aromas, Tastes, and Expression

As a blending grape, Cabernet Franc adds perfume, floral, tobacco and bright red and blue fruit. On its own, we can find floral, earth, leaves, and green pepper aromas with plum and black fruits. In California, its earthiness can be toned down by flavors of ripe strawberry, blackberry, and black cherry.

Cooler microclimates along the Central Coast can produce Cabernet Franc with lighter color and body, and higher acidity. Primary flavors include red bell pepper, chili pepper, raspberry, wet gravel and dried herbs.

Warmer areas tend to produce Cabernet Franc wines that are riper and more fruity, with flavors ranging from raspberry and dried strawberry to tobacco leaf, cedar, vanilla, and dried leaves.


Barrel tasting the 2017 Cabernet Franc with Steve Gleason, Four Lanterns Winery.

Where to Taste Cabernet Franc on the Central Coast

Because Cabernet Franc is such an exceptional blending grape, many wineries have selections with varying percentages of the grape.

However, some wineries are showcasing Cabernet Franc as a single varietal, and it’s worth seeking out to taste it.

A few wineries produce single varietals, but several were out of stock or their remaining Cabernet Franc was reserved for wine club members. We’ve noted them below and will visit in 2019.

Now on to the tastings!

Tasting the 2016 Cabernet Franc at Dark Star Cellars with Adrienn Crowe.

Dark Star Cellars. At Dark Star Cellars, along the Paso Robles 46 West wine trail, we tried their 2016 Cabernet Franc (with a slight addition of Malbec). Medium purple, it has a great balance of earthy and fruity. Winemaker Mike Emling invited us to try a barrel sample of the 2018 Cabernet Franc. It had only been in barrel a week or two, but its taste hints at its quality later on.


Four Lanterns Winery. Another winery on the 46 West Highway, Four Lanterns has 2017 Cabernet Franc that will be bottled in the spring. We sampled two barrels with winemaker Steve Gleason. Both in new oak, the sample from the barrel with lighter toast was rounder, aromatic, with notes of fresh plum and violet. The other had Christmas spice and a long finish. We look forward to trying these once bottled.


Taylor Berkley from T. Berkley wines with his 2016 Cabernet Franc at the 2018 Garagiste Festival.

T. Berkley Wines. We met winemaker Taylor Berkley Bodstun at the 8th annual Garagiste Festival in November. We thoroughly enjoyed his 2016 Leaning Oak Vineyard Cabernet Franc from Napa’s Los Carneros AVA. Next time we’re in the Napa area, we’ll stop in for another tasting.


Villa San-Juliette Vineyard & Winery. At Villa San-Juliette Vineyard, located in the northern Paso Robles Estrella District, we tasted their 2015 Cabernet Franc. Medium to deep ruby in color, the nose had floral and lavender and raspberry, with tastes of blackberry, raspberry, and bit of earth and black pepper. It had good balance of fruit, acidity, and tannin.

Danielle showing off the Villa San-Juliette Vineyard’s 2015 Cabernet Franc during a recent tasting.

More Central Coast Wineries with Cabernet Franc

These wineries typically have a single varietal Cabernet Franc on their list. We look forward to trying them in the future.

  • Adelaida Cellars, Paso Robles. Cabernet Franc is typically available at Adelaida, but when we visited it was not on the tasting menu. They did have a 2016 on their website for purchase.
  •  Brecon Estate Wine, Paso Robles. We’ve heard Brecon has made a good Cabernet Franc in the past, so we’ll head back when it’s available again.
  •  Chateau Margene, Creston and Morro Bay. This winery offers a 2013 Cabernet Franc on their website.
  • Dracaena Wines. Fellow wine enthusiasts recommended the Cabernet Franc from Dracaena, which does not have a tasting room but usually has its wines at Wine Boss in downtown Paso Robles. It was out of stock when we went, but we’ll try back again.

Small Production Wineries

We met a number of small-production wineries at the Garagiste Festival that produce Cabernet Franc. We’re looking forward to trying these.

  •        Bon Niche, Paso Robles
  •        RN Estate, Paso Robles
  •        Six Mile Bridge, Paso Robles

Ready for another glass? Here are more wine stories you may enjoy:
Zinfandel – Strong Roots on the Central Coast
Winemaker Focus: Stephen Ross Dooley | Stephen Ross Wine Cellars
Winery Spotlight: Talley Vineyards
Winery Spotlight: Tablas Creek Vineyards
Winemaker Focus: Mary Bradley (ila and Gra Wines)


Zinfandel – Strong Roots on the Central Coast

How do you like your Zinfandel? Big, bold, and jammy? Or more refined and expressive?
No matter. Zinfandels made in Paso Robles and the Central Coast can please a range of palates and preferences.
Let’s learn a little more from member winemakers from the Zinfandel Advocates and Producers (ZAP) association.

A Bit About Zinfandel

Zinfandel was brought to California during the Gold Rush between 1852 and 1857. Originally from Croatia, where it’s known as Tribidrag, it’s a clone of the Primitivo grape, from southern Italy’s Puglia region.

Today, Zinfandel—known as California’s Heritage Grape—is the third-most-produced grape and is grown in 45 of California’s 58 counties.

photo of Tom Myers, winemaker for Castoro Cellars, map of Paso Robles Zinfandel vineyards
Tom Myers, winemaker for Castoro Cellars, points out prominent Zinfandel vineyards in the Paso Robles AVA.

San Luis Obispo County, including Paso Robles to the north and Arroyo Grande to the south, ranks 6th in production, according to the California Agricultural Statistics Service.

But all this dry history doesn’t share the flavor. Let’s open a bottle (or three) and see what’s inside.

Taste and Expression

Zinfandel has long been a palate pleaser. This medium- to full-bodied red wine is known for its aromas of cardamom, licorice, smoke, star anise, and black pepper.

Fruit flavors range from ripe apricot and nectarine to raspberry, sour cherry, blueberry, plum, blackberry and boysenberry. Spices can include Christmas spice, Asian 5 Spice, sweet tobacco, and white and black pepper.

Some Zinfandels from around the state are made in a high alcohol, low acid, and supremely jammy and fruity style—and it’s yummy, trust us. But the grape can also be highly expressive of its location and reward winemakers seeking to take the grape in more refined directions.

Winemakers at Zinfandel Advocates and Producers seminar
Central Coast winemakers discuss their passion for Zinfandel at the spring educational seminar hosted by the Zinfandel Advocates and Producers. From left: Kevin Riley (Proulx), Tom Myers (Castoro Cellars), Christian Tietje (Rotta), Doug Beckett (Peachy Canyon), Tom Barton (Grey Wolf)), Janell Dusi (J. Dusi WInes), Curtis Hascall (Shale Oak). Not pictured: Matt Glunz (Glunz Family Wines).

Here are a few examples from Paso Robles winemakers we met at the Zinfandel Advocates and Producers (ZAP) Seminar hosted in March by Proulx Winery.

Castoro Cellars in Paso Robles: Zinfandel has been part of every year’s production, under the care of winemaker Tom Myers. Their Whale Rock Vineyard is a little cooler and produces grapes with better color and more tannin. He creates dry wines with no residual sugar, and a lower alcohol around 14.5 percent that highlights the bright fruit.

Glunz Family Wines in Paso Robles: The Glunz family has been in the wine and spirits business in Chicago for more than 100 years. When it was time to expand their operation to the west coast, Matt Glunz knew it would be in Paso Robles. The area’s huge diurnal swing results in wines with bright fruit and good acidity. The stems added a nice element of cinnamon to the 2016 vintage.

Grey Wolf in Paso Robles: Joe Barton started the winery in 1994 and sees that as Zinfandel becomes more terroir-driven, it’s a very transparent fruit with tastes that are unique to the site, much like Pinot Noir.

J. Dusi Wines in Paso Robles: Janell Dusi grew up on the family vineyard that was first planted in 1925, and her old vine Zin grapes are coveted by other winemakers. She takes a hands-off approach, with very light new oak, to produce leaner, lower alcohol wine that is almost Old World in style.

Peachy Canyon in Paso Robles: Doug Beckett opened the winery in 1988, and today Zinfandel is 80% of their production. He believes there’s no better area in California for Zinfandel than here, and Paso Robles history is filled with Zinfandel. He’s seen the style transition from 17% alcohol and lots of oak to today’s Zinfandels with a more refined approach.

Proulx in Paso Robles: Kevin Riley, who emceed the ZAP Seminar, is winemaker for his Proulx family winery and a wine consultant, believes Paso Robles is one of the best places to grow Zinfandel. He allows the expression of each block to shine through dry farming and caretaking the old vines on their historic vineyard (some are more than 50 years old), combined with multiple passes through the vineyard during harvest to select the best fruit.

Rotta Winery in Paso Robles: Rotta is home to the oldest winery building on the Central Coast, and winemaker Christian Tietje is passionate about showcasing the quality Zinfandel from Paso Robles and its uniqueness. He believes it’s vital to hold on to the acid, which is also helped by the soil composition, to create a more restrained, elegant wine that’s food friendly and ageable.

Shale Oak in Paso Robles: Winemaker Curtis Hascall creates Zinfandels that are balanced and rich, but not heavy. He finds that Paso Robles grapes produce flavors found nowhere else.

photo tasting flights
Tasting flights from the spring ZAP education seminar held at Proulx Wines in Paso Robles.

Saucelito Canyon in Arroyo Grande: Although not presenting at the ZAP seminar, another winery known for its long history producing great Zinfandel is Saucelito Canyon. Its vineyard, located in the Arroyo Grande Valley, contains Zinfandel vines planted in 1880, making it the oldest commercial vineyard in San Luis Obispo county. Two generations of the Greenough family have been producing Zinfandel since 1974 with an approach that maintains the bright fruit and lively natural acidity.

More Central Coast Zinfandels to Try

  • Chronic Cellars
  • Opolo
  • Tooth & Nail
  • Turley
  • Zin Alley

Small Production Wineries

  • Circle B Vineyards
  • Cloak & Dagger
  • Corner Cellars
  • Pagter Brothers
  • Powell Mountain
  • Seven Angels
  • Seven Oxen Estate
  • Tolo Cellars
  • Transmission Wine

What the Heck is White Zin?

Remember White Zinfandel from the 1980s? This sweet blush wine resulted from a stuck fermentation at Sutter Home Winery. Rather than dump the off-dry wine that remained when the yeast died, winemaker Bob Trinchero decided to bottle it. White Zin became a hit and the rest is history.

A Place for Zin Fans

Zinfandel Advocates and Producers (ZAP) is a nonprofit association that organizes seminars, educational programs and wine tastings across the U.S. to promote Zinfandel and its high quality reputation. Their annual Zinfandel Experience in January in San Francisco is the largest single varietal tasting of its kind. ZAP supports research surrounding the history and origins of the Zinfandel grape.

photo ZAP flag
Proulx Wines hosted the spring 2018 educational seminar of the Zinfandel Advocates and Producers (ZAP) association.

Read more in our Winemaker Focus and Winery Spotlight series:
Winemaker Focus: Stephen Ross Dooley | Stephen Ross Wine Cellars
Winery Spotlight: Talley Vineyards
Winery Spotlight: Tablas Creek Vineyards
Winemaker Focus: Mary Bradley (ila and Gra Wines)

Halloween Poker Run (2018 Update)

October 27-18 2018 – Paso Robles Wineries East

Zoo to You

Halloween Poker Run

Trick or treat with 46 East, and enjoy animals, wine, and a spooky good time.

Get Your Tickets

Days & Times

The 2018 event runs Saturday and Sunday, October 27 & 28, from 11:00 to 5:00.
Zoo to You animal ambassadors will be at the wineries on Saturday from noon to 4:00.
(Flip Card For More Spooky Info)

Spooky Good Time / Poker Run

  • Visit at least five wineries and get your passport stamped.
  • Draw a playing card to build your best poker hand.
  • The top three poker hands win fabulous prizes, including 46 East wine and hotel packages.

On Sunday, the wine tasting and poker hand drawing continues at 46 East member wineries, although the animals will be taking the day off.

Will You Be There?


Get up close and personal with the beautiful animals from Zoo to You on Saturday from noon to 4:00.
You might meet the Ghost of the Forest (Peeves the Lemur), or many of his friends like Spike the African Alligator, Priscilla the Porcupine, Roswell the Armadillo, Flower the Skunk, and others who receive great care from Zoo to You.
All passport proceeds benefit the Conservation Ambassadors Zoo to You program.


Your passport includes complimentary tasting at all the 46 East participating wineries, on both Saturday and Sunday.
Wear a costume and get 10% off your wine purchases at the wineries.
MAP: Follow the ghosts to your favorite wineries on the Paso Robles Wineries East Halloweek Poker Run trail. Ghosts, animals, wine, and fun (if you dare).

The Great Flavors Ghostly Winery Map

MAP: Follow the ghosts (if you dare) to your favorite wineries on the Paso Robles Wineries East Halloween Poker Run trail. Ghosts, animals, wine, and fun (if you dare).

Ps. You can use map on your mobile phone and google with help you get to your winery!

Don’t Miss Out

About Conservation Ambassadors

Giving a worldwide voice to wildlife by providing a permanent, loving home for displaced, abused, abandoned or permanently injured wild and exotic animals. Sharing these animal ambassadors through our Zoo to You outreach program helps educate school children and learners of all ages about conservation, connecting them to the wild world and inspiring them to protect the planet.

For more information on Conservation Ambassadors, visit: ZooToYou


About Great Flavors

We named it Great Flavors because, to us, great flavor is that distinctive and appealing quality that applies to everything in life, not just food.
Join our odyssey to discover it all — from food & Wine to fun adventures — and chart your journey through Central Coast California’s most flavorful experiences.

Halloween Poker Run

Trick or treat with 46 East, and enjoy animals, wine, and a spooky good time.

46 West Wineries Block Party – Paso Robles (2018)

What happens when you take more than a dozen talented winemakers, add a caterer known for great food, mix in a dance-inspiring band, all in a friendly and laid-back block-party atmosphere that feels like a neighborhood get-together?

You get one of the most fun events in Paso Robles wine country—the 46 West Wineries Association Block Party.

Two Times the Fun
Because one great party is not enough, the wineries along the scenic Highway 46 West Wine Trail of Paso Robles gather twice a year—summer and fall—to celebrate wine, friends, and fun.

The Summer Block Party is held on the Saturday closest to the Fourth of July (but not actually on July 4th if it falls on a Saturday). The Harvest Block Party is held the Saturday of Labor Day weekend. For each block party, the location rotates between different members of the 46 West Winery Association.

Here’s a glimpse at the fun from a past block party evening.


The Inspiration
Going strong for about 10 years now, the Block Parties are celebrations for both attendees and member wineries of the nonprofit 46 West Wine Association.

“The Block Party, which used to be called West Fest, is a chance for the wineries to share their wines with people who enjoy them,” said Maribeth Jacobsen, co-owner of Doce Robles Winery, and one of the founders the Association.

“It also gives winery staff the opportunity to talk, catch up, enjoy dinner and music, and really celebrate what we all do,” she said.

2018 Harvest Block Party Details
Date: Saturday, September 1, 2018
Time: 6:30 – 9:00 pm
Location: Dark Star Cellars (, 2985 Anderson Road, Paso Robles, CA, 805-227-4766
Caterer: Paso Catering ( will be serving traditional Spanish Paella with chicken and sausage. Delish!
Music: Sound Effect (FB @soundeffectband), a five-piece band from Oxnard with a repertoire ranging from funk to R&B, soul, rock, and jazz.

Maribeth Jacobsen and Katy Michelle Doce Robles Winery photo
Maribeth Jacobsen, co-owner of Doce Robles Winery and founding member of the 46 West Wineries Association, and Katy Michelle, Doce Robles Winery tasting room manager, pouring at a recent block party.

Block Party How-To (it’s easy)
The 46 West Block Parties are designed to be casual, friendly, and laid back. And they’re purposely kept small to maintain that friendly feeling of a neighborhood party instead of a big wine festival or event.

Because the event has limited tickets, it’s good to get tickets early. The price is all-inclusive so you can concentrate on enjoying yourself.

lawn crowd photo
Block Party-goers relaxing on the lawn area of a recent summer block party.

When you arrive and get your entry wrist band (you may notice it says PartyPartyParty all the way around), your hardest decision of the evening will be what to do first: eat, enjoy a glass of wine, or take a reconnaissance stroll around the grounds.

No matter how you choose to begin, the Block Party is all about a fun, low-key atmosphere. No long lines, no huge crowds, no pushy partiers. Just a positive group of people enjoying the best of what the Central Coast has to offer.

Paso Catering barbecued oysters photo
Barbecued oysters and tri tip were on the menu from Paso Catering at a past block party.

Eat, Dance, Drink. Repeat.
Dinner at the block parties is the real deal. No matter what the caterer chooses, you can be sure it will be more than an appetizer or two.
The live band at each block party is chosen to be dance-inducing, so don’t be shy if you’re inclined to move to the beat.
Wines are provided by the 17 member wineries of the 46 West Wineries Association. This group of wineries on the west side of Paso Robles creates a range of great wines showcasing the grapes that do well in this region. See the full list below.

46 West Wineries wine glasses photo
The 46 West Wineries Association block parties share great wine, food, and music for a relaxing and fun evening.

More Details
Tickets are $55, and include dinner, wine, and music. The event is small and sells out, so get tickets soon so you don’t miss out.
Because it’s a wine event, it’s for ages 21 and over, and dogs have to stay home with the kids and the babysitter.

The Flavor Team thanks the 46 West Wineries Association for creating these great events.

If you liked this fun wine event, here are a few more not to miss along the Central Coast:
Wine Safari 2018 – Wine Tasting Gone Wild (with Animals)
Roll Out the Barrels: 3 days to Celebrate SLO Wine (updated 2018)
Barrels in the Plaza brings wine, education, food, and fun to SLO Wine Country (2017)

Block Party Participants
46 West Wineries
AronHill Vineyards
Castoro Cellars
Croad Vineyards
Dark Star Cellars
Doce Robles Winery & Vineyard
Donati Family Vineyard
Donatoni Winery
Four Lanterns Winery
Grey Wolf Cellars and Barton Family Wines & Krobar Distillery
Hunt Cellars Winery
J Dusi Wines
Midnight Cellars Winery
Peachy Canyon Winery
Sextant Wines
Shale Oak Winery
Tooth & Nail Winery
Treana Tasting Cellar and Hope Family Wines

Paso Robles 46 West Wineries Summer Block Party – Event Recap (2018)

What happens when 17 winemakers, a caterer with tri tip and barbecued oysters, and a dance-inspiring band get together with about 200 of their friends? The 46 West Wineries Summer Block Party, one of the best Paso Robles parties of the summer.

Three Magic Words
We looked at the wristbands being applied to attendees at the 46 West Wineries Summer Block Party at Four Lanterns Winery in Paso Robles. Did they foretell the future?  If so, it was going to be a fun night.

In red letters on the white bands were three words.  PARTY PARTY PARTY.

Andrew wristband photo
Flavor Team member Andrew sports the wristband with prophetic powers from the Summer Block Party.

A Perfect Location  

While it had been a hot day in Paso Robles, by the 6:30 start, the sun was heading west behind the trees and a soft breeze kept revelers comfortable all evening.

Four Lanterns Winery photo
Four Lanterns Winery, which was an apple farm a century ago, was the setting for the 2018 Summer Block Party of the 46 West Wineries Association in Paso Robles.

Held this year at Jackie and Steve Gleason’s Four Lanterns Winery, the event gathered a fun-loving crowd of about 200 under the shade trees and on the lawn of the historic property that got its start as an apple farm in the early 1900s. It transitioned to an herb farm and vineyard in the late 1970s. Since the Gleasons bought it in 2013, they’ve done many improvements to bring it fully into its place as a winery.

The Inspiration

Going strong for about 10 years now, this event is a celebration for attendees as well as member wineries of the nonprofit 46 West Wine Association.

Maribeth Jacobsen and Katy Michelle Doce Robles Winery photo
Maribeth Jacobsen, co-owner of Doce Robles Winery and founding member of the 46 West Wineries Association, and Katy Michelle, Doce Robles Winery tasting room manager, pouring inside the barn.

“The Block Party, which used to be called West Fest, is a chance for the wineries to share their wines with people who enjoy them,” said Maribeth Jacobsen, co-owner of Doce Robles Winery, and one of the founders the Association.

“It also gives winery staff the opportunity to talk, catch up, enjoy dinner and music, and really celebrate what we all do,” she said.

Block Party How-To (it’s easy)

With prophetic wristbands attached and souvenir wine glasses and dinner tickets in hand, we joined the happy crowd.

Many were sitting at tables, and several had brought blankets or lawn chairs to get a good seat for the band. Some were already eating dinner; others were starting the evening with a glass of wine.

lawn crowd photo
Block Party-goers relaxing on the lawn area of Four Lanterns Winery.

Of the 17 member wineries pouring during the Block Party, most were set up in two rows flanking the lawn. A few more were pouring inside the lovely barn-turned-tasting-room.

Mitch Donati Family Wines photo
Many of the 17 wineries were pouring outside, including Mitch with Donati Family Wines.

After making a reconnaissance circle around the winery tables outside, we got our first tasting from Midnight Cellars inside the tasting room. Then it was time to meet the team at Paso Catering and try their tri tip, barbecued oysters, salad, potatoes, and roasted corn.

Paso Catering barbecued oysters photo
Barbecued oysters and tri tip were on the menu from Paso Catering.

Balancing plates on the railing near the bandstand, we waited for James Scoolis’ group Burning James and the Funky Flames to kick off the evening with music that drew a steady crowd of dancers.

Burning James and the Funky Flames dancing photo
Burning James and the Funky Flames got the dancing crowd going all evening long.

From there, everyone had the same, simple agenda for the evening: tasting wines and enjoying the laid-back and completely relaxing environment of the Summer Block Party. We found one of the nicest things about this event was the ease: no long lines, no huge crowds, no pushy partiers. Just a positive group of people who enjoy the best of what the Central Coast has to offer. Wine, food, music. Fun.

46 West Wineries wine glasses photo
The Summer Block party shares great wine, food, and music for a relaxing and fun evening.

More to Come

If you made it to this year’s event, what were your favorite memories?

If you didn’t make it, don’t despair. The 2018 Harvest Block Party, to be held at Dark Star Cellars on September 1, promises to be another enchanting evening.

Thank You!

The Flavor Team thanks the 46 West Wineries Association for creating the event, the member wineries for sharing your great wines (see full list below), Four Lanterns Winery for hosting at your lovely property, Paso Catering for the great food, and Burning James and Funky Flames for music that makes you smile (and dance).


If you liked this fun wine event, here are a few more not to miss along the Central Coast:
Wine Safari 2018 – Wine Tasting Gone Wild (with Animals)
Roll Out the Barrels: 3 days to Celebrate SLO Wine (updated 2018)
Barrels in the Plaza brings wine, education, food, and fun to SLO Wine Country (2017)

Block Party Participants
Paso Catering
Burning James and the Funky Flames
Castoro Cellars
Croad Vineyards
Dark Star Cellars
Doce Robles Winery & Vineyard
Donati Family Vineyard
Donatoni Winery
Four Lanterns Winery
Grey Wolf Cellars and Barton Family Wines & Krobar Distillery
Hunt Cellars Winery
J Dusi Wines
Midnight Cellars Winery
Peachy Canyon Winery
Sextant Wines
Shale Oak Winery
Tooth & Nail Winery
Treana Tasting Cellar and Hope Family Wines

46 West Summer Block Party (2018) – Paso Robles

What happens when your neighbors are winemakers and you decide to throw a great party?

You’re hanging out with a few neighbors and you get to talking. Somebody mentions it might be fun to get everyone together and throw a block party. Hmm, this might be fun.

So you pick a neighbor’s house with a pretty lawn and nice outdoor area with big shady trees to set up tables. Good start.

Seventeen of your neighbors are winemakers, and they all agree to bring lots of wine to share. This is sounding better. Another neighbor is a chef that does magical things with tri-tip and barbequed oysters. And the neighbor down the street has a funk and soul band with a live horn section and a sound that makes you want to get out of your chair and start dancing.

So you invite all the neighbors and a few more friends, and you all have great evening enjoying the wine, the food, the music, the conversation on a warm Paso Robles evening.

It’s the best block party ever, right?

That’s exactly what happens at the 46 West Wineries Association Summer Block Party in Paso Robles.

And guess what? We’re all invited!

The Setting
The setting for the 2018 Summer Block Party on July 7 is Four Lanterns Winery. Owners and hosts Jackie and Steve Gleason named the winery for their four daughters—the lights of their life.

A large barn, converted to the Four Lanterns Winery tasting room, is the centerpiece of the historic property and winery, which specializes in Rhone and Bordeaux varietals.

Welcome to the Neighborhood
The Block Party is designed to be casual, friendly, and laid back. And it’s purposely kept small to maintain that friendly feeling of a neighborhood party instead of a big wine festival or event.

Because the event has limited tickets, it does sell out quickly. People look forward to attending the Block Party every year because of its inviting and friendly atmosphere. And everything is included in the ticket price so there’s no worry about if you can try another wine or enjoy another oyster.

Eat Dance Drink
Dinner at this year’s Summer Block Party is provided by Paso Catering. The menu includes tri-tip and barbequed oysters, and you’re welcome to sit down and enjoy dinner and conversation.

Music, and dancing if you’re moved to move, is by Burning James and the Funky Flames. Founded by James Scoolis 10 years ago, the band has played hundreds of shows along the West Coast with their high energy funk, sweet soul, and horns with a sound that gets people dancing.

Wines are provided by the 17 member wineries of the 46 West Wineries Association. This group of wineries on the west side of Paso Robles creates a range of great wines showcasing the grapes that do well in this region. See the full list below.

The Summer Block Party is 6:30-9:00 pm on Saturday, July 7, at Four Lanterns Winery, 2485 West Hwy 46.
Tickets are $55, and include dinner, wine, and music. The event is small and sells out, so get tickets soon so you don’t miss out.
Because it’s a wine event, it’s for ages 21 and over, and dogs have to stay home with the kids and the babysitter.

46 West Wineries
AronHill Vineyards
Castoro Cellars
Croad Vineyards
Dark Star Cellars
Doce Robles Winery & Vineyard
Donati Family Vineyard
Donatoni Winery
Four Lanterns Winery
Grey Wolf Cellars and Barton Family Wines & Krobar Distillery
Hunt Cellars Winery
J Dusi Wines
Midnight Cellars Winery
Peachy Canyon Winery
Sextant Wines
Shale Oak Winery
Tooth & Nail Winery
Treana Tasting Cellar and Hope Family Wines

Roll Out the Barrels: 3 days to Celebrate SLO Wine (updated 2018)

SLO Wine Country’s annual Roll Out the Barrels event highlights the wineries of California’s Central Coast. The three-day event (2018 dates are June 21-23) kicks off with Barrels in the Plaza at the historic Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa in downtown San Luis Obispo, featuring small bites from local chefs and restaurants, music, and wine tasting from coastal wineries. The two-day Passport to SLO Wine Country features special events at member wineries throughout Edna Valley, Arroyo Grande Valley, Cambria, and Paso Robles.

Like a good vintage wine, the SLO Wine Country Association’s annual “Roll Out the Barrels” festival continues to improve with time.

Enjoying wine, food, and the friendly atmosphere at Barrels in the Plaza at the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa.

In the Beginning

While we think of the vibrant Central Coast wine region and its ever-increasing reach and recognition as always being so, there was a time before AVAs and before the quality of our cool coastal climate grapes were known beyond the valleys where they grew.

In 1990, closely following the designation of the Edna Valley AVA and Arroyo Grande Valley AVA, SLO Wine Country was founded and began its mission: to spread the word about our coastal region wines and wineries.

“SLO Wine Country highlights the coastal wineries, most of which are less than 10 miles from the ocean, and many are within five miles of the Pacific. In addition to the Edna Valley and Arroyo Grande Valley AVAs, association members are from Avila Valley, Santa Maria, Paso Robles, and Cambria,” said Heather Muran, SLO Wine Country Executive Director. “We have the best of both worlds: 10 minutes from the ocean and great wine country.”

About eight area wineries joined the new SLO Wine Country association, which now has more than 30 members.

“When we formed in 1990, we wanted to reach out to consumers and share information about the area and the quality wines being produced here,” shared Heather Muran, Executive Director with SLO Wine Country.

Brainstorming and planning resulted in the first Roll Out the Barrels event, with the goal to build awareness of the AVAs and to begin building awareness of the local Central Coast wines.

How far it has come since then, and yet how wonderfully close it has stayed to its roots of sharing great wines and education in a fun, friendly, hometown atmosphere.

That Was Then…

The first Roll Out the Barrels, 1990. (photo courtesy SLO Wine Country Association)

The 1990 inaugural Roll Out the Barrels was held at the former Corbett Canyon Winery (now Center of Effort).

“They set up tables in the driveway and maybe 100 or so attendees came to sample wines from Corbett Canyon and a handful of other area wineries,” said Muran.

Corbett Canyon Winery was site for first Roll Out the Barrels event 27 years ago. (photo courtesy SLO Wine Country Association)

This is Now…

While the event now draws more than 500 attendees, it keeps that small town feel. Friends come to meet friends, and people make new friends. “This welcoming atmosphere brings our community together to share in what we are so fortunate to have.”

But it’s not just locals who enjoy the early summer evening on the patio of the historic Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa. The word is getting out that this is a must-attend wine event. “We’re seeing more participants from all over California, as well as Washington State, and from as far as Canada, Mexico, and the UK.”

Just one of the small bites to accompany coastal wines at Barrels in the Plaza.

The event brings together a flavorful experience. “You can taste barrel samples, talk to the winemakers, learn more about winemaking, enjoy food from top local chefs and caterers, listen to music by a local band, and just enjoy an evening out in downtown San Luis Obispo,” added Muran.

“It’s a great way to start the weekend, try some great local wines, and learn more about the winemaking process.”

In fact, education is an exciting part of Barrels in the Plaza.
Seminars cover a range of winemaking topics, from climate and viniculture to grapes and cooperage.

2018 Seminars at Barrels in the Plaza
Barrel Toasting and Cooperage Demonstration: Using 3-year seasoned oak harvested from the region of Allier in Central France, expert cooper Salvador Canchola from Tonnellerie Ô will demonstrate the art behind building, shaping, and toasting a wine barrel. He’ll answer questions, and attendees will enjoy a tasting of SLO Coast wines as winemakers share how barrel toasting plays a part in the winemaking process.

Cool Climate and the Emergence of Albariño: Croma Vera winemaker Jeremy Leffert takes us on a comparative tasting tour of regional Albariños, as he shares how micro-climates change the flavor profile of the wines. Wineries include:
Croma Vera wines: 2017 Albariño, Spanish Springs Vineyard
Niner Wine Estate: 2017 Albariño, Jespersen Ranch Vineyard
Sinor LaVallee: 2015 Albariño, Bassi Vineyard
Tangent: 2016 Albariño, Paragon Vineyard

Biodynamics 101, Or As Much As We Can Discuss About a Complex Topic in 15 Minutes: Bob Lindquist, winemaker from Qupé & Verdad Wine Cellars, discusses the process behind Biodynamics, a holistic manner of farming and viticulture that started in the 1920s. He’ll share a flight with wines made within this approach to showcase the results.
Verdad: 2016 Albariño, Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard- Edna Valley
Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard: 2015 Pinot Noir- Edna Valley
Qupé: 2014 Syrah, Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard- Edna Valley

Top chefs and caterers share their talents (photo courtesy SLO Wine Country Association)

And the Fun Rolls on with the Passport

While Barrels in the Plaza comes to an end Thursday evening, the weekend of wine tasting and education is just beginning.
The Passport to SLO Wine Country allows holders to visit four wineries on both Friday and Saturday, for a total of eight.

“The Passport experience usually offers more than the usual tasting flights at each winery,” said Muran.


The 4×2 Passport offers special events at area wineries. One year, several wineries hosted animals from Paso Robles-based Conservation Ambassadors.

“There may be barrel samples of their various wines, some offer reserve and library wines or vertical and horizontal tastings. Some will take passport holders on vineyard tours, provide educational opportunities (wine aroma bar, anyone?), or offer wine-themed games,” she said.

Many wineries have live music and food trucks or caterers.

Muran added, “We want the Passport experience to help people try different wines, meet the winemakers, and explore more of the great wineries in our area, from the southern end of the Arroyo Grande Valley AVA to Cambria and Paso Robles. It’s sure to be a great two days of exploration.”

Whether you choose Barrels in the Plaza, the Passport to SLO Wine Country, or the whole wine-focused weekend flight, it’s sure to be an event to remember.

For More Information

SLO Wine Country

If you’re Roll Out the Barrels bound, you may like these related articles:
Barrels in the Plaza brings wine, education, food, and fun to SLO Wine Country (2017)
4×2 Passport to SLO Wine Country: wine tasting and more on the Central Coast (2017)
Winery Spotlight: Talley Vineyards
Winemaker Focus: Stephen Ross Dooley | Stephen Ross Wine Cellars

Wine Safari 2018 – Wine Tasting Gone Wild (with Animals)

Feature Video: Wine Safari 2018

What happens when you mix beautiful animals from Conservation Ambassadors’ Zoo to You program with the scenic and friendly Paso Robles 46 West Wineries, add some wine tasting, and bunch of fun, like-minded people from the Central Coast?

The Wine Safari, that’s what!

Over the weekend of March 3-4, 16 participating wineries host an animal ambassador from Conservation Ambassadors and pour three wines for those who have purchased a Wine Safari Passport. Many enjoy the event just to meet the animals.

This unique event brings together animals, humans, and winemakers in a family friendly, community-focused event that benefits Conservation Ambassadors’ Zoo to You and its mission to care for wild and exotic animals.

Giving a worldwide voice to wildlife by providing a permanent, loving home for displaced, abused, abandoned or permanently injured wild and exotic animals. Sharing these animal ambassadors through our Zoo to You outreach program helps educate school children and learners of all ages about conservation, connecting them to the wild world and inspiring them to protect the planet.
— Conservation Ambassadors


Come along on this adventure and see what happens as Wine Safari participants have fun supporting this great organization.

The Safari Begins

On an African safari, you don’t know what animals you might see, or where they might be. This year, the Wine Safari organizers kept that fun and unexpected element of surprise.

“This year, we chose not to share ahead of time which animals would be at which winery,” said Lanie Angeles, COO of Conservation Ambassadors. “Our animal ambassadors’ health and well-being is our main priority, and we want to be sure every ambassador is feeling well and up to the task of meeting so many people over the weekend.”

With our Great Flavors interactive map (read about that in the pre-event article in the related links box below) in our  loaded on our phones, Andrew, Mina (our official Great Flavors animal whisperer), and I head to Paso Robles on Saturday morning.

Our goals: 1) to visit as many animals as possible during the two-day event, and 2) to meet the people who make this event such a heart-warming success.

We decide to start on the east edge of the 46 West Winery Association participating members, and work our way toward the sea.

Will we accomplish our mission?


Doce Robles Winery / African Porcupine

Morocco the African Porcupine image
Morocco the African Porcupine loves attention from Mina and another fan… and acorns.

The rain that threatened to dampen the 2018 Wine Safari moved on, leaving bright skies, puffy clouds, and a refreshing breeze to greet attendees, animal ambassadors, and their human handlers from Conservation Ambassadors.

Things are hopping at Doce Robles Winery. The bright, sunny tasting room is filled with people enjoying the wines made by Jimmy Jacobsen. Katie welcomes us with a big smile and stamps our Wine Safari passports to mark our first visit.

Katie Doce Robles image
Katie at Doce Robles Winery welcomes everyone with a big smile.

Outside on the grass, Morocco the African Porcupine is fielding pets and questions from his fans.

“You’ll notice that the African Porcupine has quills that are much larger and not barbed, which is different than the quills on the smaller North American Porcupine,” explains David with Conservation Ambassadors.

Morocco is hunting and munching on acorns, and he patiently allows us to stroke his surprisingly soft, long Mohawk of fescue-type hair/quills.

David also shares a surprise: the porcupine is a member of the rodent family, as is the beaver. Who knew?

Back inside the tasting room, Katie pours our choice of three wines from their list. Another surprise: their 2012 Estate Malbec is from very young vines (just two years old) and has tastes of black fruits combined with nice smoke and leather aromas. The JimmyMon Red has a bright, tart cherry aroma and taste, and is a fun blend of five varieties. The label, the name, and the wine all mirror the fun and smiling winemaker Jimmy. You can tell he loves his life.

Peachy Canyon Winery / Lemur and Serval

Peeves image
Peeves the Lemur is endlessly curious.

Little do we know that the huge chair that sits near the entrance to Peachy Canyon Winery will soon be the resting place for an exotic cat.

As we enter the tasting room, Samantha and Gina are deftly handling the three-deep crowd. They’re pouring three wines, but first, it’s out to the back lawn where Lisa Jackson, co-founder of Conservation Ambassadors, is adroitly overseeing the ever-curious and ever-in-motion Peeves the Lemur.

While his relatives are native to the Madagascar Rain Forest, Peeves is an animal ambassador through and through, and his professionalism shows.

“He been on TV shows across the country and gets his own airline seat,” shares Lisa. Peeves works the crowd, rummaging through purses and pockets, holding sweetly onto children’s fingers with his own human-like hands, inspecting a wine cork to see if it might be a snack. Now and then, Lisa picks him up and we can see his beautiful black and white face, expressive tail, and large eyes that take in his adoring fans.

Peeves Lisa image
Peeves and Lisa fly around the country representing Conservation Ambassadors.

Lisa mentions that they get a lot of Lemurs that are confiscated illegal pets. In many cases, the Lemurs are handled badly. “The owners become so afraid of them because they don’t know how to work them, that the animals are confined to their cages 24/7.” Conservation Ambassadors is working to rehabilitate Lemurs like these.

Maleeka image
Lisa Gardner brings out Maleeka, who will soon be making her national TV debut.



As we head in for a quick tasting, we hear Lisa say she’ll be bringing out a Serval in a while. Hmm. What’s a Serval?

Our tasting includes a 2016 Rose, 2014 Snow Zinfandel (tart strawberry and rhubarb aromas), and a 2014 DeVine Cabernet Sauvignon. All present a good range of Peachy Canyon’s wines and approach.

We see Lisa head toward her truck with Peeves and know it must be time to meet a Serval. We can’t imagine what he or she will be. She drops the tailgate and down jumps Maleeka.

Andrew and Maleeka image
Andrew and Maleeka enjoying Wine Safari at Peachy Canyon.

A spotted cat native to Africa, Maleeka the Serval resembles a small cheetah with tawny coat with black spots and stripes. Her long legs, we soon witness, are used for jumping to catch prey.

And jump she can. Lisa and a helper put a mouse on a high pole with a string. Maleeka looks, focuses, and jumps about 10 feet in the air. Amazing.

“She’s going to be on James Cordon’s show soon, so we’re helping train her for her appearance,” says Lisa.

Maleeka and Peeves aren’t the only animals at Peachy Canyon the day of Wine Safari. Simone, the tasting-room Siamese, adopted the winery in October and has been there ever since.

Castoro Cellars / Skunk

FLower the skunk image
Flower the Skunk chills out while Dolores from Conservation Ambassadors shares ways skunks are the gardener’s friend.

Castoro Cellars is just up the road from Peachy Canyon, so we make it our next stop.

Because Castoro Cellars has a beaver on its label (more about that in a minute), we think there might be a chance we’ll meet a beaver as the animal ambassador.

We are mistaken.

There, lying peacefully on a blanket is Flower, the most beautiful skunk we’ve ever seen. He calmly regards his fans with soft brown eyes.

Dolores from Conservation Ambassadors shares fun skunk trivia. “They can spray 10-15 feet,” she says, “but they’ll stomp the ground first with their feet to warn you.” They’re also great managing the population of snails and other garden pests.

We long to stroke Flower’s soft black and white coat, but unfortunately, there’s a law that prohibits the public from touching skunks (and raccoons and opossums, too).

As we walk into the tasting room, Angela greets us and shares both the wines for the tasting and some fun facts about Castoro Cellars.

sticker image
Now we know why Castoro Cellars has a dam fine beaver on its logo (and I’m dam excited at the cool beaver sticker!).

The beaver on the label? It’s not because the winery was built next to a beaver pond or from some affinity for the Oregon State Beaver mascot.

It turns out that Beaver was the nickname given to the winery’s owner from his older brothers when they were kids. And Castoro means beaver in Italian, so it seemed like a dam fine name for a winery. Makes sense. And it would make a lot of sense if the owner was Italian. But he’s Danish. All this makes Castoro Cellars even more charming and fun.

We start with Albarino, then the iconic ZinFusion, before finishing with the Merlot and Pinot Noir.

Dark Star Cellars / African Pygmy Hedgehog

Sonic image
Sonic the African Pygmy Hedgehog burrows and flips through the shavings.

Our next stop is Dark Star Cellars, where there’s a good crowd. Everyone on both sides of the tasting room bar seems to be having a good time.

Being a nocturnal animal, Sonic the African Pygmy Hedgehog is the perfect animal ambassador for Dark Star.

She’s busy burrowing through the shavings inside the little ceramic bridge in her enclosure, but she’s pretty patient with all of us wanting to touch her beautiful quills. And although she has quills, Vanessa with Conservation Ambassadors tells us that Sonic is related to shrews and moles, not porcupines.

Dark Star image
Adrienn and Hannah doing an amazing job at Dark Star Cellars during Wine Safari.

When Sonic’s ready to call it a day, she lets us know by puffing up her quills. Vanessa says this means “talk to the hand” and come back later.

So we head to the tasting bar and say hello to Adrienn and Hannah, who are doing a great keeping track of a full house and what everyone needs.

Mal and Mary Caraballo image
Mal and Mary Caraballo from the Bay Area haven’t missed one Wine Safari.

While tasting a few wines, we meet Mal and Mary Caraballo from the Bay Area. They come down to the Central Coast often to enjoy their house in Cambria. “We haven’t missed a Wine Safari since they started seven years ago,” says Mary. “It’s all about the animals, and we love it.”

The 2014 Anderson Road and 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon are standouts among a long list of good wines, and two we’ll have to come back and try another time.

Midnight Cellars / Moluccan Cockatoo

Sydney the Moluccan Cockatoo image
Being an animal ambassador does not stress Sydney the Moluccan Cockatoo. She’s as chill as they get.

Staying with the night-time theme, we head to neighboring winery Midnight Cellars and say hi to Natalie in the tasting room.

Natalie says a big crowd just left, so we enjoy the moments of calm and meet Sydney the Moluccan Cockatoo. Her beautiful white feathers almost have an inner light.

Lynn with Conservation Ambassadors says that large birds like Sydney can live to be 60 years old, so they are very much a lifetime commitment.

Sydney is so mellow she’s almost falling asleep, but now and then walks to the end of the table and back.

Natalie Midnight Cellars image
Natalie with Midnight Cellars overseeing the tasting room during the busy Wine Safari weekend.

Natalie pours the first wine: 2016 Aurora, which is a Grenache Blanc and Viognier blend. Crisp, light, flavorful. We also try 2013 Sangiovese Starlight, 2014 Malbec Solstice, and 2013 Full Moon Red Syrah/Zinfandel blend.

Not only do the wines have cool astronomy-related names, but Midnight Cellars plans special events around full moons, solstices, and other happenings in the cosmos.

Grey Wolf Cellars / Bald Eagle

Seneca the Bald Eagle image
Seneca the Bald Eagle came to Conservation Ambassadors when she was just a year old. She exudes the confidence of a professional.

Our next stop is Grey Wolf Cellars/Barton Family Wines, where of course we assume we might meet a wolf.

Instead, majestic Seneca the Bald Eagle is holding court in the corner of the tasting room. According to her Conservation Ambassadors human, Seneca is 15 years old. She was injured and brought to Conservation Ambassadors when she was just a year old, so she’s been around trusted people most of her life.

That’s why she serenely surveys her audience with a gaze that says nothing fazes her.

Sierra and Jeff Grey Wolf Cellars image
Sierra and Jeff keeping everyone happy at Grey Wolf Cellars / Barton Family Wines.

At the tasting room counter, Sierra and Jeff are pouring the 2015 Soulmate Rose, 2015 Tundra (Petite Syrah), and 2015 Predator (Syrah, Petite Syrah, and Monastrell, which we learn is a Spanish variety of Mourvedre).

Out back, a path leads past Barton’s Kitchen Window, which serves great-sounding food by Jeffry’s Catering (how about pulled pork with Zinfandel BBQ sauce? Yes, please!) and ends up at Krowbar Distillery. We’ll definitely be back to try both of these.

Giving us a great image to remember her by, Seneca flaps her wings as her day at Grey Wolf Cellars comes to an end.

Tooth & Nail Winery / Python 

Tooth & Nail winery image
The imposing Tooth & Nail Winery looking very palatial for Wine Safari visitors.

From the back porch of Grey Wolf we can see our next, and last, stop for the day: Tooth & Nail Winery.

This castle-cum-winery embraces the gothic feel of castles and ramps up the fun of it. From the artwork to the décor and dark archways, the space is intriguing to explore and definitely unlike most wineries.

Alas, we’re a few minutes late and the animal ambassadors (Python and snakes) have left for the day.

Alas, too late to meet the Python, who was Tooth & Nail’s animal ambassador. We consoled ourselves with a tasting with Hayden’s help.

We console ourselves with a tasting anyway, and Hayden in the tasting room pours Albarino, Merlot, Syrah, and Petite Syrah from the winery’s Rabble, Statis, and Amor Fati labels. Hayden and the entire tasting room team do an incredible job of taking care of the lively crowd, which ranges from a couple and her parents planning a wedding to large groups of jovial friends.

For more about Tooth & Nail, check out our recent visit to a fun wine-and-paint event.

Seven Down, Nine to Go

Whew, we’ve hit seven wineries in one day. Time to head home and rest up for tomorrow’s Wine Safari.


After a good breakfast, we head back to Paso Robles. Our goal today: to enjoy the experience and meet as many animals as we can, knowing we likely won’t meet them all.

So many animals and wineries, so little time….

Sextant Wines / South African Pixie Frogs

South African Pixie Frogs image
Dewey Hopper and his friend Jeremiah are South African Pixie Frogs, but don’t think they’re tiny.

Our first stop on today’s Wine Safari is full of surprises. Behind the big wooden doors at Sextant Wines lies a tasting room with a European feel. Sleek yet inviting. Spare yet warm.

As we walk in, we meet our animal ambassadors: Dewey Hopper and Jeremiah. From a list we saw at a winery yesterday, we know these are South African Pixie Frogs.

Pixie frogs? These boys are not pixie (i.e., small, petite, or diminutive) frogs. No, they are big, beefy, robust frogs. Can’t help but wonder if they wished they could get a PR firm for a rebranding of their name.

Robert Sextant Wines image
Robert at Sextant Wines runs the tasting room like he’s a veteran.

Dewey Hopper and Jeremiah are sitting quietly, so we head to the tasting room bar and meet Robert. With his ease and understanding of the wines, we assume he’s been in the wine industry for years. Another surprise: this is his second day.

We start with the 2015 SLH Reserve Chardonnay, then try the 2015 SLH Pinot Noir and 2014 Wheelhouse Zinfandel. They’re all good, and they remind us to try the Sextant Winery in Edna Valley sometime soon.

Hunt Cellars / Camel

Tulie the camel image
Tulie the Camel and Annie, who is lucky enough to have Tulie as her own camel.

Our next stop is Hunt Cellars, where we meet Tulie the Camel and Annie from Conservation Ambassadors.

“Tulie is 1-1/2 years old, and she was an ‘overflow’ from a camel breeder in California,” says Annie.

Annie is the camel trainer and has been with the organization for 10 years. Tulie is her own camel, and she oversees the care of the other camels as well.

Tulie seems to love the attention, and her furry long neck is so soft and her big brown eyes so sweet. She’s also very gentle about taking carrots from people’s hands… or lips.

Tulie camel Andrew image
Young Tulie is a kind, friendly animal ambassador, and Andrew will give her a carrot next time.

Asked about whether Tulie will trained to ride, Annie says of course. “And camels are super smart and easy to train. You show them something and they understand very quickly,” says Annie.

Unfortunately, we did not have time to do a wine tasting at Hunt Cellars. Next year…!

Donati Family Vineyard / Raccoon

Fred the raccoon image
Fred the Raccoon in a moment of respite as Mina gives him some chin rubs.

Melissa greets us when we walk into the Donati Family Vineyard tasting room. It’s a bright, cheery room (and they sell some of the best wine accessories we’ve ever seen).

One of the animal ambassadors is hanging out with the crowd and like Peeves, he’s continually in motion.

“This is Rocket,” says Michaela with Conservation Ambassadors, as the young Raccoon explores every nook, cranny, table, couch, bowl, and chair in the place. “Rocket and his brother Fred are about 8 months old, and they came to us when their parents died in the wild.”

After several trips around the winery, with Michaela patiently but actively following at the end of the leash, it’s time for Rocket to take a break and Fred to come out to play.

Donati Family Vineyard image
Donati Family Vineyard’s tasting room is light and light-hearted.

Fred is much more laid back than Rocket, who expresses his displeasure at being in the crate and out of the limelight by making lots of raccoon noises. He’s quite the actor.

As Fred strolls around the space, we start our tasting. Melissa pours 2016 Pinot Grigio, 2013 Petite Verdot, and 2013 Ezio. “Our grapes are estate-grown at our Paicines Vineyard near Hollister,” says Melissa.

And what is the story behind the Ezio label? “This is named after the Donati family’s father,” she says. “The grapes used for the wine may change year to year, but the winemaking approach stays constant. It’s made from the best grapes from the best blocks in tribute to Ezio.” The current vintage of Ezio is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon.

We bid farewell to Fred and Rocket (who’s still talking in the crate) and head to our next destination.

Donatoni Wines / North American Porcupine

Priscilla north american porcupine image
Priscilla the North American Porcupine knows how to work the crowd.

When we pull up to Donatoni Wines, we notice the sign with an airplane-shaped corkscrew.

Knowing there’s a story behind that, we ask winemaker Hank. “That’s not a corkscrew,” he says, with a slight wink, and shares a bit about the decades-long careers he and his wife Sandi had with a major airline. “And then the company decided not to honor its retirement program.”

Ah, now we understand what the sign means.

Outside the barrel room, we meet Priscilla the North American Porcupine and Megan with Conservation Ambassadors. Pricilla is adorable, and she knows how to work the crowd with awesome dance moves.

At one point, she tries to climb out of her enclosure, the better to mingle with her fans.

Unlike her relative Morocco the African Porcupine, who we met at Doce Robles yesterday, Priscilla’s quills are barbed. “I can say that from experience,” shares Megan, who’s been with the organization two years. “You do get poked with a quill sometimes, but it’s a myth that porcupines can shoot their quills.”

Hank Donatoni image
Hank Donatoni recently celebrated his 50th crush.

We head inside for the tasting, and where Hank—who celebrated his 50th crush last year— plus Sandi and Kristie pour 2015 Sangiovese, which has old-word characteristics, Plane Red blend, and Hank’s Vertical Zinfandel, which blends four vintages from Richard Sauret Vineyards. Sauret was a renowned Paso Robles winegrower and dear friend of Hank and Sandi, who passed away in 2017.

The tasting room, with lots of airline and flying memorabilia, takes you back in time.

Shale Oak Winery / African Crowned Crane

Talulah African Crowned Crane image
Talulah the African Crowned Crane is the performer.

As we pull up to Shale Oak Winery, we’re struck by the almost cathedral-like appearance of the tall lines of the structure and colored-glass panes. The beauty of the space inside the tasting room continues the first impression.

Opened in 2011, the Gold LEED Certified was designed to have sustainability built in to nearly every aspect, from sustainably farmed vineyards (one at the winery and another in Pleasant Valley) to photovoltaic panels and a design that incorporates daylighting.

Before we taste the wines, we head outside to the courtyard, where we meet Talulah the African Crowned Crane.

Shale Oak was built to incorporate sustainable features from water conservation to daylighting.

Under five years old, Talulah has been an animal ambassador for two years. She is a natural performer, and loves dancing to the music and with her Conservation Ambassadors humans.

Back inside the tasting room, we try the 2015 Albarino, 2014 Sui (Viognier and Grenache Blanc), 2012 Zinfandel, 2014 Grenache, 2012 Cabernet Broken Oak.

Four Lanterns Winery / Barn Owl and Screech Owls

Screech owl image
Screech owls Atlas and Axis at Four Lanterns Winery.

Our next stop is Four Lantern Winery, set in a beautifully restored barn on what used to be an apple farm.

Right inside are three animal ambassadors: two Screech Owls (Atlas and Axis) and a Barn Owl. Unfortunately, we did not get Mr. or Mrs. Barn Owl’s name.

Like Seneca at Grey Wolf, they are regal and exude an energy of quiet confidence. And, they’re all beautiful.

As we move to the adjacent tasting area, we learn from Erin that the name is a reference to the owners Jackie and Steve Gleason’s four daughters—the lights of their life.

Barn Owl image
Our Barn Owl animal ambassador inside the restored barn at Four Lanterns Winery.

Erin and Cassidy, a mechanical engineering student at Cal Poly, take turns pouring wines, which are centered on Rhone and Bordeaux varietals. Cassidy mentions that the daughters also designed all the wine labels, most of which are lovely watercolor paintings or drawings.

Jackie mentions that they bought the property in 2013 and the majority of the grapes are estate grown. They do all their winemaking here, including bottling.

Four Lanterns Winery owners Jackie and Steve Gleason image
Four Lanterns Winery owners Jackie and Steve Gleason with tasting room hosts Erin and Cassidy. Thanks for taking time for the photo!

We start with the 2016 Syrah-based Sunset Rose, then try the 2016 Lamplight Viognier, and finish up with the 2014 Right Bank, a Bordeaux blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petite Verdot.

Treana Tasting Cellar / Alligator

Spike the Alligator image
Spike the Alligator, a true ambassador.

Our last stop of the day, and of the 2018 Wine Safari, is Treana Tasting Cellar.

The wood siding of the winery and tasting room is striking. Rich, deep color and texture, yet refined.

As we walk into the cool barrel room, we meet Paul, who’s pouring today’s wines. And then we meet Spike and Scott from Conservation Ambassadors.

Spike the Alligator is greeting visitors from atop a long table so we humans can more easily say hello. “Spike is 18 years old,” says Scott, “and he’s a true ambassador.”

Spike Scott Andrew image
Andrew sharing some guy time with Spike and Scott, both great fellows.

He really is. He lets us feel the coolness and texture of his skin, and he seems so patient. Scott encourages Andrew to take a picture with Spike. It’s hard to tell who’s smiling more.

And lest you think there’s no affection inside that hard skin, we witness the charming connection Scott and Spike have. When it is time to get ready to go, Scott gently lifts Spike off the table and puts him on the cool floor. Then, Scott gives him a pat and starts loading up the table. Spike turns around and starts walking toward his friend. Beautiful.

It is a little hard to concentrate on the wine after meeting Spike.

Paul first pours the 2015 Treana Chardonnay, then the Treana Blanc. We tried next the 2014 Austin Hope (Syrah). Paul shares that estate-grown grapes are Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, and Roussanne. We also learned that Treana makes the Troublemaker and Liberty School wines, which include Pinot Noir, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon.

A Wild, Wonderful Weekend

The sun is getting low as we finish our last winery visit of 2018 Wine Safari. All told, we made it to 14 of the 16 participating wineries, and I think we’re all a bit surprised. The only two we unfortunately ran out of time to visit are Croad Vineyards and their Opossum animal ambassador, and AronHill Vineyards and their Armadillo animal ambassador.

The whole event was well done. All the wineries, even with big crowds, did a good job keeping things flowing and were friendly.

And the animals! What an amazing opportunity to meet these beautiful ambassadors and learn more about them.

We have a goal for 2019: meeting 16 animals in two days. Who’s up for next year’s adventure?

Thank You!

We want to thank all our new animal friends for your patience and goodwill being surrounded by silly humans for two days, Conservation Ambassadors for sharing parts of the world we likely will never see, Paso Robles 46 West Wineries who made for a great event, Mina for volunteering to be designated driver, and all the great animal-loving people we met over the weekend.

Truly this was celebrating the Great Flavors of the Central Coast.


For More Information

Conservation Ambassadors Zoo to You:

Paso Robles 46 West Wineries Association:


Participating Wineries (listed alphabetically)

AronHill Vineyards:

Castoro Cellars:

Croad Vineyards:

Dark Star Cellars:

Doce Robles Winery:

Donati Family Vineyard:

Donatoni Winery:

Four Lanterns Winery:

Grey Wolf Cellars/Barton Family Wines:

Hunt Cellars:

Midnight Cellars:

Peachy Canyon Winery:

Sextant Wines:

Shale Oak Winery:

Tooth and Nail Winery:

Treana Wines / Hope Family Wines:

If you liked this story, we think you’ll like these related stories about Wine Safari, winery animals, and fun winery activities:
Wine Safari 2018: Blending Families, Animals, Fun in Paso Robles
Wine and Animals – 46 West Wine Safari, February 12, 2017
Quiz Time: Animal Magnetism (wonderful winery animals of the Central Coast)
Tooth & Nail Winery: Paint Bar Activity (46 West Wineries, Paso Robles)

Winemaker Focus: Mary Bradley (ila and Gra Wines)

Feature Video: Winemaker Mary Bradley

Mary Bradley’s focus as a winemaker is to let the true nature of the grapes shine through, and the wines in her ila and Gra labels are prime examples of her talent.

With practiced eyes, Mary Bradley scans the clusters of Zinfandel grapes as they toddle down the sorting table. She plucks those that don’t match the quality she’s looking for—grape size, ripeness, ratio of fruit to stem—and tosses them aside into a waiting bucket. Seemingly random and nonchalant to our untrained eyes, her choice of one cluster over another reveals her talent and innate sense as a winemaker.

The clusters that do pass Bradley’s exacting standards tumble into the large bin, where her bare feet crush a few layers of grapes to start the fermentation process. In two years, today’s efforts will be bottled as her ila 2017 Zinfandel.

Not only is her newest wine beginning its journey on this warm October day at Cotiere Wine in Santa Maria, but Bradley now begins the second decade of her journey as a winemaker.

It All Starts at The Earle

Rewind to 2004. Bradley has just started working at The Earle.

An award-winning restaurant in Ann Arbor, Michigan, The Earle specializes in French and Italian country cuisine. But it’s the restaurant’s wine list—more than 1,200 selections—that has made the wine world sit up and take notice.

Bradley sorting grapes image
Bradley sorts the best fruit for what will be her whole-cluster Zinfandel wine for her ila label.

In fact, every year since 1983, The Earle has earned the Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence. The Best of Award of Excellence is based on restaurant wine lists that “display excellent breadth across multiple regions and/or significant vertical depth of top wines, along with superior presentation.”

To put this in perspective, for 2017, just 1,168 restaurants across the country received the coveted award. Only 11 restaurants in the state of Michigan were named. (Locally, the 2017 winners included Robin’s in Cambria; The Restaurant at Justin, La Cosecha, and Il Cortile in Paso Robles; Lido in Pismo Beach; and Buona Tavola, Novo, Luna Red, and Koberl at Blue in San Luis Obispo.)

“With a great wine list and Sommeliers eager to share knowledge, I started learning about wine,” she said. “The more I learned, the more interested I became in the whole industry.”

During her four years at The Earle, Bradley was officially bitten by the wine bug. She knew this was the career path she wanted to follow.

Mary Bradley and Kevin Law image
Mary Bradley and mentor Kevin Law, at his Cotiere Wine in Santa Maria.

Like any dream envisioned, things started happening to help bring her dream to reality.

“A friend’s sister-in-law was working at a winery in Napa,” said Bradley. “This made it real—the possibility of working in the California wine industry.”

She started looking at opportunities and applied for a position with Tantara Winery in Santa Maria in 2008. When she got the job, she moved across the country and jumped in. During her first harvest, she helped produce 8,000 cases of Pinot Noir under the direction of winemaker Kevin Law.

That first harvest experience sealed the deal. She fell in love with the wine industry and the Central Coast.

Heading Down Under

A connection she made at Tantara led to a position with a large winery in Marlborough, New Zealand, and she headed there for her second harvest in early 2009.

ila wines image
Bradley’s ila label wine is created in partnership with Ash Mehta, owner of several wine shops, including the new WineSneak in San Luis Obispo. Bradley is Wine Director at the new store. (Image courtesy ila Wines)

“One interesting things was that, in Santa Maria, there were very few women involved in the wine production,” she said. “In New Zealand, it was mostly women.”

After a year in Marlborough, she made her way back to the Central Coast—and a new position as eonologist at Zaca Mesa Winery in Santa Ynez.

“The New Zealand experience helped me know better the processes in a large-production winery,” she said. During her first season at Zaca Mesa, they produced 25,000 cases.

“Learning the chemistry of wine was incredibly helpful,” she said, and the environment of Zaca Mesa encouraged her to learn even more. “We called it ‘Zaca U’ because they offered so many opportunities for education.”

After two and a half years in the lab, she left to earn her enology degree at Hancock College. During that time, she had the opportunity to work once again with Kevin Law.

Kevin Law forklift image
Kevin Law readies one bin of Tres Niños Zinfandel for today’s crush at his Cotiere Wine in Santa Maria.

Law had started his own winery in 2006. Then, after he left Tantara, he founded Cotiere winery in 2011, where he creates wine under his Cotiere and Perfect Left labels, as well as custom production for private clients.

“Kevin has been incredibly helpful and encouraging, and he’s eager to share his knowledge,” she said. “He is meticulous and process-focused, while also an artist with great instincts. I continue to learn from him.”

First Wine

Bradley’s first vintage of her own production was the 2014 Syrah under the ila label, which is a partnership with Bradley and wine store owner Ash Mehta. Ash and Lissa Mehta own Tastes of the Valley in Pismo Beach, Tastes in the Alley in Paso Robles, and the new WineSneak in San Luis Obispo. Bradley is Wine Director at WineSneak, and previously worked at Tastes of the Valleys.

Ash Mehta image
Ash Mehta, surrounded by barrels at Cotiere Wine, partnered with Bradley to create the ila wines.

This inaugural wine received 93 points from Wine Enthusiast, and Bradley’s upcoming vintages are equally promising.

In addition to the ila label, she’s also building her own label: Gra. Its vintages will include 2015 Zinfandel, 2016 Grenache, and 2016 Zinfandel.

The Newest Vintage Begins

Bright fall sunshine warms the cool space at Cotiere Winery in Santa Maria, as Bradley awaits delivery of 2,000 lbs. of Zinfandel grapes. At sunrise this morning, she was working alongside Greg and Terry Lukens, owners of Tres Niños Vineyard outside Arroyo Grande, and Michael DePaola, who owns the neighboring DePaola Vineyard. Together with vineyard manager Rodrigo and his crew, they were picking the best fruit for today’s crush.

Located past Lopez Lake, near Saucelito Canyon’s old-vine vineyard, Tres Niños maintains six acres. This year marks the 20-year anniversary of the vineyard’s planting of Zinfandel and Petite Syrah.

Tres Ninos Zinfandel bins image
Bins holding 2,000 lbs. of Zinfandel from Tres Niños Vineyard await sorting and (perhaps) destemming.

As the flatbed trailer, loaded with bins of deep purple grapes, backs up to the overhead door, Bradley shares how special it is to have the vineyard owners and winemakers here at the same time.

“Winemaking is a synergistic relationship,” she explained. “Grape growers want great wine made from their grapes, and winemakers want to make great wine from quality grapes. The relationship is so important.”

She adds, “I really enjoy working with everyone at Tres Niños. I can go there and sort as the grapes are being picked. It goes such a long way in the quality of the wine.”

Checking Progress

In addition to today’s whole cluster Zinfandel, Bradley is overseeing the sorting for additional wines under her direction.

fermentation bin image
Bradley checks the fermentation of Syrah from Zaca Mesa.

After all the grapes are processed, she checks her fermentations in the front of the winery. Lifting the canvas covers, she warns us not to breathe too deeply, as a layer of carbon dioxide settles above the grapes. This Syrah from Zaca Mesa will be bottled for her ila label.

“Generally, you want the fermentation to be on the cool side,” she explained. “This helps fermentation to progress as slowly as possible, which extracts more of the flavor profile. But there’s a fine line between slow fermentation and stuck fermentation. Once the yeast stops converting the sugar to alcohol, it can be hard to get it going and it can affect other aspects of the finished wine.”

After she checks the temperature of each bin, she covers them back up and heads back to the production area.

Looking Ahead

Kevin Law breaks open several bags of dry ice and adds them to the bin of whole-cluster Zinfandel. It starts bubbling and hissing like a high-school science project.

cold soak dry ice image
Dry ice starts the cold soak for Bradley’s whole-cluster Zinfandel.

He maneuvers the forklift to pour the contents of this last bin into a large tank. There, it will cold soak for a few days before starting the fermentation process.

As today’s crush winds down, Bradley shares her vision for this vintage.

“My approach as a winemaker is for minimal manipulation of the wine,” she said. “So, for this wine, I’m looking to have a more old-world style Zinfandel. Not a huge, jammy, overripe Zin with lots of oak, but more restrained. I want to let the fruit speak for itself.”

And what about her focus for her second decade as winemaker?

Bradley barrel sample image
Bradley samples one of her Syrah wines to assess its progress.

“I’ve always been focused on consistency in quality for every vintage,” she said. “Now, I’m also exploring how to adapt to the individual characteristics of each vineyard and the grapes of each harvest with an artistic approach that lets the true nature of the grape shine through.”

Through every bottle, Bradley’s talent as a winemaker is evident. We’re looking forward to tasting this whole-cluster Zinfandel when it’s ready, and trying Bradley’s other wines under the Ila label and the new Gra label. Current vintages include 2014 Ila Syrah/Santa Ynez Valley and 2016 Ila Grenache/Murmur Vineyard.

For more information:
Ila Wines

Read more in our Winemaker Focus and Winery Spotlight series:
Winemaker Focus: Stephen Ross Dooley | Stephen Ross Wine Cellars
Winery Spotlight: Talley Vineyards
Winery Spotlight: Tablas Creek Vineyards

The Flavor Team wants to thank Mary Bradley for generously sharing her time and spirit for this story; Kevin Law of Cotiere Wine; Greg, Terry, and Dexter Lukens of Tres Niños Vineyard; Michael DePaola of DePaola Vineyard; Ash Mehta of Tastes of the Valleys and WineSneak; and the great crews at harvest and crush. Cheers!

Saucelito Canyon Vineyard Tasting Notes (Edna Valley AVA)

The Flavor Team visited Saucelito Canyon Vineyard in the Edna Valley AVA a couple times over the past few months, and we have a lot to share.

Saucelito Canyon entrance photo
Saucelito Canyon Vineyard in Edna Valley features Zinfandel and other great wines.

The bonus for you? More wines to explore from the wine-tasting lists for 2017 and 2018, and a sneak peak of their newest vintages—the 2015 wines were just released a couple weeks ago.

Saucelito Canyon Vineyard is known for its great Zinfandel wines, but did you know they have the oldest vineyard in San Luis Obispo County? Yes, indeed. The original estate was planted in 1880 with vines from Croatia. In 1974, the Greenough family bought the vineyard, and bottled their first Estate Zin in 1982. Since then, the winemaking reins were handed from father Bill Greenough to son Tom Greenough in 2009, who continues the great heritage of winemaking at Saucelito Canyon.

So many wines! Let’s dive in. (As always, our tasting notes are designated with our initials (ab = Andrew; ks = Kara).)

Saucelito Canyon wine glasses image
Saucelito Canyon’s original vines were planted in 1880–the oldest in San Luis Obispo County.

Winery: Saucelito Canyon Winery,
Wine AVA: Edna Valley
Established: 1974 (with grapes planted in 1880)
Founder/Owner: The Greenough Family
Why it’s special: “A passion for traditional hands-on winemaking ensures that each wine represents an authentic expression of the estate vineyard and its unique microclimate.”
Primary Varietals:
Red: primarily Zinfandel, with additional varietals Tempranillo, Grenache, Petite Syrah.
White: Grenache Blanc, Roussanne.

  1. 2015 Grenache Blanc
  2. 2016 Cote de Blanc (new)
  3. 2013 Zinfandel Estate
  4. 2013 Zinfandel Estate Reserve
  5. 2013 1880 Old Vines Zinfandel
  6. 2014 Zinfandel (Arroyo Grande Valley)
  7. 2014 Tempranillo
  8. 2015 Zinfandel Peterson Ranch/Lodi (new)
  9. 2015 Zinfandel Estate (new)
  10. 2015 Dos Mas Zinfandel blend (new)
  11. 2015 Muchacho Zinfandel blend (new)
  12. 2015 Late Harvest Zinfandel (new)

(ab) The wines that really struck a note for me were the 2015 Grenache Blanc, 2013 1880 Old Vines Zinfandel, and the 2014 Tempranillo.

(ks) I was especially drawn to the 2016 Cote de Blanc, 2015 Zinfandel Estate, 2015 Zinfandel Peterson Ranch, and the 2015 Late Harvest Zinfandel.

image Gladys
Gladys, looking festive in her Valentine’s Day finery.

2015 Grenache Blanc
(ab) I generally prefer red wines, but the 2015 Grenache Blanc was exceptional. Fruity and light. I tasted light pineapple and peach notes.

2013 1880 Old Vines Zinfandel
(ab) You can taste the history and heritage of the 1880 vines. Along with wonderful deep cherry notes, it had a light pepper spice. Bold and slightly fruity.

2014 Tempranillo
(ab) This Tempranillo had a beautiful dark purple color, with notes of black cherry and a slight oak finish. This may have been my favorite of the entire tasting list.

2016 Cote de Blanc
(ks) This is a 55% Roussanne, 45% Grenache Blanc blend, with a pretty pale yellow color. Nice lemon zest and apricot, with light minerality and good acidity. A really nice white wine with depth.

2015 Zinfandel Estate
(ks) It was fun to compare Saucelito Canyon’s winemaking as shown through the Zinfandel grapes from two different AVAs. This Zinfandel, with grapes from their Arroyo Grande Valley vineyard, was deep ruby red and JUICY (yes, capital letters). Like biting into a berry that pops open with juice. Raspberry and cherry notes, but not overly sweet, and a bit of minerality.

Estate Zinfandel bottle image
Saucelito Canyon’s estate vineyard was originally planted with grapes brought from Croatia.

2015 Zinfandel Peterson Ranch
(ks) Then, I compared the Zinfandel made from grapes from the Peterson Family Ranch in Lodi. Very different expression. Dark red hue, deep red stewed fruit, and jammy but not overripe and heavy. The tannins? Soft, and an almost creamy finish.

2015 Late Harvest Zinfandel
(ks) Since this was open, I tried it (and took home a bottle). From my perspective, some late-harvest dessert wines can be so sweet and cloying. This was not that. Stewed plums with the bright characteristic of Zinfandel still present. After whole-cluster fermentation for five months, it was bottled unfiltered and unfined.

Flavor Team Tip
Saucelito Canyon’s tasting fee is just $15, which is waived with the purchase of one bottle of wine. For a go-to, always good, goes with everything wine, we recommend taking home a bottle (or three) of the Backroads Zinfandel. For a few dollars more than the tasting fee, you get to enjoy Saucelito Canyon again at home.

patio image
Take your time and enjoy a glass of wine or a tasting in the peaceful tasting area off the main entrance (don’t worry, Gladys will come outside and visit to be sure you’re enjoying the experience).

Flavor Team Thanks

Thanks to our tasting host Correne, who has been with the winery for 10 years. Your generosity with sharing history and information is so appreciated.

And thank you, Gladys, for your kind and genuine welcome to everyone who walks in the door. You are the best winery Pug on the planet.


Saucelito Canyon is located between San Luis Obispo and Arroyo Grande, just off Highway 227 (Edna Road) on Biddle Ranch Road, near the intersection with Orcutt. It’s open every day 10:00 to 5:00, and the friendly people and peaceful seating area outside make for a great wine-tasting experience.

We encourage you to try it for yourself and let us know which wines you liked and your experiences here.

And, if you enjoyed this article, please do share with your friends and leave a comment and join the Great Flavors community on Facebook.