When Sonoma and the Central Valley are melting in triple digit heat, cool Cambria, perched on an idyllic stretch of ocean midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, offers a cool respite. Mist shrouded dawns give way to blue skies overlooking tide pools, sandy beaches and a two-mile wooden boardwalk that begs for a stroll. After a day of exploration the seaside bluffs blush with a rosy glow as the sun slides over the horizon, quietly confident that a new day will dawn over this restful place.
Cambria is a picturesque home base from which to explore a stretch of coast that is becoming very well known in wine circles. The Paso Robles AVA, which stretches across 2,600 acres and five distinct wine trails, consists of varying microclimates that support Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and other varietals. Visitors from the San Francisco Bay Area, steeped in the lore of Sonoma and Napa, will likely be fascinated by the differences in terroir and methods that can result in wines as outstanding as any in California or the Old World.
Paso Robles has a long association with wine, beginning in the 1790’s when missionaries planted the first vines, but even as recently as 1990 there were only 20 wineries. Today there are more than 200, clearly too many to sample in one visit. The wine region can be conveniently divided into east and west, officially along the Salinas River, but practically by Highway 101. From Cambria it is suggested to confine wine tasting to the west side to reduce drive times.
On a recent visit we were fortunate to stumble across Windward Vineyard, tucked into the rolling hills between Paso Robles and Cambria, where the cooling winds from the Templeton Gap swirl over the golden grasses and green vineyards planted in calcareous soil, rich in the calcium carbonate that is typical of lands near, and previously of, the sea. Owner/winemaker Marc Goldberg is a passionate character who never stopped believing that this area could support the finicky Pinot Noir and his award-winning wines are the proof of his vision, created with wife Maggie D’Ambrosia. His wines are the embodiment of his philosophy, handcrafted in the traditional Burgundian style, driven by terroir while keeping alcohol levels in check. He says, “The vineyard is the winemaker. I’m just a shepherd trying to protect what happens naturally,” and his Monopole wines, exclusively Pinot and sourced only from his 15 acre vineyard, are rich in flavor but velvety smooth on the palate. Some of the other farmers who said it couldn’t be done have given it a go, and now there are enough Pinotphiles that they have established the Paso Pinot and Paella Festival, now in its 10th year.
Justin Vineyards & Winery, sister winery to Landmark Wine in Kenwood (Sonoma County) focuses on Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux blends, though they have a broad portfolio of whites and reds. They are located a little to the north of Highway 46, where it’s a bit hotter, at the end of a long country road. The 2010 Isosceles blend of Cab, Cab Franc and Merlot was full bodied and rich, with a tannic edge that will soften with time, while the 2010 Justification, with Cab Franc and Merlot was surprisingly complex with cinnamon, tobacco and graphite nuances. This popular winery is under construction to expand its tasting room, but even with everything moved around it is clear that this is a large operation. The power business couple Stewart and Lynda Resnick, of Fiji Water and other ventures, bought the two complementary wineries within a year of each other, Landmark Vineyards, known for its Chardonnay and Justin, known for its Cabernet.
Peachy Canyon Winery enjoys a steady stream of visitors due to its location right off of Highway 46, which connects 101 to Cambria. Specializing in Zinfandel, the heritage grape of Paso Robles, they feature no fewer than seven different Zins in their tasting room, each with a unique flavor profile. Some have distinct flavors, such as a strong vanilla taste or pronounced peppery bite, while others are more balanced and smooth, such as the 2011 Vortex Zinfandel.
See “Part 2: Beaches and surrounding area” for information on exploring Cambria and Hearst Castle, as well as lodging options.
Moonstone Beach Drive
Cambria, CA 93428
Blue Dolphin Inn: 800-222-9157
Moonstone Cottages: 800-222-9157
Sand Pebbles Inn: 800-222-9970
Castle Inn: 805-927-8605
Paso Robles Wine Country
See list of wineries, use interactive map to build itinerary
750 Hearst Castle Road
San Simeon, CA 93452
To reach Cambria from San Francisco by car (approximately 3 hours and 45 minutes, depending on traffic):
- Take U.S. 101 South for to Paso Robles
- Take 46 West, lined with wineries and vineyards, to Cambria
- Turn right on CA 1 North
- Arrive in Cambria