Thursday, June 12, 2014

Pinot and Pups: Paso Robles Dog Friendly Wineries

Paso Robles Dog Friendly Wineries
Someone is tired after a long day of tasting wine at some of Paso Robles' dog friendly wineries.
When deciding on a weekend getaway for a three-day holiday, we settled on wine tasting in Paso Robles.  Paso Robles is Central California’s premier wine country. There are numerous wineries to choose from, but our criteria for the weekend was dictated by our furry travel companions, so I was on the hunt for wineries that not only created excellent wines, but were also dog friendly.

Paso Robles, unlike some of the more widely visited wine regions, is still reasonably priced, with wineries many times providing free wine tastings if any bottles are purchased.  For us a bonus was that many of Paso Robles’ wineries are dog friendly.

The first winery we visited ended up being my favorite.  Castoro Cellars is family owned and makes some dam fine wine.  That isn’t a spelling error either.  The owner’s son’s nickname is Beaver, and when he went to Italy, they called him il castoro, which means beaver in Italian.  Thus also the pun on dam fine wine.

Castoro Cellars Dog Friendly Wineries Paso Robles
You can just feel its going to be a good day of wine tasting while walking under Castoro Cellars' grape arbor.
Our visit to Castoro Cellars corresponded with their thirtieth anniversary.  In celebration they held a two day event with live music and food and also had some crazy sales on their already reasonably priced wines.  After tasting their vintages I was hooked and ended up taking home a case and a half of wine, which is far and away a record for me.  Castoro Cellars has a large but homey dog friendly tasting room, as well as an art gallery in an adjacent building.

While tasting the Castoro wines we befriended a couple who were wine club members and insisted Castoro Cellars made some of the best wines of the region.  It pays to befriend wine club members while tasting because not only will you gain some additional knowledge, you may also gain access to tasting some wines you would not have otherwise been offered.  The first wine we tried was the Tango, one of Castoro’s signature white wines, which is a blend of Viognier, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, and Moscato that dance well together.  The Tango was refreshing and bright with a subtle sweet flavor.  Some of our other favorite Castoro Cellars wines included the Barbera, Carignane, and Tempranillo.  Because of our newfound friendship with the wine club members, we also got to taste the XXX, Castoro’s 30-year anniversary blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, and Petit Verdot.  The wine had just been bottled that week and yet was already delicious. 

Our next dog friendly winery in Paso Robles was Windward Vineyard, which focuses solely on Pinot.  Windward is a small, more intimate tasting room.  There is also a covered patio where wine and cheese sold in the tasting room can be enjoyed.  We had their vertical tasting, which is a style of tasting that progresses from newest to oldest wine, all of the same varietal.  It was a warm day, so I actually enjoyed the newer Pinot the best as it had a cleaner, fruitier taste.  The older Pinots were more robust.  Our wine pourer stated her preference also fluctuated based on the day.

After hitting two wineries it was time for lunch.  We stopped at Opolo Vineyards which has a huge covered patio, also dog friendly, where they offer a few options for lunch. Lunch choices can include grilled meats or fresh pizzas made in their outdoor pizza oven.  And of course lunch comes with a glass of Opolo wine.

Opolo Vineyards Dog Friendly Wineries Paso Robles California
A wine and lunch stop at Opolo Vineyards' dog friendly patio.
Our next tasting stop wasn’t wine, but locally made olive oil at Pasolivo in Los Olivos.  The dogs had to sit this tasting out.  Pasolivo has a number of olive oil varieties, mostly flavored, which can be tasted with bread pieces and flavored salts.  My favorite was the citrus olive oil.  Pasolivo also makes vinegars, sweets, salts and spices, and more.  I fell in love with their unique olive oil tins.

Pasolivo Citrus Olive Oil Paso Robles California
I am a sucker for packaging, but the contents are delicious too.
We drove deeper into Paso Robles’ wine country and visited Whalebone Vineyard, a tiny dog friendly tasting room on top of the hill.  Whalebone’s featured wine is Bob’s Wine.  Bob (Robert Simpson) is a doctor who decided to take his winemaking hobby to the next level.  The Bob’s Wine label mimics duct tape which is a reminder of Whalebone’s humble beginnings.  Whalebone also makes food for their customers.  On the day we visited they were serving tri-tip chili made from the leftover tri-tip from the day before.  It was some of the best chili ever.  Paso Robles seems to have a love affair with tri-tip, and they do it well.

Paso Robles Countryside Dog Friendly Wineries California
Traveling deep into Paso Robles' wine country also provides some pretty nice views.
We visited the last dog friendly winery of the day, Villicana Winery & Vineyard, not for the wine, but for the spirits made by the related RE:FIND Handcrafted Spirits.   Due to California regulations, a spirits manufacturer cannot also sell those spirits. However, the loophole is that since they are also a winery, they can create and sell brandy.  Therefore, instead of making vodka they make Neutral Brandy, and instead of crafting gin they create Botanical Brandy.  These were excellent, but the seasonal Cucumber Brandy stole the show.  RE:FIND’s Cucumber Brandy tastes fantastic when mixed with homemade lemonade.

RE:FIND Handcrafted Spirits Dog Friendly Paso Robles California
Tasting brandy at RE:FIND Handcrafted Spirits.
RE:FIND Handcrafted Spirits Cucumber Brandy Dog Friendly Paso Robles
RE:FIND Cucumber Brandy and homemade lemonade makes a delightful summer cocktail.
We finished off our day of tasting at Vivant Fine Cheese for cheese tasting.  A selection of cheeses can be sampled outside on their dog friendly patio.  I suggest the Holey Cow, a semi-soft whole cow milk cheese.

Dog Friendly Vivant Fine Cheese Paso Robles California
Making a cheese stop at Vivant Fine Cheese.
Whether you are traveling with your canine companions or not, Paso Robles is a great destination for wine tasting.  Paso Robles is an especially good choice for those looking for a dog friendly wine tasting destination.  But note when saying the name of the town in the area, it is not pronounced like Paso Robe-less, but like Paso Roe-bels.  Their Spanish pronunciation might not be so good, but they sure know how to make good wine.

Katherine Belarmino has been traveling for over ten years on a quest to see as much of the world as possible, experience new cultures, and sample other cuisines and libations. She also writes the travel blog Travel the World, which journals her world travels with her husband Romeo and seeks to encourage others to take the time to travel.