Photographed by the author
Californians insist that the hot new wine destination is ‘Paso’, 240 miles south of Napa, inland, straddling Highway 101. Twenty-five years ago the rolling hills outside Paso Robles were covered with tumbleweeds. Today, in the same area, nearly 300 wineries operate, most family-owned and operated. Growers proudly proclaim themselves the cowboys of wine country. The wines are designed to equal the vibrant California cuisine they accompany. They are winning a lot of prizes. With so many bottles out there to inspect, your plan should involve a few days to explore the terroir. You’ll need a comfortable and inspiring base of operations from which to set forth every day and decide for yourself. The days are long, the possibilities vast. The expansive vineyards of orderly rows on all sides blanket the rolling hills into infinity.
A certified California sustainable vineyard and one of the first biodynamic châteaux in the region, Cass Winery is situated on 145 acres a half-hour drive east of 101. No pesticides or herbicides have been used since 2007. The approachability of the bottles on offer could be attributable to winemaker Sterling Kragten’s South African heritage. These award-winning New World vintages are ready to drink early; the sleeper on the menu is a quaffable rosé. Available online, via Cass’s Wine Club, also at retail points, the wines are priced at US$30 to US$60 per bottle.
This vineyard is a trendy example of wine-wrapped-in-entertainment. In June 2020, Geneseo Inn opened, where eight very comfortable bedrooms housed in low-profile repurposed containers are set among the vines. A covered parking place with EV charger can be found below each unit. Interiors are minimalist, contemporary-styled, with big mirrors, good soaps and modernist touches like a simple wood stool or a bedside lava lamp, comfy armchairs accented with wool blankets, sheepskin pillows and your own Nespresso machine. These tech-savvy lodgings are Alexa-enabled, with a wine fridge, of course. Beware the overly tempting in-room goodies: almond caramel popcorn, beef jerky, spicy nuts, enlightened chocolate bars. Steps from your door you’ll find a sociable firepit, perfect for blanket-wrapped assignations during the chilly Paso Robles nights. Happy hour happens every day, and Geneseo is child- and pet-friendly.
There is no shortage of activities to tantalize at Cass. You can schedule in regular estate beef dinners, axe-throwing, comedy nights, olive harvest retreats, art workshops, horseback expeditions, third-wheel wine tours. Add-ons like these make the property extremely attractive for team-building and corporate retreats. Pay attention to the exceptional F&B component. Included in your room rate is the Estate Breakfast by executive chef Charlie Paladin Wayne. He can often be found designing menus for parties of up to 200-plus guests in the nearby kitchens. It’s possible to take your breakfast outdoors, but what a luxury to have the winery’s own egg specialities delivered to your room every morning. Down by the entry gates, the Café operates from 11 to 5. Head café chef Taryn Bauer fashions unpretentious, accessible specials, recent among them couscous and expertly seasoned risotto.
How to arrive, if not by car? Paso Robles has its own airport, convenient for short-haul local connections to LA, Reno or SF. A second airport exclusively serves private aircraft. Cass has installed a new helipad for discreet touchdown. Visible from the pad is a new area planted with apple trees. Owner Steve Cass says he’s contemplating making a branded hard cider. Great idea, but what about a California calvados? Now, that would be product innovation! •
Stanley Moss is travel editor of Lucire.
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