Sep 26, 2013

Experiencing the future in Paso Robles?

On a recent Saturday, with our better halves busy doing other things, we were left unattended. With no supervision in sight and rather than a few games of two up, we decided a quick trip to Paso Robles was in order. Now we love Paso Robles, and nearly always enjoy the wines and experiences at the tasting rooms. While we have not been to all the tasting rooms, we have hit a pretty good cross section (about half) from the large to the small and a lot in between.

Why do you love Paso so much you may ask? Well first off, the wines are on average of great quality at reasonable prices. Typically half of the cost in Napa and in some cases just as good. The people in the tasting rooms are generally very friendly and welcoming, and fairly well versed on the wines they pour and vineyards that the grapes come from. The tasting fees are minimal and are easily recovered with a bottle purchase. Things never stay the same, now here comes the BUT! Things seem to be changing and it's not just the lack of water (this is another story). Things are always changing you say. True, but things in the tasting rooms of Paso seem to be changing in a not so typical welcoming Paso way and not for the better. What are whingeing about? Lets just look at our recent trip experience.

Winery 1. Their website say's $10 tasting and keep the etched glass. We were not offered to keep the glass (not that we wanted them) and the tasting fee was not returned when each of us purchased a bottle. The conversation, even when we tried to engage, was pretty much limited to reciting the tasting notes and some minimal info about the winery when pushed for a bit more info. This was a winery that is usually recommended as a fun place to go and its not like they were super busy, we were just two of four in the tasting room. Wines were $35 and up to $60. Not a bad experience just an indifferent one and not what we have come to expect from Paso. Wont be going back anytime in the near future. Average wines for inflated prices and no welcoming feeling.

Winery 2. Tasting fee was $20 each and if each of us purchased $50 worth of wine it was credited back. Problem was only a couple wines who's prices started in the $20's with most in the upper $30's into the $40's, so you realistically  needed to spend nearly $60 to to get your tasting fee back. Again not much conversation or engagement just this is our Special Zin with aromas of vanilla, sage, nettle, and plum make up the delicate nose. It has a velvety medium body, bing cherry are followed by toasted hazelnuts and lingering Kona coffee notes, and then off to put the bottle away. Upon noticing our empty glasses it was a repeat performance. We did get some conversation at one point but there was a lack of enthusiasm and an impression of only marginal interest in providing a good experience. There is no mention of the tasting fee credit conditions on their website. The website simply states a $10 fee credited upon purchase. Sure we could argue the printed one should be upheld, but that's the point, we should not have to. May go back after a while or if invited as wine was good and maybe the server was having an off day.

We took a break and had some lunch and contemplated our days experience so far and decided to move to the other end of the region and try again.

Winery 3. The website only notes that members taste free. There was a $10 fee which was returned with a simple purchase and at least here, there was engaging conversation. There was also stories about the winemaker, the property, and the different vineyards and just like that our faith in Paso was returning. The price point of the wines was $20 - $60 with most being in the mid to upper $20 range . Good pricing for good wines and an enjoyable experience just as we are used to in Paso. As an added bonus we were even treated to a Cider tasting. Will be going back. Nice wines at reasonable prices and that welcome feeling that Paso is renown for.

With our mood improved it was time for one last stop before an early dinner.

Winery 4. We were ready to try somewhere new again, and so in to the first random place we passed heading back into town it was. With no idea what we were in for we checked the website prior to walking thru the front door. No mention of tasting fees. Turns out its $10 to taste and you get to keep the logo'ed dirty glass. Wines were from disappointing 3-4, to ok 5-6 and someone forgot to have the price points reflect this. $25 for disappointing and $50 for ok across the range. Seemed more like a marketing exercise than a winery. Will not be going back in a hurry. Below average, and average wines at vastly inflated prices.

Now you may feel it is the tasting fee we are complaining about, but that's not the case. Tasting fee's are a reality of the industry, are often fair (cover cost of pours), and an encouragement to have you purchase at least a bottle per tasting (if you like you should). It was the the way we were engaged, or not, and the inability or excessive purchases required to have the tasting credited that was disappointing, and the feeling that they had our money so whatever. When you are two of only four in a tasting room you expect a little more than quoting the tasting notes, and when answering questions a little more than "I don't know, I should probably find that out".
With somewhere over 170 wineries in the Paso Robles area there are bound to be those you are not going to be thrilled with, or that are maybe having an off day. But having tasted in Paso Robles for over twenty years, and having so few bad experiences, to get three in one trip was a shock.  Particularly when two of the three are well respected tasting rooms. These experiences were reminiscent of some Napa ones we have had, indifferent attitude, over charging for tasting, overpriced wines and basically providing a lackluster experience. While generally we love Napa we have had a higher share of disappointments there on average. This really made us think, is Paso leaving its no fuss no ponce attitude behind in favor of a more Napa style attitude and atmosphere? We wonder, are the golden down home feel days disappearing? Is all the success going to it's head? We hope not, and we hope this was just an out of character day, but we will be keeping a closer eye on this and hope we don't need to call anyone out for an undervalue experience.

Happy Tasting Adventures,


Kiwi & Koala

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