Paso Robles Wine Industry, Part I

Paso Robles’ very varied terroir. | Courtesy Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance

Dear Paso Robles Wine Industry,

I’d like to preface this love letter by saying that I am only trying to help. The changes you made a few years back separating one well-known and loved wine region into 11 unknown wine regions may not be serving you.

I know all your good-time buddies are telling you what you want to hear, but they just want some free wine. I want what is best for you. Let me use a metaphor to help you understand.

Have you ever had a friend you loved because he (or she) was straightforward, easy to understand, reliably good and, although you splurged occasionally, didn’t cost you much to spend time with? Then one day you revisited your friend and he had altered his name and insisted on being addressed by the new moniker — and the cost of having fun with him had increased a whole bunch.

Paso Robles wine industry was one of those wine-world friends for me and the change started in the past decade when top Paso Robles wines rose from about $30 per bottle to $80 or more. I accepted that readily because the juice really deserved that, and I always want my friends to succeed financially. The actual rift happened more recently when Paso Robles’ wine brain trust decided that the region was now 11 legally, defined regions, or AVAs (American Viticultural Area), and each needed special accolades for specific wine types. No longer would they accept a reputation for really good Cabernet, Zinfandel and Rhône varietals, but now insist that they deliver top wines from any grape you can think of.

Eleven AVAs? | Courtesy Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance

Can you say high maintenance? I knew you could.

However, in a stroke of great fortune for my friend Paso Robles wine industry, nobody seems to have noticed any of this nonsense. This luck seems to be based on three factors:

No. 1 | Paso Robles’ smoke-signal delivery system must be quite weak. The word about the 11 follies — I mean, AVAs — hasn’t traveled very far because even other wine professionals and oenophiles give me a blank stare when I mention this model of overcomplication.

No. 2 | The “We make great wines from anything” message has also fortuitously had limited reach. While having many different wines is necessary for small-production wineries because they make almost all of their profit from winery visitors and club members and they must offer many different wines for this to work, on a larger, commercial scale nobody believes that you are great at everything.

No. 3 | There are still many values at lower price points and the higher-priced Halo Wines do bring notoriety that helps float all of Paso Robles’ boats.

So, there is hope. Read my column in the next edition or at for the more loving part of this intervention.