Last month, Joe and I spent a few days in Central California’s Paso Robles wine region. Located halfway between L.A. and San Francisco, near the coast and close to cool places like San Luis Obispo and Cambria, it’s definitely gaining popularity, but still manages to hold onto to its laid-back feel.
We started at Tobin James, on the eastern edge of the region. I’d been there about ten years ago, and I remember it being unpretentious and fun, with free tastings and amazing zinfandel to boot. It was early – after noon but just barely – and we had a cool and attentive pourer, Jill, all to ourselves. After a very generous tasting (and, as a result, a new wine club membership), we asked her: “Which other wineries would you go to?”
Boom. Out came a map and a pen. “You should definitely check out Rangeland,” Jill said, circling a spot in the remote northwestern part of the wine region. “You’ll need to make an appointment. The owner might be able to take you on a personal tour of his ranch, and then you taste wines in his living room.” Sold.
We contacted the owner, Laird Foshay, to try and arrange a tour, and he responded within a few hours. In his email, he suggested we print out or write down the directions, because cell reception might be spotty. He wasn’t kiddin’.
11 a.m. the next morning, we’re driving down a quiet, windy country road to another, more deserted country road, until we eventually get to a gated driveway. We punched in the code Laird provided, entered the ranch, and…kept on driving. (And, yes, cell reception was most definitely spotty.)
Another mile or so in, we approached a sprawling hilltop home, and there was Laird, cowboy hat and all. He welcomed us inside, and we soon learned that he was a former Silicon Valley tech guy who had moved his family down to the ranch in 2001. Since then, he’d taken up raising grass-fed cattle, sheep, and maintaining a vineyard. Like ya do.
Laird took us all around the 1500 acre ranch — which we’d since learned was named Adelaida Springs — occasionally stopping to let his dog Arrow hop out to hunt for squirrels (he had just one confirmed kill on our tour; his all-time record on a ranch tour was seven).
It was impossible to imagine Laird staring at a computer screen, writing code. While we were fascinated by how a former tech guy decides to become a serious rancher, he was far more interested in teaching us about the soil, trees, and Native American artifacts he occasionally unearths. (But you can get his story here and here.)
Partway through the hour-long tour, it suddenly occurred to me that I had no idea what this was going to cost. This busy and important guy – the owner of the property – was personally driving the two of us around in a gas-guzzling pickup truck, and teaching us more than I’ve learned in some earth science courses. This could run us a hundred bucks or more! Oh well…we were committed. And whatever it would cost would be worth it.
We returned to his living room and onto the wine-tasting portion of our visit. Drinking at noon was becoming a theme of this trip.
The wines were wonderful; we bought two bottles of the zinfandel to bring home with us. And the tour price? A cool ten bucks each.
This success called for some pizza. And, of course, some more wine.
What’s the take-home from all of this? Three things:
- Paso Robles is wonderful. Less pretentious and pricey than Napa/Sonoma. Amazing wines and some real undiscovered gems.
- Ask a local, particularly one who knows the ins and outs of an industry, for advice on what to see and do. We never would have sought out Rangeland without Jill’s expert advice, and it was definitely a trip highlight.
- If you want to transform your life, Laird Foshay is proof-positive that you can make it happen!