Paso Robles Wine Region

Posted December 4, 2009; updated December 2010

Appellation - Paso Robles 

Sub-appellation(s) - Adelaida District, Creston District, El Pomar District, Estrella District, Geneseo District, Paso Robles Highlands, Willow Creek District, San Juan Creek, Santa Margarita Ranch, Templeton Gap District.

Location - United States (San Luis Obispo County, California); 36th parallel.

Size - 248,500 hectares (614,000 acres).

Rainfall - variable 15.5 in/yr (39 cm/yr) in city of Paso Robles; can be as little as half or as much as triple depending on the region.

Growing Degree Days -3,400 (varies depending on area).

Grape Varieties - Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Zinfandel, Chardonnay, Petite Sirah, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc; smaller plantings of 30 other varieties including Barbera, Semillon, Viognier, Pinot Gris, Grenache, Petit Verdot,Tempranillo, and Mourvedre).

Claim to Fame - Cabernet Sauvignon plantings dominate the region for a good reason; some of the best Zinfandels around; home to the Rhone Rangers.

Winemaking in Paso Robles can trace its history to the same source as many California wine regions, Catholic missionaries who began growing wine grapes here in the late 18th century. It was Andrew York who established the area's first winery nearly 100 years later after planting several Zinfandel vineyards in the modern-day York Mountain AVA. A handful of other wineries were established through the first half of the 1900's, but it wasn't until the 1970's the wine industry truly bloomed as focus shifted eastward. This saw the emergence of Cabernet Sauvignon as the region's powerhouse, and eventually helped Paso Robles become designated an American Viticultural Area (AVA) in 1983. Additional acreage was added to the AVA in 1997 and 2009.

Paso Robles is the largest geographic AVA. It encompasses 614,000 acres and spans 35 miles across from the Santa Lucia Mountains in the west to the Cholame Hill in the east. The region is arguably the most diverse AVA as well, comtaining dozens of distinct microclimates and over 40 different soil series. Its western border lies just 6 miles from the Pacific Ocean and produces extreme differences in daytime and nighttime temperatures. The diverse growing conditions and large geographic area allow over 200 wineries to call Paso Robles home, producing wines from 50 different grape varieties. The region's diversity was the primary driver behind its sub-division into 11 distinct districts finalized in 2014.

Cabernet Sauvignon accounts for nearly 40% of the region's 30,000 acres of vineyard plantings. Merlot, Syrah, Zinfandel, and Chardonnay round out the top 5. Paso Robles' vintners have recently earned extensive acclaim for their Rhone varietal wines, including Saxum Vineyards being awarded #1 of Wine Spectator's Top 100 in 2010.

To learn more about Paso Robles' 11 sub-AVAs, click here.