It’s harvest time and vineyards and wineries all over California are bustling with activity and excitement. Many of them are offering special events and tastings for visitors. If you are planning a trip to the Paso Robles area of the Central Coast, there are quite a few lodging choices including a vintage inn, spacious lofts over wineries, chain hotels, an Italian Villa, and many bed and breakfast options run by welcoming innkeepers.
On a recent trip I was lucky enough to experience the beauty of one such B & B and the graciousness of its hosts. After the 3 1/2 hour drive, ( I took the scenic coastal route because of the perfectly situated rest stop about half way there just south of Solvang), I exited the 101 at Vineyard Dr and began the “cool down” drive 15 minutes through the typically rolling hills of the area East of the 101 and South of the 46E. I drove past sprawling parcels, most with large homes, long drives and the occasional horse lazily peering out over a whitewashed fence. And of course, the entire landscape is dotted with those beautiful massive oak trees, for which the area was originally named by Spanish explorers as El Paso de Robles, meaning “the pass of the oaks”. As I neared my destination, appropriately named High Ridge Manor, I climbed a bit higher until the spectacular view enticed me to pull over and take it all in. Besides the beauty of the hills, I also noticed the familiar silence that I always experience when I come to Paso. There’s no traffic noise or sirens blaring down the street, no leaf blowers roaring and spitting up dust, no omnipresent hum of pool equipment. It’s as if sound has disappeared, accentuated by the birds circling above, silently floating on currents of air. Hmmm..is this heaven? No, it’s Paso Robles. I take a deep breath – I’m relaxing already.
Back in my car, I drive up the rest of the hill to the end of the street where I find the gate to High Ridge Manor. I’m “buzzed in”, and greeted by Jim and Cindy, the hosts, and their two adorable Golden Retrievers. Both transplants from Orange County, Cindy and Jim had a dream to pursue the wine country lifestyle, but Napa was too expensive. After discovering Paso Robles and the tranquility of it’s surrounding countryside they began to looking for the perfect location on which to build their new home. Six months of searching led them to their hilltop location, where they employed her expertise as a general building contractor to conceive of and build their dream home/bed and breakfast where they could enjoy sharing their passion for entertaining and wine with their guests.
While the accommodations are luxurious with no detail left unaddressed, Cindy and Jim make you feel comfortable and very much at home. As soon as I arrived, I was given a tour of the lush gardens and pool, gazebo and barbecue areas – all beautiful sites for the many weddings, concerts and parties held there. Then I was shown through the three guest rooms, each individually and impeccably decorated by Cindy and with their own patios with glorious west facing views of the hills and sunsets.
The guest floor also has a kitchenette set up with, among other things, a compliment of plastic wine glasses should guests decide to relax and continue the wine tasting down by the pool. And if the night turns chilly, good times can continue inside the spacious billiard/game room decorated with large format bottles of wine and lively, three foot statues of the Blues Brothers.
Jim loves to cook, and draws upon his kitchen garden to provide fresh herbs and produce for many of his culinary delights. As I was settling into my room, he delivered a platter of sliced bread and freshly made bruschetta with a bottle of chilled sauvignon blanc from nearby Sculpterra Winery. As I had had no lunch, this was indeed welcome, and absolutely delicious. Before he left, Jim offered up the invitation to join him and Cindy upstairs on the balcony for wine and the “must see” sunset as soon as I was able.
The evening was indeed spent on the balcony, watching the sunset, which was spectacular, and tasting some of their favorite local wines. Cindy would point in different directions indicating spots along the landscape that belonged to this family and that winery. Every once in a while we’d hear the pop guns being shot off in the vineyards in an effort to keep the birds from eating the plump ripe fruit about to be harvested. As the sun slipped dramatically down behind the mountain tops, Cindy was anxious for me to try the Gelfand -07 Cabernet she was drinking. Jim described his fondness for Barbera, bringing out a Bella Luna Lot One -06 that he just had to open and share. Both wines were elegant, lush, dark, rich and completely yummy! Both Cindy and Jim lovingly and respectfully tout the local, small production, family-run boutique wineries, and the creative focus the owner/winemakers have for producing small lots of high quality wine. They shared many stories and insights into the local wine lore and history, captivating my interest until, realizing I had to be in the vineyards by 6:30am, I reluctantly retired to my room. One more delight was yet to come…..After getting myself sorted for the next day’s early departure, I climbed up into the beautifully appointed four-poster king size bed, and….ahhhhh….a cozy feather bed enveloped my body as if to say, come, relax. sleep. And I did, soundly.
5:00am came too soon and as I arose out of bed, I was compelled to get back into bed to once more experience that delightful moment when your body first feels that feather bed…ok, you get the picture. Since I didn’t have time for the full gourmet breakfast normally offered guests, Jim had laid out for me coffee and a selection of giant, delicious muffins, which I would be increasingly grateful for as the morning went on. When I went out to load my car, sure enough, the roosters were cock-a-doodling. That was my first hint that LA was indeed a long way away, and that I was in a quieter place where every moment was to be savored. With typical LA attitude, feeling late and pressed for time, I started my dash to the vineyard located about 10 minutes away. Almost immediately I was convinced that a slower approach was in order. Although everything was quiet and there was no one on the road, there was plenty of activity as the deer were out scavenging for breakfast and rabbits were hopping across the road. As the sun finished its ascent into the morning sky, I pulled up to the vineyard gate at Cass Winery and another adventure was about to unfold.
HIGH RIDGE MANOR – www.highridgemanor.net 805/226-2002
Recently awarded 2009 National Traveler’s Choice Award as one of the 14 Most Romantic B & B’s.
I’LL DRINK TO THAT!
Tobin James – James Gang Reserve – 2006 – 50% Cab Sauvignon/50% Syrah
If you like your reds big, full and powerful Tobin James always delivers. This blend of Paso Robles grown fruit is all that but smooth, velvety and elegant at the same time. The aroma of tobacco mingles with the fruit, and the wild gamey Syrah blends seamlessly with the Cabernet to create a wine with great structure that will lend itself to cellaring, if you can find some – wine club tends to buy out these luscious wines very quickly.