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Let’s face it the last thing we need is more geography to cram into our dehydrated brains. Hell, I still haven’t recovered from the DOCG hemorrhage from back in 2011. So, when I heard that Paso was shooting for 11 sub-AVA’s I was less than thrilled
To be fair, having had to try and navigate my way through those hills I know this region is a long way from being homogeneous, and its huge, but seriously? 11 sub-regions? I mean, sure I get it, delineation of sub-regions by micro-climate and soil is the progenitor of terroir conceptualization but at first glance I gotta say I’am skeptical. Especially when I see a producer name in an appellation. Vino de Pago ‘alla Americana’ anyone
After a little digging I stared to change my tune a little. I hadn’t realized that Paso isn’t just large, it’s the largest “non-regional AVA in California at 609,564 acres. To put it in perspective all of Napa is only 1/5 that size and they already have 16 sub-AVA’s. There is a considerable change in altitude across the region but what is most significant is the temperature differential from the area around the Tempelton Gap and the regions on the eastern border of the appellations along the Tremblor range.
My curiosity was aroused and I knew that I had to do a little more research in order to distill all this information into more manageable bits that might have some relevance table-side. After a lot of digging I have gone ahead and detailed each region below. However, since I know most of you have the attention span of a squirrel mainlining 4Loko you can scroll to the bottom get the Somm Bytes which I feel like are the most relevant snippets of information we might be asked tableside or during an exam.
The information is still kind of sketchy for some regions so if you see some inconsistencies, don’t hold it against me. What is written here is what I have discovered after digging through legal petitions which were submitted to the TTB (about 500 pages of them), by each of the proposed regions.
Regions are also labeled with a Maritime influence quotient #. (1 most influence, 8 least influence)
Adelaida District – Maritime influence quotient 6
- Approx. 53,100 acres located on the far Western edge of the appellation
- Approx. 1300 acres of vineyards with 19 bonded wineries
- Cooler region II – III, transitional mountain climate, averaging 3030 degree days
- Averaging 25 inches of precipitation a year
- Days above 100F: 7
- Most vineyards found between 1100 – 1800 feet about sea level
- Notable wineries in the area: Justin, DAOU, Lone Madrone, Halter Ranch, Adelaida
Creston District – Maritime influence quotient 4
- Approx. 47,000 acres found in the Southern, central portion of the appellation.
- Approx. 1400 acres of vineyards and at least 8 bonded wineries
- Lower elevation, moderate region II-III climate, approx. 3100 degree days per year Average 11.57 inches of precipitation per year.
- Most vineyards planted between 1030 - 1300
- Moderate amount of Maritime influence
- Days above 100F: 20
- Notable wineries in the area: Camatta Hills Vineyard, Calf Canyon, B&E, GreMark, Stanger
El Pomar District – Maritime influence quotient 3
- Approx. 21,300 acres in total, inland of Templeton Gap, approx. 2000 acres of vines and at least 4 bonded wineries.
- Most vineyards are found between 840 to 960 feet above sea level
- Moderate region II climate, approx. 2952 degree days
- Average 15 inches of precipitation per year.
- Notable wineries in the area: Hansen, Stillwater, McClean Vineyards
Paso Robles Estrella District – Maritime influence quotient 5
- Approx. 66,800 acres in total, approx. 8500 acres of vines and at least 14 bonded wineries
- Most vineyards are planted between 750 – 1000 feet above sea level
- Moderate-Low region II-III, approx 3270 degree days, effected by cooler maritime breezes via the Salinas River Valley during the warmest days of summer and fall.
- Days over 100F: 18
- Average about 14 inches of precipitation per year
- Largely valley floor topography of the Estrella River floodplain.
- Largest sub-AVA in Paso Robles.
- Notable wineries in the area: Tackitt Family, Bon Niche, Rachita Canyon, Silver Horse, Graveyard
Paso Robles Geneseo District – Maritime influence quotient 7
- Approx. 17,300 acres located at the heart of the PR AVA just west of the city.
- Approx. 3000 acres of vineyards and at least 16 bonded wineries
- Higher degree days than El Pomar, PR Estrella or Creston District (3500 – 3600 Degree days) making it one of the warmest sub regions. Region III – IV transitional climate
- Large range of soil types (clay loams, sandy soils, alluvial deposits) with a large range of ph (5.6 – 8.4). Mostly leftover alluvium from the Estrella River and Huerhuero Creek
- Average of 14 inches of precipitation
- Elevation ranges from 860 – 1050 ft.
- Wineries located in the region: Eberle, Rasmussen, Rio Seco, Pear Valley, Bianchi, Barr
Paso Robles Highlands District – Maritime influence quotient 8
- Approx. 60,300 acres in total, approx. 2000 acres of vineyards and no bonded wineries.
- Most continental climate along with San Juan Creek.
- Warm Region III-IV which is tempered by pronounced cold air drainage in the evenings. Approx. 3678 degree days
- Semi-Arid climate due to rainshadow influence with the largest diurnal shift/temperature range of all regions.
- Approx. 12 inches of precipitation per year
Paso Robles Willow Creek District – Maritime influence quotient 1
- Approx. 21,300 acres in total with approx. 1400 acres of vineyards and over 20 bonded wineries.
- Shares its western border with the York Mountain AVA
- Coolest region in the larger Paso Robles AVA. Cool Region II with approx.. 2900 degree days (cool air from the ocean enters this area first before any other region in Paso Robles)
- Mountainous area, most vineyards are found at 1000-1300 feet above sea level and most vineyards are on south-to-southeast facing slopes. Harvest is typically 2 weeks later here than in the rest of the Paso Robles AVA.
- Distinguished from the Templeton Gap sub-AVA by being higher in elevation and more mountainous.
- More precipitation than lowland areas, 26-34 inches per year. Vineyards may be dryfarmed
- Days above 100F: 13
- Notable wineries in the area: Turley, L’Aventure, Saxum, Jack Creek, Denner Vineyards and many more.
San Juan Creek – Maritime influence quotient 8
- Approx. 26,600 acres in total, located on the western border of the San Andreas Fault. Approx. 3000 acres of vineyards and at least 2 bonded wineries.
- Site of the first large scale commercial vineyard in Paso Robles; Rancho Dos Amigos. Several other large scale vineyards are now found in the region including: San Juan Vineyards, Filipponi, Thompson Vineyards and a significant portion of the Central Coast Farming Vineyard.
- First grapes were crushed in the region in 2000
- Semi-Arid climate due to rain shadow influence, warmest region in Paso Robles in reference to daytime highs, evapotranspiration and water stress. Average precipitation is 10.42 inches a year. Warm region III (low region IV in some areas) with an average of approx. 3400 degree days.
- Days above 100F: 20
- Notable wineries in the area: Row Eleven, SVP Winery
San Miguel District – Maritime influence quotient 7
- Approx. 30,800 acres located at the center-northwest part of the PR AVA surrounding the city of San Miguel. Approx. 1500 acres of vineyards and at least 10 bonded wineries.
- Site of the first plantings in the Paso Robles (Mission San Miguel Arcangel)
- Warmer Region III-IV climate in the rain shadow of the Santa Lucia Range
- Very little maritime influence accept when effected by cooler maritime breezes via the Salinas River Valley during the warmest days of summer and fall. Second lowest average precipitation (11.4 inches per year) and one of the earliest ripening areas in Paso Robles.
- Alluvial floodplain soils
- Notable wineries in the region: Caparone Winery, Rabbit Ridge, Pretty-Smith Vineyards and Winery, Domine Degher, Vista del Rey
Santa Margarita Ranch – Maritime influence quotient 2
- Approx. 18,300 acres in total. 800 acres of vineyards and no bonded wineries.
- Robert Mondavi Winery leased over 1000 acres in the region in the early 2000’s and developed a large vineyard which makes up the entirety of the planted area in the region.
- Cool region II climate with approx. 2900 degree days.
- Area of pooling for cool maritime air and higher precipitation than other areas 29 inches per year on average.
- Early frost is a particular hazard.
Templeton Gap District – Maritime influence quotient 1
- Approx. 35,600 acres in total of which approx. 2300 acres are vineyards. Currently at least 35 bonded wineries are found in the region.
- Cool region II climate with approx. 2900 degree days. Coolest area of the larger Paso Robles AVA.
- Most vineyards are found between 900-1300 feet above sea level
- Most maritime influence along with Paso Robles Willow Creek District
- Mixture of alluvial soils and bedrock.
- Average of 20 inches of precipitation per year.
- Days above 100F: 12
- Notable wineries in the region: Kenneth Volk, Wild Horse Winery, J Dusi, Clos la Chance, Zenaida Cellars, Orchard Hill Vineyard, Victor Hugo
Here are the Somm Bytes…
- The sub-AVAs in Paso are loosely related to climatic differences and geographic features.
- The coolest (in terms of temperature but with some relation to the adjective..) regions are those closest to the Templeton Gap: Willow Creek and Templeton Gap. They are also the regions with some of the highest rainfall.
- The warmest and driest regions are those found the farthest east: Highlands and San Juan Creek.
- All regions share at least one border except Santa Margarita Ranch, which is the farthest south and has a unique microclimate with relatively high precipitation and cooler temperatures. The region is a trap for the cool air from the ocean and surrounding hills and has one of the most significant diurnal shifts.
- The most populous region in terms of resident wineries is the Templeton Gap District and the least populous is Santa Margarita Ranch.
- The site of the oldest plantings in Paso is found within the San Miguel District (home of the Mission San Miguel Arcangel
- Area with highest elevation vineyards on average is Adelaida District.
- An area to watch for further growth (in the humble opinion of yours truly) is the Adelaida District. Its high elevation, mountainous, has enough precipitation to allow dry farming, relatively cool with significant diurnal shift and much of the area is not yet developed.
- The soil types are numerous but are mostly a mixture of decayed bedrock/shale and alluvial deposits. Topsoil and organic matter are more prevalent in areas with higher precipitation (western border)
- Yes, this is something we should know… The climatic and geographical features of these sub-regions are distinct enough (more so than you might find along the Napa Valley for the most part) that it will have a marked influence on the style of wine.
It’s a constant frustration, and stimulation, for us Somms when we discover there is something else out there to learn. That’s normal for any profession I suppose.
However, in my humble opinion, what defines our skill as a sommelier is the degree to which we care enough to be the resource our guests expect. Consider yourself the "wine Google alla minute."
That being said, its important that we don't come off as a dictatorial, robotic type resource but more as a gregarious librarian of sorts with the ability to translate our knowledge to anyone's level of understanding.
Its so important that we always seek better translate all the facts we commit to memory into “table-side” relevancy and into a vernacular defined by our guests understanding. This is why I believe its important to have these quick tidbits of info (SommBytes) memorized so we can quickly translate all this data for our guests.
“The best sommelier is not the one with the most knowledge but the one who can best communicate that knowledge.” BR
Go forth, drink well and happy studying!