Kunal Mittal, Nicole Williams and Chris Kern at LXV Lounge
Photos: Mira Honeycutt

The Paso downtown winery scene is gathering momentum as was evident at the Downtown Spring Wine Stroll on April 27. Wine glasses in hand, dogs on leashes or clutching bags of popcorn, wine lovers leisurely sauntered downtown streets stopping by at some 17 participating wine tasting rooms.

From a handful of tasting rooms a few years back, the number has now grown to over two dozen, stretching from the downtown square all the way to Riverside Drive and 5th Street (location of Derby Wine Estates). 

To harness this growth and camaraderie, a group of some 24 tasting rooms are now branding themselves as the “Downtown District,” which it hopes will pump up the downtown shopping, wining and dining experience for locals and visitors.

“The idea is to have an intimate experience of downtown, interact and get a sense of Paso history and hospitality,” Neeta Mittal, co-owner of LXV Wine, told me when I stopped by her busy wine lounge. In fact, all of Paso’s 11 AVAs are represented among the two dozen-plus rooms. “It’s a good representation of Paso,” Mittal added.

Adam and Angie Lazarre

Although there was more winery participation this year, attendance for the sold out event was kept at 200 from last year’s 300. “There are different factors,” said Jamee Freitas, tasting room manager at CaliPaso Winery and Villa, adding that some tasting rooms were unable to participate due to private events such as pick up parties. 

For the quarterly stroll, attendees booked tickets online and selected a tasting room starting point where they could pick up the wrist band, wine glass and downtown map, noted Freitas. There were specially priced “food only” tickets for designated drivers.

Jeffry Weisinger, Stevie and Raymond Smith

The theme of new beginnings and new wine releases showcased some impressive wines, with each tasting room expertly pairing their wines with gourmet small bites. 

“It’s a most popular event,” reflected Ron Nodder, owner winemaker of Chateau Lettau. “People get a chance to walk around and taste wines for a reasonable fee,” he commented on the stroll. Nodder has seen the growth and quality of the event over the years, especially on food pairings. “There’s an effort from everyone to step up the food; it’s a wonderful pairing experience,” said Nodder, offering a plate of beef and black bean empanada with a taste of 2013 Rockstar, a luscious blend of cabernet sauvignon, syrah and petite sirah.

Sharing Chateau Lettau’s tasting room, Rochelle Carter, marketing director of Sea Shell Cellars, offered a fragrant Rosé of grenache paired with delicious squares of lemon pistachio shortbread from the newly opened Zulu Bakery.

Indeed the food offerings were delicious and some of the pairings were outstanding. At Bushong Vintage Company, the 2018 alabriño ringing with crisp acidity and minerality was a match made in heaven with ceviche prepared by chef Jacob Lovejoy at his Eat Love Joy catering company.

Varinder Sahi and Anita Kothari

Across the street at Symbiosis, owner/winemaker Glenna Thompson had sparkling white barbera on tap ready for guests with Emmenthal and Gruyere cheese fondue spread atop a slice of jicama instead of bread (for the gluten-free crowd).   

Angie and Adam Lazarre of their eponymous winery were mobbed with people at their tasting bar at Thomas Hill Organics restaurant. Adam poured the 2017 pinot noir from Edna Valley. “We just bottled it three weeks ago,” he informed. The silky pinot was ideal with chef Kurt Metzger’s creamy smoked salmon crostini.

At the bustling LXV, guests lounged on silk cushions indoors and under the newly constructed covered patio (in the parking lot) tasting spiced aioli atop Italian style meatballs between sips of 2016 Secret Craving, a lush blend of cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon and petit verdot. 

Another busy tasting room was Copia Vineyards and Winery, where owners/winemakers Anita Kothari and Varinder Sahi served the refreshing 2017 Rosé with a creamy dollop of goat’s milk ricotta laced with honey and thyme. “Guests started arriving five minutes before noon,” exclaimed Sahi of the onslaught of wine lovers. Fortunately, the cavernous tasting room and the patio at Paso Underground could handle the crowds.

Ceviche and albariño at Bushong Vintage Company

  

At Frolicking Frog Cellars tucked in the back of Siegel’s jewelry shop, owner/winemaker and goldsmith Stuart Goldman poured the deep rich 2009 Jumpin’ Jehosaphat, a blend of petite sirah and zinfandel, served with the seductively delicious wine-infused dark chocolate fudge brownie. Goldman suggested visitors might get jewelry cleaned and polished while enjoying wine tasting.

Since Hoyt Family Vineyards is known for its chardonnay, manager Nancy Hoffman kept the food pairing simple and fun. “This is our favorite pairing – popcorn, chardonnay and a movie,” she said offering us a choice of three flavors from the popcorn cart – caramel, white cheddar and classic butter.

Norma’s Way alley was rocking with wine lovers pouring out of the intimate tasting room of Indigené Cellars and into the alley, sipping the 2016 Santa Lucia Highlands chardonnay. The aromatic wine was paired with deviled duck egg salad canapé prepared by next door eatery’s chef Jeffry Weisinger.

At Derby Wine Estate, the furthest tasting room from downtown guests began their stroll early in the afternoon making it their starting point, said brand manager Danny Hull. Guests were escorted up to the Almond Room for a tasting with a view – sipping the aromatic 2015 viognier with bites of Thai spring roll.

Other participants in the stroll included Gary Kramer Guitar Cellars, Asuncion Ridge Vineyards, Domaine Degher, Tudor Wines and Bodegas Paso Robles.

Mittal is bullish on the Downtown District branding concept. “We don’t have the rolling hills or winery buildings,” Mittal confessed,” but you get to meet the owners and it’s an intimate experience.”

Freitas further commented on the stroll: “This is great for downtown restaurants and businesses, we get a lot of repeat people, locals and from out of town.”

The downtown wineries group is registered as Downtown Paso Wine, Inc. a non-profit organization. The summer stroll is scheduled for June 29.