The San Luis Obispo region ranks as one of the state’s premiere wine growing regions, dating back to the 18th century and the time of the Spanish padres. But even if you don’t know a Cab from a Chardonnay, the wine country still beckons, with relaxed, cowboy-meets-winemaker towns and vineyards that blanket coastal hills. SLO’s five AVAs each have something different to offer; in addition to the Pinot Noir this part of the state is particularly known for, you can savor Chardonnay (Arroyo Grande Valley and San Luis Obispo Coast), Syrah and Viognier (Edna Valley), Merlot and Zinfandel (Paso Robles), Cabernet Sauvignon (York Mountain). In short: If you love wine, you’ve come to the right place.
South of town, Edna Valley is home to many top wineries, such as Tolosa, Baileyana, Chamisal—the very first SIP-certified winery—and another sustainability-minded operation, Wolff Vineyards, where the underground PVC irrigation system is saves at least 30 percent of water originally used. The average distance of Edna Valley vineyards to the ocean is just five miles, bringing mild days and cool evenings that help Chardonnay and Pinot Noir reach their maximum potential. A varied soil profile adds character and complexity too.
To extend your wine-country travels, continue about 30 miles northeast to the Paso Robles region. Here, more than 200 wineries ranging from family-owned boutiques to well-known labels such as J. Lohr welcome visitors to sip and swirl award-winning vintages. Paso Robles’ warmer inland climate lends itself to Bordeaux, Rhône and Zinfandel grapes, which vintners use in innovative blends, as well as traditional vintages. Right next to Paso Robles, though cooler and wetter, is the York Mountain AVA, and home to such vintners as Epoch Estate Wine and Lago Giuseppe Winery.
A fourth area—and another of the SLO region’s AVAs—Arroyo Grande Valley is about 13 miles southeast of the city. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the standouts here; fans of those varietals should make their way to Laetitia Vineyard and Winery, Talley Vineyards, and Peacock Cellars. The newest of the region’s AVAs is the San Luis Obispo Coast AVA, which stretches from San Luis Obispo County’s northern border near Big Sur to the southern boundary with Santa Barbara County. It includes the existing appellations of Edna Valley and Arroyo Grande, whose producers can now choose to use “San Luis Obispo Coast” or “SLO Coast” on their labels.