The area in and around San Luis Obispo County 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), and 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. One standout destination here is Ancient Peaks, in Santa Margarita, where in addition to tasting award-winning wines visitors can also hurtle across six epic zip lines, take part in foraging and wildlife tours, and book a guided horseback trail ride that will take you through the winery’s diverse terrain. 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 San Luis Obispo. 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.
If sustainability is a factor when you’re deciding how to spend your downtime, you might want to focus your tastings on the SLO CAL Sustainable Wine Trail, set within the SLO Coast and Paso Robles wine regions. Though there are more than 250 wineries scattered across this 70-mile stretch of Highway 101, less than 50 have earned their spot on this trail thanks to their dedication to sustainable viticulture. Enjoy leisurely tastings, educate yourself about green initiatives, and feast your eyes on spectacular landscapes, all while preserving the local ecosystem’s viability.