Brooks, co-owner of Wine Shine in Paso Robles,
Calif., pours a glass of brandy made from grapes for
a customer to try on Aug. 14, 2015. In background is
co-owner Mark Sahaydak.
ROBLES, Calif. — I frantically flipped through pages of
handwritten directions, unable to tell my designated
driver the way to the next winery. The repeating scenery
— rolling golden hills dotted with grapevines growing in
straight rows — made it difficult to tell one dirt road
from the next. With little to no cell reception, GPS was
not an option.
drove down California Highway 46, just north of San Luis
Obispo, home to most of the wineries. A decade ago you
would have found 35 wineries here. Now there are 180.
I wasn’t here for wine. I was here to taste spirits.
craft distillery movement is gaining such momentum that
there are now eight distilleries in the area. Most operate
out of existing wineries.
make brandy and their versions of vodka, gin and vermouth,
they are using grape juice discarded in the wine-making
process. Think of it as sustainable liquor.
distilleries have banded together to form the Distillers
of SLO County, and they are designing their own distillery
trail, which will launch later this year.
why wait? With five currently pouring and three more aging
their first batches of brandy, I decided to embark on my
own spirits trail. Like laid-back Paso Robles itself, this
group exhibited not an ounce of pretension, but I found
plenty of passion for the product among these fledgling
California Legislature isn’t making things easy. Unlike
distilleries in Utah, Oregon and other states, those here
cannot sell products distilled from anything other than
fruit juice, which excludes spirits made from grain.
learned this the hard way after asking to buy a bottle of
gin made from rye at KroBar, one of the distilleries in
the area. I was refused, and a mini-meltdown ensued.
Assembly Bill 1295, which is making its way through the
Senate, would, if passed and signed into law, allow
California distilleries to sell up to three bottles of
distilled spirits per day per customer.
the law is enacted, the pours at distilleries I visited
were enough to fuel a weekend in Paso Robles. I felt as if
I had finished a course on making spirits and barrel
aging. I wonder who could say the same after a trip up to
the Napa Valley.
also drove home with a trunk full of very good brandy.