THE Wine Tasting Guide to California's Central Coast, by Mike O'Beirne
I first heard about this book project a year ago and I've been looking forward to its release ever since. It is even better than I hoped. The author's approach for finding and discovering some of the small wineries he documents along California's central coast closely mirrors my own treasure-hunting experiences thirty years ago. In the mid 1970s, I was a student in Berkeley, and whenever I could I would sneak away from the pressures of the college experience and prowl the country lanes and back roads of the Russian River valley and upper Sonoma Valley wine areas in search of relatively undiscovered wineries. Those heady days of finding and tasting wines from these lesser-commercialized enterprises are long gone in the wine areas just north of San Francisco, but you can still get a taste of the excitement of the hunt by using Mike O'Beirne's book and following his tips.
The author lists 230 wineries in an area bounded by Paso Robles on the north and Malibu on the south. But before we get to the winery hunt proper, O'Beirne's description about "how to taste" is the best I have ever read. In particular, I like his description of what to pay attention to when taking that first sniff. For the most part, our noses are far more discriminating than our taste buds, and his tips about how to differentiate the aromas of wine will be helpful to anyone using this book. Another key tool is the pronouncing glossary O'Beirne created. I could have used this last weekend when I was having a disagreement with my companions about the proper way to pronounce Gewürtztraminer (geh-VERTZ-tra-mee-nur). I also loved his reference to the wine nerds who routinely use such words as chewy, extra dry and mature when describing wine.
For each winery the author visited, he provides a field report about the scale and setup of the tasting room, the special emphasis and interests of the winemakers, contact information and probably most importantly, concise driving directions for finding some of these hidden gems. Here are some of the standouts in the Paso Robles area that I can also recommend from personal experience. The Eberle Winery offers a tour of some of its underground caves, and also features a bronze boar whose nose you can rub "for luck" at the entrance to the tasting room. The Hug Cellars should be worth a visit -- I met the owners a few years ago in Harmony, California, but until I read this book, I didn't know they were still working in the industry. J. Lohr is much more mainstream than most of the wineries O'Beirne profiles, but I really enjoy visiting their operation. For scenery, it is hard to beat the Eagle Castle Winery, complete with a moat and a knight in full battle armor.
Wineries that I have never visited, but are now on my short list after reading this book include Saucelito Canyon Vineyard near San Luis Obispo, Addamo Vineyards in Orcutt, Blackjack Ranch near Solvang, Flying Goat Cellars in Los Olivos, and the Tantara Winery near Santa Maria.
No matter your level of expertise or interest in wine tasting, this book is perfect for exploring the valleys and ridges of the central California coast. THE Wine Tasting Guide to California's Central Coast has a permanent spot in my traveling resource library housed in my road-tripping car. I can honestly say that I don't leave home without it.