Photos: #1 Historic Hotels of America,#2 Justin, #3 Just Inn Pool, #4 Owner, Kevin Jussila outside Kukkula Tasting Room, #5 Kukkula Tasting Menu, #6 Whalebone Entrance, #7 Simpson Siblings Running the Tasting Room, #8 View from Whalebone, #8 Whalebone’s Bulldog is up from his nap, #9 Opolo waiting for pizza, #10 View top of Hill at Opolo
While it’s obvious that we love to frequent California’s amazing wine regions, I hadn’t taken a trip to Paso Robles in far too long. Santa Ynez and Napa have been getting all the attention from us lately. However, when Memorial Day came around and the idea of getting on a plane was too daunting, Paso Robles provided the perfect getaway, as it is still just under the radar enough to avoid the holiday weekend masses and perfectly in the middle of San Francisco and LA – roughly an easy 3.5 hours drive from each.
Hotel Cheval, where Mary and I had had the pleasure of staying a couple of years ago is the cozy, boutique, luxury darling in town. They were full, which provided us with the opportunity to check out the newly renovated Paso Robles Inn. I was thrilled that they had a garden spa room, complete with its own outdoor patio and private mineral spa (essentially an outdoor hot tub that you fill with natural mineral water) available for a rate of $215 at the last minute, on a holiday weekend – score! Small warning: the mineral water does have a strong sulphur smell, so definitely make sure you add in the bath gel the hotel provides. While I would choose to decorate the rooms differently – they feel slightly spartan – the fireplace and garden patio help warm up the corporate undertones. The best part of the Paso Robles Inn is its location right on the town square. There is nothing better than a mineral soak and not having having to get in your car again after a day of visiting vineyards – all the restaurants, shops and bars are steps away.
What I love most about Paso is that, while it is absolutely stunning it is also unpretentious. Whatever direction you choose to adventure in you are guaranteed dramatically beautiful scenery, delicious wine, and conversation with real people that are genuinely happy to share their knowledge and passion for wine and life with you. On this trip we chose to explore vineyards we had never visited and set off for Justin, one of the farthest from town, located out on Chimney Rock Road. We arrived starving and were devastated to learn that the lovely gourmet lunch we were hoping to enjoy al fresco on their beautiful wishing well patio, would not be happening because of an event. While the hostess kindly called a vineyard down the road to secure sandwiches for us, we took a moment to explore Justin’s property and learned that they have a gorgeous 4 room inn on the property – the Just INN. Your stay includes a complimentary bottle of hand-crafted Justin wine, full breakfast, and a winery tour. In-room massages are also available and hotel guests have access to a delightful pool and heated spa. On my next trip, I will definitely look into staying in one of the European inspired luxury suites: Tuscany, Sussex, Provence, or Bordeaux – and having dinner at the gourmet restaurant. I can’t think of a more lovely and relaxing experience.
Lured by the promise of sandwiches, we made our way down the road to Kukkula, a modern looking vineyard that appropriately means “hill” in Finnish. Evidence of the owners, Kevin & Paula Jussila, Finnish roots is not only found in the architecture, and name of the property, but also in the names of several of it’s wines. We appreciated their wines and the setting, while we waited for Paula’s amazing sandwiches and green bean salad. Kukkula vineyard is an organically dry-farmed and they produce only blended wines with a Rhone bias. My favorites were the “Vaalea,” which means “blonde” in Finnish and is a blend of roussanne, viognier, and grenache blanc; and the Lothario, a blend of mourvedre, zindandel, grenache.
Kevin sent us off in the direction of Thacher, but we couldn’t resist stopping at Whalebone instead – something about the quaint, wooden barn perched on a sunny hill felt too friendly and fun to pass by. We were thrilled to find that the tasting room was being run by three siblings, the children of owners Bob and Janalyn Simpson. Ali, the middle daughter who recently graduated from college poured their wines for us, our favorite being the Zinfandel. I especially loved the huge English bulldog and large grey cat that were both passed out and enjoying afternoon naps on the scenic outdoor patio.
The friends we made at Whalebone did not lead us astray, and sent us to Opolo Vineyards next which turned out to be a delightful discovery. They have a large and picturesque outdoor seating area where you can have your tasting AND they have amazing wood-fired pizzas. With a couple wine tastings under our belt, we were ready for Margherita pizza, and a little more wine at the magic hour. Owner, Rick Quinn, casually came over and told us more about the Inn at Opolo which we noticed on our way in. Nestled among 96 acres of rolling green hills and vines, the Inn is comprised of 4 plush, rooms that all boast fireplaces and soaking tubs. A gourmet breakfast is also included in your stay and delivered to your door! Make sure to drive to the top of the hill at Opolo as the view is stunning.
That concluded our afternoon of wine tasting and we slowly and carefully meandered back to town for a mineral soak and a night on the town. Stay tuned for where to hike, dine, and dance in and around Paso Robles….