Annually, the Giovanzana family visits the Paso Robles area on Labor Day weekend. My husband’s family (four generations now) has been visiting old friends (three generations now) for over 50 years! Our three-day weekend is filled with all kinds of ranch fun, great BBQ, wine tasting, and lots of laughs with great people! Our annual visits are continually one of the big highlights of the year for all of us.
Over the years greater Paso Robles valley has grown tremendously. When my in-laws John and Mary first visited their friends in Paso Robles in the 1950s, the valley was primarily ranches, cattle, horses, a few vineyards, and the quaint town of Paso Robles. Today it is a thriving community with a variety of industry, a designated California Wine Appellation producing award winning wines, championship golf courses, and superstores, yet still maintains its downtown charm with many upscale restaurants, specialty shops, art galleries, and boutique hotels and bed and breakfast inns. Paso Robles also has numerous annual festivals, such as Pioneer Days, Olive Festival, Wine Festival, Paso Artfest, Beer Festival, and a Film Festival. Paso Robles is also home to the Mid-state fair grounds, which draw countless events in addition to the fair, such as concerts, rodeos, races, and car shows. And more recently, Vina Robles, a state of the art amphitheater and wine center, opened its doors in 2013 with a first-rate line up of concerts with headline artists such as Bonnie Raitt, Crosby, Stills, and Nash, and The Band Perry. Yet, Paso Robles is still an old fashioned, boot-stomping, western town and the locals would not have it any other way!
The Plaza in downtown Paso Robles
Amphitheatre at Viva Robles
Wine tasting Room at Vina Robles
The Paso Robles valley sits in between two historical California landmarks‑Mission San Luis Obispo (1772) and Mission San Miguel (1797). The Franciscan padres traveled The El Camino Real (present day highway 101) through the Paso Robles valley, a one-day journey on horseback, from one mission to the other. These were the first Europeans to gaze upon the beauty of this vast verdant valley with a river that runs through it, surrounded by mountains adorned with ancient Live Oaks that grow strong and wide, reaching towards the hot sun. But this was a time of pious men converting the souls of the local Chumash Indians.
Mission San Luis Obispo
Paso Robles Valley
Mission San Miguel
It wasn’t until after the California gold rush came to a close (1855), that the early pioneers traveled into the Paso Robles valley searching for a new place to call home. The valley was an ideal location to build a new life. In 1857, original pioneers James and Daniel Blackburn purchased from a Mexican Don, Rancho El Paso de Robles, which had hot springs. The Rancho was located where present-day 10th and Spring Streets cross in downtown Paso Robles. The brothers built a stagecoach stop adjacent to their 14-room Hot Springs Hotel.
Downtown Paso Robles
Paso Robles library located in the park
One early pioneer named Andrew York moved into the valley in 1882 and purchased a 120-acre homestead on the slopes of the Santa Lucia Mountains west of Paso Robles, and planted the first wine grapes. He annually sold all of his grapes and quickly planted more vines in following years. He decided to build a winery where he could produce his own wine to sell. York named his winery Ascension, and quickly was producing over 1,500 gallons of wine a year.
With a growing number of pioneers moving into the Paso Robles valley, it quickly grew into an agricultural mecca. Cattle and horses were an important necessity of life. In 1886, the Southern Pacific Railroad laid track right through downtown Paso Robles, linking the community with commerce with the entire state. In 1889, this young burgeoning cow town was incorporated as a city. And in 1893, a Paso Robles real estate agency advertisement read, “Prunes, Olives, Peaches, Pears, Table and Wine Grapes…Cheapest land in the state for the quality of soil…$5 to $100 per acre…Wheat, Barley, Oats, Hops…Average rainfall 20.24 inches.” It was Boom Town!
Safflower field off Vineyard Road
The Paso Robles valley has a few other note-worthy early wine makers‑the Pesenti and Rotta families. Joe Rotta purchased an established a vineyard in 1908 and built a winery. Frank Pesenti, who worked for the York family, started his winery in 1934. The three families dominated wine making in the region until the 1970s, when large-scale capital investors discovered the wine region and developed commercial vineyards. Yet, the Paso Robles wine region has proudly maintained its unique identity through the major growth of the appellation. Today, the Paso Robles Wine Appellation stretches from Paso Robles to the north, Templeton and Atascadero to the south, along highway 46 west of Paso Robles, and highway 46 east of Paso Robles, and Creston. The region proudly claims more than 300 vineyards and 100 wineries with the majority being family owned and operated.
The three pioneering wine families do not own their wineries any more, but the wineries are still under operation. Wine enthusiasts can still visit these original estates where “old vine” grapes are still lovingly harvested, crushed, and transformed into beautiful estate wines. These three wineries are called Rotta Winery, Turley Wine Cellars, which operate from the original Pesenti Winery, and Epoch, which operate from the original Ascension Winery of the York family. The history of each winery is proudly told at each tasting room.
Pesenti Winery’s old vines still producing grapes at Turley
Turley Cellars Tasting Room
I love the Paso Robles valley and become excited each year when it is time to pack up and leave for our annual visit. Please visit this beautiful part of our state and enjoy its immense bounty. In early November I will post Part 2 of the Paso Robles Valley blog. Please visit then to learn about the many wonderful places I love to visit when in Paso Robles!
To learn more about the early history of Paso Robles valley and its pioneer history, please visit the Paso Robles Pioneer Museum.
THE CITY OF PASO ROBLES
PASO ROBLES WINE REGION
MISSION SAN LUIS OBISPO
MISSION SAN MIGUEL
TURLEY WINE CELLARS
PASO ROBLES PIONEER MUSEUM