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Local wine column: It’s Paso, baby 

Exceptional hospitality at Eberle Winery

By Dr. Robert Capretto

– On an early fall evening, we landed on the central coast of California from Pittsburgh, and low clouds masked our view of the mountains. As our plane hit the tarmac, the clouds suddenly parted, revealing the embers of a setting sun and the town of San Luis Obispo, known for its hot springs, wineries, olive oil, and almonds, in the distance. Our destination, the Allegretto Spa and Resort in Paso Robles, which in Spanish translates to “The Pass of the Oaks,” took a thirty-minute drive from the airport.

The resort reminded me of a historic monastery nestled in the Tuscan countryside, earthy tones blending seamlessly with natural surroundings, adding warmth to the landscape, all made golden in the setting sun. Brimming with terracotta urns overflowing with olive trees, colorful flowers, and welcoming firepits, the open courtyard was a perfect venue for weddings and large parties. Reaching upward from the courtyard were three stories of rooms. Doug Ayers, a fourth-generation hotelier, had added the hotel/spa to his already successful vineyard. Between the richly appointed rooms, stunning outdoor spaces, enormous fireplaces, and calming music, the resort invited serenity, which was especially welcoming after a day of travel.

Harvest at Eberle.

After settling into our room, we wandered into the lobby for a drink. To our delight, fires were burning to combat the sudden twenty-degree temperature drop, a common occurrence once the sun sets in Paso Robles. As a lounge singer crooned post-World War II-era Sinatra tunes and we drank local wine, we met Drew, a former San Francisco resident turned Paso Robles television personality, and Sandy, a local realtor. We chatted as we reveled in The Chairman’s music.

Exhaustion set in between travel weariness, the wine, and the music. We bade our new friends goodnight and retired early in anticipation of the next day’s busy itinerary of winery tours followed by a celebratory Harvest Dinner hosted at Eberle Winery.Jackie and Bud Wassel Pennsylvania on 60th Wedding Anniversary visiting Eberle

The following morning, we rose early, partly due to the time difference and partly due to our excitement for the day ahead. On our way downstairs, we paused at the windows at the distant end of our hallway. Pushing aside the drapes, we peeked outside. The pool and the spa stood between the hotel and the undulating rows of grapevines making up the vineyard only fifty yards away. The view took our breath away!

After enjoying delicious cappuccinos, we were off. Our first stop was a tour and tasting at Eberle Winery. The owner, Gary Eberle, the Godfather of Paso Robles winemaking, who played football with me at Penn State in the mid-sixties, greeted people as they arrived. He graciously instructed his manager, Sue, to give us a special tour of the underground tunnels and tasting room.

The underground tunnels were created some twenty years after Mr. Eberle started the winery, which had its first production of Cabernet Sauvignon in 1979, debuting its wine under a distinctive label bearing a boar (fun fact: Eberle in German translates to “small boar”). The tunnels were constructed of gunite, a pneumatically applied concrete that is stronger and easier to sculpt than poured concrete, to create the perfect temperature and humidity for storing hundreds of oak wine barrels from France and the United States.

Harvest Dinner with two former teammates at Penn State and related families

Garnet Baas, an expert wine associate, paired wine with food for us in the tasting room, creating an unforgettable experience. To drink superb wines from the library is Chardonnay Reserve, 2007 Cabernet Reserves, and Syrah grapes, all in the middle of 2023’s late harvest (rain delayed by a month). The hospitality at Eberle, specifically from Oralia and Cara, may have created our favorite tasting experience in Paso Robles. Still, the welcoming pattern remained constant at the three additional wineries we toured that day.

The next vineyard we toured was J. Lohr. While it had a smaller tasting venue than Eberle, its annual production was a staggering million cases—thirty times that of Eberle! Nonetheless, we savored rosé with cheese and fruit, sitting outdoors in the morning sun.

Thinking that perhaps J. Lohr’s quality would be impacted by its tremendous output, we continued with a Chardonnay followed by three Cabernet-dominant wines from its vineyards.

Garnet Baas in the cave tasting wines with Mr and Mrs Wassel.

These wines were nearly on par with Eberle, and their friendly and helpful staff made this tasting a pleasure. Our next stop at Justin Vineyards included lunch with a five-series flight, so we quickly finished the wine samples to make our 12:30 reservation.

Justin Vineyards was a thirty-minute drive from J. Lohr along Route 46. The vineyard is also home to the JUST Inn and restaurant, where we enjoyed pasta and short ribs accompanied by local fruits and vegetables, including extra-virgin olive oil from the vineyard’s olive trees.

Again, the wines were satisfying. We tasted Chardonnay, three winery-only red reserve Cabernets, and Meritage-type wines. Again, service and quality were very apparent. After finishing our meal, we strolled to the vineyards only fifty feet away. There, a sign warned of possible snakes, which stopped us in our tracks. Before returning to our car, we tasted a few plump grapes from the front vines; they were sweet and juicy.

Our last tour and tasting were at Daou Vineyards, a brother-owned winery resting atop the highest poggio in Paso Robles, a hill rising 2800 feet above sea level. The location, which also hosted indoor and outdoor dining options, afforded us spectacular views of the mountains and valleys below.

Many California wines have been processed to drink young. Terms like “extended maceration” and “early exit” frequently describe the approachable red wines from the Paso Robles region. We noticed that many top winemakers created a group of their best red wines, mainly sold to their wine club members or only available at their wineries. Our first time at Daou, we tasted primarily red wines from 2020 sold only at the vineyard. Later that week, they were offered $900 million for their winery. Maybe the limited availability played into the offer!

After our vineyard tours for the day were completed, we returned to the Allegretto Resort to rest before attending the Harvest Dinner hosted by Eberle. Our room boasted automatic screens that we closed at dusk to reduce the impact of the mid-October winds on an otherwise pleasant sixty-degree evening.

Chris Eberle winemaker with Bob and Jackie Capretto

The Paso Catering Company supported the Harvest Dinner for eighty people at Eberle Winery on a newly constructed outdoor deck. An oldies band played while Jackie and Bud from Jeannette, Pennsylvania, danced to celebrate their sixtieth wedding anniversary. Gary Eberle addressed the crowd enjoying the festivities on the outdoor deck’s weatherized inaugural evening. He explained that after earning his undergraduate degree in biology at the Pennsylvania State University and his master’s degree from Louisiana State University, one of his professors introduced him to great red wines.

While it may seem unlikely that a beer-drinking college student would be propelled to the University of California Davis to earn a doctorate in enology and viticulture, that’s precisely what happened. Eberle Winery wasn’t Gary’s first foray into running a vineyard. In the early 1970S, he co-founded with his half-brother and cardiovascular surgeon Jim Giacobine Estrella River Winery, also in Paso Robles. After Gary’s remarks, we tucked into delicious paella and our five flights of wine.

The Harvest Dinner lasted over three delectable hours and was supported by vineyard staff Sue Terry, a thirty-year employee, and winemaker Chris Eberle (no relation to Gary). The wines were exquisite, with the Estate Reserve Cabernet being the star of the evening. As the staff removed the empty bottles and cleared the tables, satisfied attendees with bellies full of remarkable food and wine slowly left the deck as the sun set in the crisp fall air—the perfect ending to a Paso Robles harvest celebration.

 

 

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