When the Paso Robles AVA (American Viticultural Area) was established in 1983, there were just over a dozen wineries and 5,000 acres of vineyards. Now, as the largest appellation in California, encompassing 614,000 acres (compared to Napa Valley’s 225,000 acres), the region has grown to 40,000 acres under vine and home to more than 200 wineries.

In 2014, the Paso AVA was subdivided into 11 distinct sub-appellations defined by the region’s topography, soil, climate and elevation. Reflecting Paso’s diversity of vineyards and wines, these appellations are spread over a sprawling area that stretches 42 miles from east to west, 32 miles north to south and can range from 700 feet to 2,400 feet in elevation.

So how does a visitor navigate this vast region?

To explore Paso Robles is to know its many pockets and enclaves. The three main arteries are the Highway 46 East and 46 West corridors and the woodsy Adelaida and Willow Creek regions deep into the area’s western reaches. Clusters of wineries are also tucked along routes dubbed Back Road Wineries, Inner Circle Wineries and wine trails along Pleasant Valley, not to mention over a dozen tasting rooms in downtown Paso Robles and Tin City’s hip industrial zone.

Getting through this together, Atascadero

Here’s a breakdown of the wine enclaves of Paso Robles:

Highway 46 West

More than 50 wineries are located on Paso’s west side, home to the cool appellation of Willow Creek. Wineries and tasting rooms are lined along the highway and nestled around woodsy trails. 

The imposing castle of Tooth & Nail Winery offers a wide variety from Rhône blends to pinot noir and chardonnay. You can taste refreshing whites at Grey Wolf Cellars and spirits from its Krobar Distillery, Four Lanterns Winery offers distinctive Rhône blends at its rustic barn and third generation Roblan Janel Dusi pours zesty zinfandels at J. Dusi Wines. More distinctive zinfandels at Turley Wine Cellars and Peachy Canyon Winery. Niner Wine Estate’s restaurant and tasting room offer a sweeping view of the Heart Hill Vineyard. Nearby Linne Calodo’s owner and alchemist winemaker Matt Trevisan crafts brilliant blends of Rhône varietals. In the scenic Willow Creek district, a visit to wineries such as Saxum, Denner and Clos Soléne is by appointment only.

Inner Circle

A handful of wineries loop behind both sides of Highway 46, among them Ecluse, TH Estate, Windward, Hope Family Wines, L’Aventure and further up, the spectacular Law Estate’s swanky tasting room and winery perched at an elevation of 1,900 feet. Tucked on the highway’s westside, Guyomar Cellars crafts bold Rhône-style blends and Pasoport specializes in port-style wines

York Mountain

Off of Highway 46 West, the minuscule York Mountain AVA was once home to York Mountain Winery. The region’s first winery, founded in 1882, is now transformed into Epoch Wine Estates, a modern structure where winemaker Jordan Fiorentini’s Rhône blends are as lyrical as her wine notes.

Highway 46 East 

The busy corridor of 46 East, located on Paso’s warmer east side, falls in the  appellations of Geneseo, Estrella and reaches over into the El Pomar district. The highway is lined with wineries such as Eberle, Vina Robles, Robert Hall, Riboli Family, Glunz Family and the popular Wild West saloon style tasting room of Tobin James Cellars which on weekends can get jammed with 800 to 1,000 visitors. A handful of wineries such as Bodega de Edgar, Mitchella, Pear Valley, Steinbeck, Bianchi, Barr, Penman Springs and Rails Nap are tucked on the south side of the freeway. 

Back Road Winery Trail 

On the east side of Paso, this trail spreads over the appellations of Genesseo, El Pomar, Creston and Templeton. Over two dozen wineries are tucked along this trail, from small boutique wineries such as Steinbeck, Sarzotti, Seven Angels Cellars to larger ones like Sculpterra, Wild Horse and Cass, the latter serving excellent lunch at its cafe. There’s an excellent production of Bordeaux-style wines at Aleksander Winery and Italian varietals at Clesi and Ella’s Vineyard. Rava Wines is taking the lead in producing sparkling wines using méthode champenoise.   

Adelaida District

The woodsy Adelaida Road and its adjacent Lake Nacimiento Road offer a scenic drive where some wineries flank the winding road and others are tucked on hillsides. Here you will find the spectacular Daou Vineyards and Winery atop Daou Mountain and such distinctive names as  Halter Ranch, Alta Colina, Villicana, Le Cuvier, Adelaida Vineyards, Tablas Creek and Justin. To heighten the region’s experience, some wineries offer hillside Jeep rides and vineyard tours.

Pleasant Valley Trail

More than a dozen wineries are tucked along this 12-mile trail that meanders through the rolling hills just east of Paso and reaching into San Miguel. There’s a range of wines to be savored here. There’s sparkling wine and Albariño at Vino Vargas, Gewürztraminer at Tackitt Family and outstanding Bordeaux blends at Mystic Hills. 

Downtown Paso

Paso’s downtown scene has exploded in recent years. Within a four-block  wine stroll you can visit almost two dozen tasting rooms housed in various locations. Frolicking Frog Cellars shares space in a jewelry store, Lazarre wines are served at Thomas Hill Organics bar counter; Indigene Cellars is tucked in an alley and Cypher is stationed at the train depot. Nearby, the state-of-the-art Derby Wine Estate was once home to a historic almond mill and further up LXV Wine heightens the experience with spice pairings. The once forgotten Railroad Avenue is now getting some traction with tasting rooms such as Iron Oaks, Hayseed and Housdon, Paso Underground and the “bouncer-guarded” Speakeasy 1122.

Tin City

The newest addition to Paso’s wine experience is the hip hub located east of the 101 Freeway between Paso and Templeton. It’s buzzing with garagiste winemakers, crafting wine in their industrial warehouses. There’s also craft beer and distilled spirits to be found here, plus the cool Tin Canteen, ETTO Pastificio and Negranti Creamery. It’s a one-stop experience for Paso wine, beer, food and gourmet shopping.