Paso Robles History
Originally known for its healing hot springs, Paso Robles is now best known for its world class wines. From the original Native American stewards of the land to the young vibrant community today, let’s discover the 200 years of winemaking history in Paso Robles.
Pre 1700s - The Salinans
The Salinan Tribe (”Sah-lee-nahn”), centered in the Salinas Valley, have been caretakers of the Paso Robles area for many centuries. The people's name for themselves is the "T’epot’aha’l" or "People of the Oaks," and they were the first to introduce the Spanish missionaries to the healing powers of the local sulfur springs.
Catholic missionaries and Spanish Conquistadors brought vines to Paso Robles
Franciscan Missionaries planted Vitis vinifera vines in California, primarily the Mission variety. This was to make sacramental wine. Francisco Cortez, a famous conquistador, also encouraged settlers from Mexico to cultivate the vine here. The town still displays old fermentation vats from this era.
The beginnings of a Town
James and Daniel Blackburn and their partner Drury James purchased a land grant containing the town and named it El Paso de Robles (Pass of the oaks). At the time, the Paso Robles area was known for its healing hot spring waters, and tourists came from far and wide to experience them.
Andrew York and Zinfandel
The earliest known plantings of vines for commercial use were of Zinfandel, in what is today known as York Mountain. Andrew York and his Ascension winery established these. As the beginning of commercial wineries started to take hold, the area was already known as "Almond City," and agriculture and tourism were important.
Expansion and Growth
More people, partially spurred by the railroad expansion west, planted vineyards in Paso Robles thanks to Andrew York's success with grape growing. Some of the vineyards that started then still survive today, such as the Casteel Vineyards in Willow Creek.
Ignace Paderewski, a famous Polish concert pianist, visiting Paso Robles for its hot springs, established more Zinfandel and Petite Sirah vineyards. After Prohibition, these wines went on to win international awards, solidifying Paso Robles' reputation on the world stage.
The Volstead Act, which prohibited the manufacture and sale of all alcoholic beverages, came into effect in 1920. Most wineries shut down and diversified their land to almond, walnut, and olive oil production. Once Prohibition was repealed, only then could wineries start to spring up again.
Cabernet Sauvignon Takes Hold
Legendary enologist, André Tchelistcheff, alongside Dr. Stanley Hoffman and Jack Foote, was the first to see the potential for Cabernet Sauvignon in the region and start planting. They also experimented with plantings of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Syrah Swoops In
Gary Eberle and Cliff Giacobine planted the first large acreage of Syrah at Estrella River Winery, which would have a long-lasting impact on the styles of wine we see today.
Paso Robles becomes an AVA
The 556,765-acre Paso Robles AVA was established. Later in 1996 and again in 2008, it expanded to its current size of 614,000 acres, of which just 41,000 acres have vines planted.
Paso Robles went from less than 100 acres of Rhône varieties planted in 1996 to over 2,200 acres in 2006. The interest and appreciation for Rhône blends, led by the success of Gary Eberle, Robert Haas, and Randall Graham (aka the Rhône Rangers), helped increase interest in these varieties.
A Focus on Terroir
11 districts within Paso Robles receive AVA approval by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. These districts are broken down based on their climate, soils, and rainfall, making them all unique.
Sustainability and Community
As more and more people turn to dry farming, organic production, and sustainable agriculture, Paso Robles is on the cutting edge of experimentation. A young and vibrant community with a collaborative mindset means this hidden gem won't stay hidden for long.