Daily Archives: November 26, 2013

Current History of Paso Robles

Part 3 of 3

In our two earlier stories (see related articles below), we talked about the beginnings of Paso Robles with its connection to the mission and then how the town morphed from the Wild West into a growing viticultural area by the 1970s.

Paso Robles’ roots were still in ranching, but the land was found to be worth more growing grapes than growing grass for cattle and horses.  The soil was learned to be extraordinary and the vast diurnal between day and night time temperatures made the grapes exceptional.  Thus, the current boom blossomed.

Soil & climate made for a boom

Ranches and orchards once dotted the landscape as much as vineyards do now.

Ranches and orchards once dotted the landscape as much as vineyards do now.

I recall visiting Paso Robles in the ‘80s many times and although it was becoming obvious that big wineries were moving in, there was still vast lands that hadn’t seen grapes – or at least not yet.  That would continue to change as the town once more became a destination for visitors, whether it was for a day or a week.  The population of the town was still only 9,000 30 years ago, yet a decade later had more than doubled in size to 19,000.

About 20 years ago, the wine businesses got together and formed the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance (PRWCA) to help market the wine commerce under one umbrella and put the word out that Paso Robles was an authentic producer of different kinds of high quality wines.

Not to be outdone by the wineries, California Central Coast olive orchards have continued to expand their breadth and now have a widely popular Olive Festival every August.

Earthquake slowed but didn’t stop growth

The San Simeon earthquake of 2003 destroyed much of the old downtown buildings.

The San Simeon earthquake of 2003 destroyed much of the old downtown buildings.

The little city took a setback and no one who lives here will forget the San Simeon earthquake (just west of Paso) that had its tenth anniversary just before Christmas of 2014.  The 6.5 temblor damaged much of downtown and lives were lost with century old buildings demolished in the process.  Interestingly enough, the hot sulfur springs that had dried up many years prior, reemerged after the earthquake creating a sinkhole that only just recently was finally covered.

It should be noted in one year, from 1999 to 2000, the city had ballooned from roughly 21,000 to 25,000.  Except for a lull in ’09 during the height of the Great Recession, Paso has grown steadily passing the 30,000 mark in 2012.


The area continues to be the fastest growing wine region in California and the Paso Robles AVA (American Viticultural Area) was recently named the world’s top Wine Region of the Year.  It’s estimated that there are 32,000 acres of vines growing in the Paso AVA with roughly 300 wineries.  It should also be noted that due in part to drought coupled with the increases in vineyards, water has become an issue in the area.

Paso Robles AVA

Paso Robles has quite a history and the town has changed a lot, yet kept its small town charm.  If you like the California Central Coast and love wine, scenic drives or just a quiet serene place to relax, the city that was originally established in 1889, has everything you need.  Or as they say: ‘Come for the wine, stay for the view’.

Sources: City of Paso Robles, The California Directory of Fine Wineries: Central Coast: Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Paso Robles, PRWCA, Paso Robles (Images of America)


Daryle W. Hier


Almost 200 Years Ago, The First Great American Wine Was Born

Nearly 200 years ago, during a time when Whiskey was king, there was a great wine from America.  The United States was not known for their wines in its earliest history and throughout the first half of the 1800s – yet, one of the wealthier men of his time created a great wine of its day.

Catawba Grape Vine—Vitis labrusca 'Catawba'

Catawba grapes

Nicholas Longworth was a lawyer and real estate speculator, arriving in Ohio the same year it gained statehood in 1803.  In 1813, he wanted to be a viticulturist and would become one of the very first successful vintners in American history, creating a sparkling Catawba wine from the Cincinnati, Ohio, area by 1820.


Longworth didn’t just make wine but Champagne that became world-renown.  The Catawba grape wasn’t known as a particularly good varietal for making wine and in fact was somewhat musty.  However, the late harvest grape was hardy and could withstand the severe winters in the Ohio River Valley.

Before there was a White Zinfandel – that helped the varietal explode in popularity in California – Longworth was fermenting after the press.  The pink-hued color would have a secondary fermentation like Champagne and voila!  He had made a great-tasting sparkling wine that spread quickly in popularity.  Produced from 3,000 acres of vines, Longworth’s sparkling wines rivaled any of France’s Champagnes and were commonly sold from Europe to California.

As the years past, he was widely known for his knowledge in the horticultural circles and Longworth became very influential. He passed away during the Civil War when he was fighting both a terrible economy and fungal disease in his vineyards.


Nicholas Longworth - circa 1860

Nicholas Longworth – circa 1860

The success of Longworth would leave a great legacy and some historians consider him the Father of American Winemaking.  The popularity of growing and making American wines helped the boom of winemaking in the Finger Lakes District which remains one of the prime wine regions in the U.S.

German immigrants then called the Ohio River Valley region Rhineland after their homeland, which was known for their wines.  Regardless, winemaking would never become a large endeavor again in the Ohio River Valley until the latter stages of the 20th Century with the advent of late-harvest offerings (sometimes know as ‘ice wines’).  Most may not know this but currently, Ohio ranks fifth in wine production nationally.

One final tidbit of information about the Catawba grape as we head into Thanksgiving Day – it was likely the grape used by native Americans when they had dinner and drank with the Pilgrims.

History can be tasty.


Daryle W. Hier

Main sources: The Daily Beast, The Makers of American Wine: A Record of Two Hundred Years