Category Archives: Central Coast

The happenings and history of the California Central Coast

Belgium Brewery Buys Firestone Walker

Stunning news from Paso Robles.

One of the more successful brewers in the U.S., Firestone Walker, has been acquired by Belgium-based Duvel Moortgat. In an agreement signed earlier this week, it was announced that although the acquisition is by Duvel of the California brewer, management will be retained including David Walker and Adam Firestone.

In their press release, Walker states:

“The Firestone Walker and Duvel Moortgat families have combined forces to broaden their capacity and scope as brewers. Long admirers of each other’s beers, culture and breweries, the two teams saw the perfect fit for an alliance. The partnership will allow Firestone Walker to develop our capacity across the US in a conservative and thoughtful way by consummating a life long tie with this family-owned international craft brewer, who continue their commitment to participating in the American Craft Revolution.”

Duvel’s conglomerate has been expanding in the United States recently with acquisitions including Missouri-based Boulevard Brewing early last year. A well-known and award-winning beer maker in Europe, Duvel was established in 1871.

Adam Firestone, who is the great grandson of the famed Firestone Tire and Rubber Company founder Harvey Samuel Firestone, founded Firestone Walker with his brother-in-law David Walker in 1996 here on the Central Coast. Expanding in Paso Robles, California, they created a unique craft-brewed tastes by using wine barrel style oak cask to offer up an oakey style flavor. The company has grown from a small local micro-brewer into a mid-sized brewing powerhouse.

Obviously influenced by wine country on the Central Coast, Firestone Walker uses oak barrels to obtain their unique flavor.

Expansion in mind

Currently distributed in 21 states, according to Firestone’s website, the company struggled to expand and still keep the traits of a specialty craft brewer. Firestone Walker’s announcement states this collaboration, with …

“Duvel Moortgat investment in us is an elegant solution”

The American company insists that all their 360 employees will be retained and the two founders remain in control of management. Both sides of the deal are private concerns so details are not readily available.

It remains to be seen how this combining of U.S. operations will work for Duvel and Firestone Walker, and many will be watching the Paso Robles company to see if there will be changes in the structure of the business going forward.


Daryle W. Hier




New To California, Haggen Supermarkets Struggle

Here on the Central Coast, we have had some good markets come and go including my favorite Scolari’s, which folded up after a 60 year reign and left the Golden State in 2012 due in part to being over-taxed and over-regulated by Sacramento. Then came some news this past year that seemed positive when Washington based Haggen bought up nearly a hundred Albertsons and Vons in California. It was thought that Haggen would bring better customer service and a more fresh set of products to market, somewhat along the lines of Whole Foods. It sounded promising, but only three months into their endeavor, it appears the concept isn’t working.


Based in Bellingham, Washington, Haggen announced this week that there would be layoffs throughout the Southwest. No exact numbers we’re given and the store says they are “temporary layoffs”. The layoffs aren’t a big surprise as employees have already had their work hours cut back in the past month or so.

What brought all this upheaval was when supermarket giants Albertsons and Safeway (including Vons) merged last year, the government made them divest 146 of their stores in California, Nevada and Arizona. In a surprise move, the small chain from the Pacific Northwest snapped up the stores and ballooned to almost ten times it size.

The store owners felt that a supermarket with the feel of a Whole Foods type model could work. The idea was to provide and combine the necessities of a supermarket, along with local food options, plus customer service.  However, in such a competitive environment like California, there appears to be growing pains for the once little chain.

Is pricing pushing people away

The Haggen's grocery store on Creston Road in Paso Robles.

The store in Paso Robles has plenty of empty parking spaces.

Pricing is an issue as consumers here are used to low prices and that’s not Haggen’s strength. Also, with so many choices, especially in Southern California, it has been difficult for the new store and its brand to get noticed.

From a personal point of view, along with the local food idea, I thought the store would give us a bit of Scolari’s combined with Whole Foods and typical fare of a supermarket. They’re nice and although the meat and bakery departments are improved, so far, in my opinion and from an anecdotal perspective, pricing is too high and the offerings aren’t that different from before – the store they replaced here in Paso Robles was a Vons. Note, the other North County Haggen is in Atascadero and used to be an Albertsons.

This would not be the first – or likely the last – new concept to fail in California. Fresh and Easy was going to be the latest greatest conception when they rolled into the Western U. S. determined to bring a smaller and quicker way to shop, especially in places like Southern California where people are always in a hurry. That theory didn’t pan out and the store went bankrupt in 2013 after a six-year battle.

Fresh and organic foods, plus bakery and meat sections are some of the positives for Haggen concept.

In any case, as Haggen struggles to find their niche, will the over-extended chain be able to hold off the rigors of making it California? More succinctly, will the ongoing process of selling folks on the idea of fresh and local food, make up for the fact the prices are higher?


Here in Paso Robles, we still have an Albertsons, as well as Walmart, Food for Less, Smart and Final Extra (in the old Scolari’s), Target and just down the road in Templeton, a Trader Joe’s. We will also have a Grocery Outlet opening next month. With Amazon now delivering food to your door, competition is tough, to say the least. By the way, regarding the Central Coast, there are a total of six Haggens here in San Luis Obispo County and six more in Santa Barbara County – there are currently no Haggen stores in Monterey County.

Fresh foods grown locally is a popular idea and one I hope leads to helping Haggen stay afloat. The food business is cutthroat with tight margins and as Scolari’s will attest, a heavily taxed and regulated industry that is dominated by unions in California.

How customer service will be affected is still up in the air, but when you cut back hours and layoff employees, certainly customer service will lag. Is this another Fresh and Easy flame out because of such a difficult situation and particular customers? We can probably use a fresh food oriented store as a counter to the big boxes and supermarket, so let’s hope there’s a place for them on the Central Coast. However, Haggen’s struggles this early on are ominous.


Daryle W. Hier




The Futures So Bright, I Gotta Wear A Jacket

“I study nuclear science, I love my classes
I got a crazy teacher who wears dark glasses
Things are going great, and they’re only getting better
I’m doing all right, getting good grades
The future’s so bright I gotta wear shades”

… a jacket, galoshes and an umbrella. This twist on a one hit wonder song (by Timbuk 3), invokes what many in California – especially here in wine country – have been in dire need of: rain.

El Nino

Weather is hard to figure out for a simple one week forecast let alone, what’s going to happen a few months from now. However, from almost any quadrant of the weather world, experts and prognosticators alike appear to agree that a significant El Nino is here and later this year as we head into winter, heavy rains will drench California. The last time we had a powerful El Nino was a couple decades ago, and scientist feel 2015 and into early 2016, will be possibly bigger.

Now, 1997-98 was a bad year rain-wise, and was considered the most powerful in recent history. It wreaked havoc on a majority of Californians, especially in the southern half of the state. I personally remember many days in-a-row of rain in Los Angeles and Orange Counties that year. Often what happens is what we call the Pineapple Express, where almost a river of rain from the Hawaii Islands and the tropics just streams into California bringing one storm after another with no distinct breaks. Mudslides prevail, rivers overflow as do dams as well as street flooding that can inflict devastation. It’s not unusual to get a solid weeks worth of rain due to the Pineapple Express’ steady and incessant drenching.

Washed out track

The problem with hoping for rain – too much can devastate the area.

What is happening is a high air surface pressure in the Western Pacific (think Indonesia and Australia), helps to create a change in water temperatures with the Eastern Pacific along South America increasing warmth in their waters (i.e. Peru). Ocean temps here on the U. S. West Coast get warmer and right now that is evidenced by our waters here along the San Luis Obispo County beaches running a few degrees above normal.

All signs lead to rain

I’ve been told by weather folks that windier and warmer weather can result during the summer previous to an El Nino winter. Well, it has been windier and warmer here on the California Central Coast. We’ve also had a few monsoonal flow rain storms this summer that usually don’t appear until late summer if at all in Central California. Warmer waters aids in the draw of moisture from Mexico and the Desert Southwest.

The golden rolling hills of Paso Robles are tinder dry and in need of rain.

From every angle, it is becoming obvious that wine country here in Paso Robles is going to get their rain and then some. Still, what does this mean for the local citizens and farmers? Rain is needed first and foremost, so inconvenience, which may mean flooding and destruction can and will likely be heading our way. Once grapes are harvested in late summer and early fall, little damage can occur to the vines. Yet, fall and/or winter crops in the region may be in for more than they can handle.

We need the rain and from what the forecasters report (or guess), we will get it in droves. In the long run, this is a good thing, as California comes off one of their most severe droughts in history, which in-turn has ripped the state apart. Feast or famine seems to be the word of the day, week, month, year and even decade for those of us in California.

The future drought situation here in California looks bright. So get out the sunglasses because you better wear shades … while still possible.

Additional source: El Nino: Local Phenomena, Global Impact


Daryle W. Hier


Trading Day In Paso Robles

As we head into June and the summer months, the arts and craft shows at the Downtown Park in Paso Robles are heating up. Check it out.

Trading Day - Paso Robles


This is a quick note that Saturday, June 20th will mark the first weekend of summer as well as Trading Day at the Park in Downtown Paso Robles. What’s even more important …

Trading Day In Paso Robles.

Paso Icon Back In Control

The history of winemaking on the California Central Coast, goes back centuries to when the Mission era started. However, Paso Robles as a major player in the wine industry wasn’t established until the 1970s. Look up any historical accounts of what made this region prosper and become the wine region of the world, and just about all would agree former Pennsylvanian Gary Eberle was the iconic pioneer who help promote Paso to its now high-standing in the world of wine.

Still, even as the founder and general partner, Eberle wasn’t wanted in his own business and lost control of Eberle Winery about 18 months ago. Ironically, the California State Fair Winery Advisory Task Force gave Eberle a lifetime achievement award this year. Regardless, other part-owners of Eberle Winery wanted to grow the business at a faster pace, so with that Gary was kept on as a figurehead (“brand ambassador”) but otherwise booted out of running his namesake company. That sad situation has changed.

The eponymous creator of much of the early vino fame in Paso Robles lore, has regained control of Eberle Winery. Gary and his wife Marcy took majority ownership of the famous eastside vineyard this week.

Paso Godfather

Little more than three decades ago, Eberle helped create as one of the founders, the Paso Robles AVA in the North County region of San Luis Obispo. Considered the ‘Godfather’ of Paso wine and an important voice for the area, the iconic figure will now once again lead a great winery into the future.

And Eberle Winery is fun place to go to. They have great scenic views, usually free tastings and most importantly, cave tours. A must see. Look for the boorhead logo to find their award winning wines.

So good news from the Central Coast as all is now well again. I mean what were they thinking? Sheesh!


Daryle W. Hier











Romantics Love Paso Robles

Personally, I’m not the most romantic guy. Sitting at the 50 yard-line at Lambeau Field in Green Bay is what is romantic to me. Still, after almost a decade of living in Paso Robles, and more than 40 years of visiting this unique Central Coast town, I’ve come to realize there is some special qualities about El Paso de Robles (pass of the oaks).

Look out Paris

However, don’t take my word for it. The relatively new women’s online magazine Bustle, states Paso Robles, California, has little equal when it comes to being a great, if unexpected, romantic getaway … in all the world.

The magazine asks: What Are The Most Romantic Cities? Wine country on the Central Coast may not be the first idea that comes to mind when thinking romantically. I mean, wasn’t this a dusty little out-of-the-way town between the giant metropolis’ of Los Angeles and San Francisco? The history of this area, is more about cattle, grain and almond orchards than anything quixotic, like say Paris. Well, Paso Robles has no airs about itself and certainly will never be like the ‘City of Light’, but that’s part of the attraction to this still somewhat quiet little town.

From wine-tasting, bike-riding, cultural attractions and the ever-present rolling hills and back country, the delightfully reserved atmosphere makes Paso Robles, or Paso as locals call it, the magical place that others are starting to find out about. Or as Bustle states:

“Known for its warm hospitality and rolling hills, Paso Robles is an unexpectedly romantic city and the perfect destination for romantic getaway.  Whether interested in outdoor recreation, wine tasting or cultural attractions, Paso has a plethora of activities for you and your partner to do together. Nestled in the Santa Lucia Mountains of the Central California Coast, the city is home to expansive vineyards ideal for an afternoon bike ride or culinary treat. Couples will love strolling through the beautiful City Park – complete with majestic oaks and a picturesque gazebo – before enjoying an intimate dinner at one of Paso Robles’ renowned restaurants. “


Paso is ranked number two behind the oldest city in the United States, St. Augustine, Florida. Rounding out the top five are: Galena, Illinois – San Sebastian, Spain – Galway, Ireland.

The news and entertainment online magazine was started the year before last by Bleacher Report founder, Bryan Goldberg. Very briefly, I wrote for Bleacher Report, which is a website for sports. Maybe there’s some odd symmetry here, but I digress.

The website states that everyone has the own idea of perfection in what a romantic place would be, whether it’s:

“… beautiful cafes, the castles and landscapes that seemingly time has forgotten. Sharing a bottle of wine in a classic European city or in the rustic American woodlands can make you forget time as well, and just spend some time enjoying together.”


There are dozens and dozens of bed and breakfasts location in Paso as well as hotels. The Paso Robles Inn is one of the most historic landmarks in town and offers all amenities, while sitting across the street from the cities main park. The Hotel Cheval offers quiet elegance in the middle of town, while La Bellasera at the south edge of town, gives you a head-start towards all of the hundreds of wineries in the region.

Hotel Cheval is a beautiful little hotel sitting right in the middle of downtown Paso Robles.

Paso is located nearly four hours north of Los Angeles and nearly that far south from San Francisco. It sits right off Highway 101 and is about 20 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean in San Luis Obispo County.

I should note my parents vacationed in Paso on their wedding anniversary for years before finally moving here permanently.

Unpretentious by comparison to much more popular wine regions like Napa and Sonoma, this mainly untapped vacation destination, which was voted the number one wine region of the world back in late 2013, is comparatively untapped by travelers. However, as accolades and notoriety such as this latest tribute, will likely make Paso more popular in the years to come.

What Are The Most Romantic Cities? It appears romantics love Paso Robles.

Source: Bustle


Daryle W. Hier



Recycled Treasures – Take Two

At this time last year was a humbling experience with the loss of a dear friend, which caused us to bow out of what would have been our first show. However, this year, we will actually be at the first big arts and craft show at the Downtown Park in Paso Robles. Officially it is called, get ready: 8th Annual Vintage Sidecar Rendezvous, Recycled Treasures, Antique Motorcycles & British Vintage Car Club. Yes, that’s a mouthful. It’s on Saturday, April 25th between 9:00 am and 3:00 pm.

We just call it Recycled Treasures and essentially it is an arts and craft show with classic motorcycles and cars (pre-1950s). Geared as a family event, there will be vendor booths throughout the historic park. The event is produced by the Main Street Association and their information booth will be at the park water fountain on 12th Street where Park Street ends.

The spring setting is idyllic and the show offers an array of wares including furniture, memorabilia, arts and crafts … and of course wine barrels. Yes, we will be there on the corner of 12th Street and Spring, offering Decorative whole and half barrels as well as used barrels including our popular half barrel planters – ideal for this time of year. We will also have individual staves available at a ridiculously low special show price.

This kicks off the arts and craft season for Paso Robles as well as for us at Paso Wine Barrels. The temps will be mild with a high of about 70, which is perfect for strolling through the Park Downtown. Wine country is bristling with activity this time of year with all the wineries blooming with refreshed vineyards. And remember, there are many tasting rooms surrounding the event.

So no excuses, come on out and don’t forget to visit us at our booth.


Daryle W. Hier



PS: What a great event. We missed last years but this year, even with a somewhat blustery wind and on-and-off sprinkles all day, we had a terrific day and took several orders to boot. These events are a great way to view what we have. Hope to see more folks next time out.

The Most Scenic Road In The World: Highway 1

Nearly a century old, California State Route 1, or simply Hwy 1, connects Southern and Northern California along its coast. However, more importantly it connects people with coastal access while offering great views of the Pacific Ocean. Yet, lying roughly halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, is maybe Hwy 1’s most significant contribution with a spectacular stretch of thoroughfare along the Central Coast – arguably the most scenic road in the world.

Beginning to end

At the south end, Hwy 1 starts in Dana Point and moves north through Orange and Los Angeles Counties as Pacific Coast Highway. As it leaves the Greater L.A. area heading west and north, it slides along the flat farmlands of Oxnard in Ventura County before turning west again towards Santa Barbara and moving away from Southern California.

As the road enters the Central Coast, it goes up San Luis Obispo County beach region and this where Hwy 1 really comes into its own as a highway like no other. It strolls through the rugged coastline north along Big Sur into Monterey County – we’ll get back to this slice of heaven in a moment.

After the undulating shoreline of Monterey, the highway turns east before heading down into Santa Cruz. The road, called the Cabrillo Hwy in this region, shoots north again towards the San Francisco Peninsula and its own rocky prefectures.  After the Golden Gate Bridge, Hwy 1 becomes a two-lane road again as it winds it way along the western edge of Sonoma County before ending its scenic route along the Redwood-lined Mendocino coast.

Redwoods, Old Coast Rd

Big Sequoias abound in Big Sur.

Big Sur Highway

Nearly any part of this famous road is worth driving, but the diamond in this jewel of scenery is the Central Coast and most notably Big Sur. Words can’t describe the beauty, natural tapestry and pure breathtaking scenery that offers an experience unlike any other.

If you’re looking for a happening place with restaurants, hotels and parties, this ain’t the place. In fact, it’s one of the least populated areas in California. From the time one leaves Morro or Monterey Bay on either end and heads north or south respectively, you had better have plenty of gas and maybe a snack to get you by as you roll up and down along the back and forth heaving of a ocean edge.

Essentially, the picturesque point-to-point drive in particular that we’re talking about is from the small towns of Cambria to Carmel. There’s so much to see, you have to go slow and stop sometimes to take in the sheer magnificence of Big Sur. The only sounds you’ll hear are nature, whether it’s the ocean waves, the many birds, the California seal lions or the occasional waterfall.

Long … and fun 100 miles

Plan to spend a least half a day traversing this stunningly scenic 100 mile span. And note that you can actually drive the distance from Cambria to Carmel faster by backtracking east and going inland and up/down Hwy 101 and then west back to Hwy 1 than heading up the coastline … but what fun would that be?

Sometimes called the Big Sur Highway, exploring this expanse offers rewards beyond comprehension. From towering bridges and 1,000 foot cliffs with a crashing Pacific below, this awe-inspiring unspoiled land is filled with treasures to be discovered. There are giant Redwood forests (Sequoias) that can capture your imagination with real life sights and sounds. From Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Carmel to Moonstone Beach in Cambria, there are endless beaches to find and enjoy where bird and sealife abound. Here’s a tip: check out the purple sand at Pfeiffer Beach.


Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park really does have sand that is purple-tinged.

Unless the weather says otherwise – this craggy Big Sur coast has its fair share of nasty conditions including dense fog in the summer – a convertible is the preferred method of travel up and down this jaw-dropping and celebrated road. The views are dizzying and drivers should be careful.

Likely the world’s most scenic road, this great driving tour of California State Route 1 should be on anyone’s to-do or bucket list. The legendary twisting hugging and aptly named Hwy 1 road is waiting for you.

Source: Big Sur Chamber of Commerce, MapEasy’s Guidemap to California Hwy 1


Daryle W. Hier


A dozen used wine barrel staves

Cuesta Grade – North South Divide

Anyone who lives in California finds out fairly quickly that there’s a north and a south – and the two regions are different in many ways. The primary reasons for the differences has to do with weather, cultural and geography. The latter is significant, what with mountain and deserts along with a large valley making the divide muddled at best. Geographically speaking, the southern part of the state is drawn by 35° 47′ 28″ north latitude. However, this isn’t necessarily how it works in reality.

Central California is used to designate areas in the middle of the state to differentiate between the two giants to the north and south – the Bay Area and Greater Los Angeles. However, it’s generally regarded that the state is of two parts: north and south. Here on the Central Coast, the line is partly drawn through the center of San Luis Obispo County with the Cuesta Grade. First used as part of the El Camino Real (The King’s Highway) to connect all the Spanish missions, it is a sliver of a crevice that was used by the railroads and eventually became an opening for a major north south highway (101).

Dividing line

This seemingly arbitrary ridge – part of the Santa Lucia Range – is the physical dividing line between what is called the ‘North County’ and the southern portion of San Luis Obispo County. It also could be a cultural divide as well.

The southern part of the county tends to be from a laid back typical California attitude that includes mild weather and beaches – not unlike SoCal. North is a different way of life. Much of this land north of the Cuesta Grade is wine country and the deep diurnals with definitive seasons are some of the differences that break these two regions up.


And sports. Boy, did I learn quickly. When I first moved here from 250 miles away in SoCal, I soon learned that this was San Francisco country, and to some extent, a Bay Area sports enclave, especially in Paso Robles. I knew that the schools in the locale mostly played Southern California programs in sports – I played a football game some 40 years ago at War Memorial Stadium here in Paso. However, that’s where the commonality ends.  I even contacted the local sports guy on TV – you can do that here – and he said what I had noticed: the Cuesta Grade divided the region.

North to San Francisco

Walk into a barbershop, real estate office or even a grocery store in Paso Robles and there are San Francisco Giants’ pennants, signs et all wherever you look. As a lifelong and true-blue Dodger fan, this made me a little ill. And they’ve been making championship trophy tour appearances around here of late … well, ugh is all I can say. No matter, it is a way of life and tells you a lot about the mentality of the region.

The El Camino Real is a trail that connected the Spanish missions in California. The site pictured is on the Cuesta Grade dividing Northern and Southern California.

The wine culture is big in Paso and although the area thinks of itself as much different than Napa, there’s no denying the similarity in the influence of vino in the North County. And politically there’s a variance as well. The city of San Luis Obispo has a long-standing tilt to the left, while North County is a bastion of conservatives.

The Cuesta Grade pass maybe only 1,500 feet in elevation, but it might as well be the Himalayas. The grade divides the state on the Central Coast and the county as a whole is united when it comes to helping out each other, such as commerce, tourism platforms and the same local television station. Still, much is divergent in regards to the culture of the Central Coast as the Cuesta Grade indeed divides the Golden State into the a north and south.

Additional sources: El Camino Real & The Route of the Daylight


Daryle W. Hier



Water Update: The Good And Not-So-Good

The three-year drought that has ravaged California and locally on the Central Coast, not only has the lack of water affected normal life, but also the politics have torn apart this otherwise quiet part of the Golden State. There are recent changes.

Legal rights restored … for now

First off, the good news is that property rights have been somewhat restored to landowners here in San Luis Obispo County. This week, the County Board of Supervisors has voted to let the temporary ordinance expire in August. The controversial law had banned property owners from drilling for their own water without an offset. This forced wineries to discontinue planting additional grapes. It also didn’t allow landowners to drill deeper when their wells went dry. Before this, they held the legal right to drill for water. Water rights restored is a start.

Nonetheless, the county is still moving headlong into forming a water basin district in the Paso Robles area. Last week, the same supervisors decided to continue proceeding with plans of creating a water district to control use of the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin, which is one of the largest natural aquifers in the country. In concert with the State Water Resources Control Board, the district is set to be formed by the summer of 2017 – this new groundwater agency will impose requirements that likely will control water usage not unlike the temporary ordinance that will expire in six months.

Rain & conservation

With that said, the California drought is still bad and although fall offered hope with more than normal rains, winter hasn’t been so cooperative. Yet, currently there is a storm heading our way this weekend and should dump a decent amount of showers over the region.

The Governor, Jerry Brown, recently announced that Californians were reducing their use of water as per a report card of sorts (source: Capital Press). The State Water Resources Control Board had instituted water restrictions last year and although Brown wanted to see more cuts than actually occurred, the state is now taking more actions to manage the water situation. In short, this doesn’t look good for farmers, jobs or Californians in general – go here for more.

The drought isn’t as bad as its been during the past three years; and, a forecast for a wet second half of winter is certainly being looked on with bated breath.

So the news is mixed. Law will finally be restored for property rights even if the water district will likely take that all away in the future. The rain totals so far aren’t earth-shattering, however, rains in February are usually the heaviest of the entire year and March can also be quite wet … we can only hope so as the wet stuff is still foremost on everyone’s mind in wine country.


Daryle W. Hier