SLO Wine Country Like a Local, Things to Do

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Tucked between Paso Robles and Santa Barbara, California is San Luis Obispo (SLO) Wine Country. Slow may mean a less frantic pace of life to some. Locals from this area on the central coast know that SLO equates to a coastal lifestyle and vibe. I confess, that as a San Francisco Bay Area native, I often forget this part of wine country. SLO Wine Country flies under the radar; but like the Pinot Noir grapes that thrive in this cool climate, the people, winemakers and grapes on the vine offer big returns on small yields.

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Slo Wine Country is a trailblazer in aromatic white wines. Photo © Nancy D. Brown

What do I mean by small yields? Like the Pinot Noir varietal that delivers full fruit flavor, but not necessarily a ton of fruit on the vine, the 30 (plus or minus) member strong SLO Wine Country is like that. This organization of entrepreneurs and viticulture pioneers is like the little engine that could, and does, make it up over the hill everyday. In fact, metaphorically speaking, the phantom rivers of fog that flow in during the evenings and allow fruit more hang time, relates to the pace of life in this wine region. Not to knock Napa Valley, I love learning what’s new in downtown Napa, but SLO Wine Country has a different rhythm and diversity all it’s own.

There are not many places in California where you will find the reliable marine cooling, combined with the coastal soils and consistency of temperature fluctuations. The AVA’s (American Viticultural Areas) of the Arroyo Grande Valley and Edna Valley produce more than 20 grape varieties, but Chardonnay and Pinot Noir dominate the landscape with aromatic whites such as the Albarino varietal making its presence known.

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Wine & cheese tasting Laetitia Vineyard & Winery, Arroyo Grande. Photo © Nancy D. Brown

But man does not live on wine alone! I stayed at The Inn at the Pier steps from Pismo Beach during my visit to the central coast. This cool little beach town offers craft cocktails and beers from too many local producers to count. Same goes for the number of restaurants in the area. We boarded a mini bus with Breakaway Tours and headed over to the charming Arroyo Grande Village for wine and cheese tasting after a walk in the Sip Certified vineyards of Laetitia Vineyard & Winery.

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Timbre Winery in Arroyo Grande Village. Photo © Nancy D. Brown

Arroyo Grande

I wish we’d had more time to experience the historic village of Arroyo Grande.  It was like taking a stroll through history and reminded me of the village of Carmel in its earlier days. You can walk to three different tasting rooms on one street if time is a concern. Timbre Winery and Phantom Rivers, along with Qupe / Verdad tasting room offer wine and cheese tastings for a fee. If you’re lucky, you might see winemaker and proprietor Bob Lindquist of Qupe on hand in his tasting room. We were fortunate to participate in a Pinot Noir tasting with Bob and Winemaker Nathan Carlson of Center of Effort Winery. Some of the wines we sampled in this ultra-coastal Pinot tasting were from Tolosa Vineyards, Stephen Ross, Niner Wine Estate, Sawyer Lindquist, Cutruzzola Vineyards and Center of Effort.

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David Marks preps steaks from wood-fired oven at Ember restaurant. Photo © Nancy D. Brown

After a day of wine tasting we headed to Ember Restaurant in Arroyo Grande. This place was hopping on a Wednesday night! Amazing entrees came out of the wood-fired oven; huge steaks and an oven toasted marshmallow ice cream cake with sea salt caramel, cocoa sponge cake, chocolate hazelnut crunch & vanilla bean ice cream. This dessert sounds crazy, but it’s one of their top sellers and, after tasting it, I know why it can’t come off the menu.

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Chamisal Vineyards in San Luis Obispo. Photo © Nancy D. Brown

Avila Beach & San Luis Obispo

Our morning started with a visit to the historic Harford Pier at Port San Luis in Avila Beach. As we often road trip with our dog in our truck and trailer, we plan to come back to this area for some upscale glamping. We then moved on to Kynsi Winery, located on Corbett Canyon Road in Arroyo Grande. I clarify their location in Arroyo Grande, because SLO Wine Country rambles from one area to the next and you may not be aware that you cross into the neighboring city of San Luis Obispo when you visit places such as Autry Cellars (makers of wine and brandy) or Chamisal Vineyards.

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Kynsi Winery is known for their famous Stone Corral Vineyard, as well as their “bulldog pup” barrel racking equipment. Owner Don Othman specifically designed the bulldog pup for Pinot Noir Edna Valley wines, however, now the equipment is used worldwide in the craft brew industry and for saki, too. Personally, I loved our visit to Kynsi Winery to learn about the barn owl – you’ll notice it on their label – and these owls play an important role with rodent control in the fields. Check back for when their owl cam is up and running!

Our afternoon began in the vineyard with Winemaker Fintan “Fin” du Fresne of Chamisal Vineyards, located in San Luis Obispo. This was another Sip Certified winery and vineyard that we visited. Fin believes strongly in sustainability practices in the vineyard such as integrated pest management. “As a winemaker and farmer, I do what’s best for the vineyard,” said Fin du Fresne.

From Chamisal we drove to Baileyana tasting room for a white wine tasting that introduced me to the Albarino varietal. Then it was on to Biddle Ranch Vineyard. While I loved their Pinot Noir, it was the guest house and it’s sliding barn doors that made me utter Arnold Schwarzenegger’s phrase, “I’ll be back.” This sophisticated rental property would make an ideal location for a girlfriend getaway or romantic wine country weekend.

Outdoor Things to Do

If you have the opportunity to plan your visit to SLO on a Thursday night, take in the famed downtown San Luis Obispo Farmers’ Market. If you’re still hungry, amble over to Granada Bistro. Finally, my favorite activity on this entire trip was horseback riding in the Pismo Preserve. If you prefer to walk over riding, join a docent-led tour with The Land Conservancy of San Luis Obispo County.

Insider Tips:
If you like fresh seafood, head to the historic Harford Pier at Port San Luis & pick up some fish or clams to take home. For wine tasting with a group of friends, consider using Breakaway Tours. They know SLO wine country backroads. Leave the driving to professionals when wine tasting is involved. For additional insider tips follow luxury travel writer @Nancydbrown on Twitter or Instagram @Nancydbrown and @slowinecountry on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

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Enjoying the coastal lifestyle at Kynsi WInery in San Luis Obispo. Photo © Nancy D. Brown

If You Go

SLO Wine Country (805) 541-5868
P.O. Box 607
Pismo Beach, California 93448

Slo Wine Country Like a Local, Things to Do and all photography (except top photo) by travel writer Nancy D. Brown. I was a guest of San Luis Obispo Wine Country while researching additional articles for Hotel Scoop and Writing Horseback. As always, all opinions are my own.