A talk with Tin City winemakers in Paso Robles
It’s an unexpected location, tucked behind a service road off Highway 101 at the southern edge of Paso Robles.
But this unassuming industrial park, still sprinkled with body shops, air conditioning distributors and pool supply companies, is poised to become the area’s hippest new tasting destination.
Tin City, as it was dubbed by the producers there, is already home to the popular BarrelHouse Brewing Co., more than a dozen small wine producers and a distillery making brandy, whiskey and other spirits.
By summer, a cider house, BarrelHouse’s new sour beer facility, a wine bar, a couple more wineries and a restaurant offering outdoor seating, mobile ordering and delivery to the small picnic spots around the complex will join the mix.
“It’s just about to take off,” said Nick Elliott, from Nicora Winery, which was among the first handful of wineries to move into Tin City about three years ago. “Once the restaurant is in, people won’t have to leave. They can spend the whole day in Tin City.”
There’s more to come, too, with plans in the works for a weekly farmers market, and possibly a bakery or chocolate shop, according to developer Mike English, who is converting his business — an artificial rock manufacturing company — into a wine storage facility.
It’s just about to take off. Once the restaurant is in, people won’t have to leave. They can spend the whole day in Tin City.
Nick Elliott of Nicora Winery
“When it’s all done, we’re going to have a unique little spot back here,” English said. The 20-acre parcel is about 95 percent developed, he said, with room for maybe a couple more buildings in addition to leased space that could open up.
Chris Taranto, communications director for the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance, said he doesn’t expect the project to take away from the vineyard-set and downtown tasting rooms, but rather, add to the options available for visitors.
“Some people are always going to want the vineyard experience, and the downtown is its own experience, with the concentration of restaurants,” he said. “This adds another neat tasting experience you can have in Paso.”
A community of wine artisans
Talk to any of the winemakers in the 20-acre park and they’ll compare what’s happening to popular destinations such as the Funk Zone in Santa Barbara or The Barlow in Sebastopol.
But with the exception of BarrelHouse, which draws crowds with its popular brews, live music and food trucks, Tin City has flown somewhat under the radar, visited mostly by aficionados who sought out the labels.
That’s starting to change. Weekdays are still quiet. With small operations and a number of one-man shops, some of the tasting rooms are open only “by appointment or by chance.” But visit Tin City on a weekend and you’ll find people roaming the small quarter in search of open signs.
“We just walked from one place to the next. It was great,” said Bryan Wallace, who recently drove up from Arroyo Grande with wife Kathy to hit some of the tasting rooms. “And you’re not two or three steps removed — it’s usually the winemaker behind the bar pouring the wines.”
That’s what makes Tin City special, visitors and producers alike say. It’s a community of artisan winemakers producing small amounts of hand-crafted wines.
It’s also what’s kept the spot pretty low-key so far — with small lots and eager wine club members, many of the wineries sell out within months of releasing new vintages.
We just walked from one place to the next. It was great. And you’re not two or three steps removed — it’s usually the winemaker behind the bar pouring the wines.
Bryan Wallace of Arroyo Grande
“We have to skirt between wanting to be open and having something to pour,” Jacob Toft said.
Like most of his Tin City neighbors, Toft spent years making his wine in larger wineries, shared facilities and anywhere else he could beg, borrow or steal space and equipment.
He said he’s thrilled to finally have his own tasting room, but enjoys being surrounded by like-minded winemakers, many of whom have worked together in the past.
“Our friends are all around us,” he said. “It’s good synergy.”
Tin City winemakers tell of tasting each others’ blends, borrowing supplies and helping fix broken equipment — not to mention grabbing beers at BarrelHouse.
“It’s sort of like borrowing sugar from the neighbor,” said Brian Brown, winemaker at ONX, which has a spacious tasting room and production facility that opened in September.
“I can only benefit from people around me making great wine,” Russell said. “I want to be smack dab between two great producers. No one drinks one wine.”
More traditional marketing including a website and some advertising will come down the road, once a few more pieces are in place. But for now, the wineries are getting all the traffic they need from one another.
“People are always asking where to go next,” said Bret Urness of Levo, which opened in October.
With such a wide diversity in the development, it’s easy to send people off to the right destination.
Down the road, expect organized block parties, roaming dinners and live music in the cul-de-sac. But for now, while everyone’s still putting on the finishing touches, the fun is more impromptu.
“We have people come in and say, ‘Half our group is at BarrelHouse, these guys are going wine tasting, we’re here to drink brandy,’ ” said Patrick Brooks, a partner at Wine Shine, a distillery that opened a year ago. “It’s a drinker’s paradise.”