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Events celebrating SLO County spirits, blended wines liven up the winter

Alex Villicana, left, and Adam Scheiderer juice cucumbers for a cucumber infused vodka at Re:Find Distillery in Paso Robles.
Alex Villicana, left, and Adam Scheiderer juice cucumbers for a cucumber infused vodka at Re:Find Distillery in Paso Robles. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

To celebrate its second year, the nonprofit group Distillers of SLO County is throwing a mad tea party.

The budding group’s inaugural event last year, “Fire & Ice,” sold out even after increasing capacity. This year’s event, “Down the Rabbit Hole” on Feb. 25, moves to the Paso Robles Event Center and includes the eight original Paso Robles Distillery Trail members plus Autry Cellars in San Luis Obispo.

“Fire & Ice was a great debut for the spirits scene here, but for the sophomore event, this will be a really fun, playful theme,” said SLO Bitter Co. co-founder Robin Wolf, who has a line of locally crafted bitters and works with a few of the distilleries to create cocktails.

Attendees are invited to don their best tea party attire — rumor has it one local distiller will be playing the Mad Hatter — and head down the rabbit hole into a whimsical cocktail reception featuring local spirits, hearty bites, live music, a commemorative glass and a silent auction with spirits crafted exclusively for the event.

A limited number of VIP tickets grant access to the Queen’s Royal Parlor, with barrel tastings of rare spirits an hour before the main event begins at 4:30 p.m. Tickets are $95 to $125 and available at www.pasoroblesdistillerytrail.com. Tickets purchased before Jan. 27 include complimentary tastings at distillery trail tasting rooms Jan. 28 and 29.

Six of the distillery trail members offer regular tasting hours: Autry Cellars, Krobar Craft Distillery, Pendray’s Distillery, Red Soles Stillhouse, Re:Find Distillery and Wine Shine. Bethel Road Distillery, from the Castoro Cellar’s Udsen family, is now bottling brandy and is set to open across from the winery in the coming months. Azeo Distillery has yet to open a tasting space but is bottling apple vodka and has plans for other spirits.

In addition to the tasting room at Villicana Winery & Vineyard, Re:Find’s Alex and Monica Villicana are renovating Paso’s historic Fox Theatre to expand whiskey production and serve as the distillery’s downtown home.

BlendFest on the Coast

“Down the Rabbit Hole” joins another relatively new event in drawing visitors and locals out during what used to be a quiet time for the region’s wineries and other attractions.

BlendFest on the Coast, which features 90 blended wines from 32 Paso Robles wineries, returns for its third year Jan. 13 to 15 at Cambria Pines Lodge.

BlendFest’s main event on Jan. 14 offers two sessions: an afternoon tasting with cheese pairings from 1 to 3 p.m. for $45, and a sunset tasting with bites from The Pairing Knife from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. for $65. Guests staying at participating Cambria and San Simeon hotels are entitled to VIP entry 30 minutes early.

Expanded last year after its sold-out debut in 2015, the 2017 festivities kick off with a winemaker dinner Jan. 13 at Robin’s Restaurant in Cambria, which is also offering a special BlendFest brunch menu throughout the weekend (reservations encouraged).

Two live blending sessions take place at 10 a.m. Jan. 15 at the Cavalier Oceanfront Resort in San Simeon, which is also hosting an artist-guided painting of the Piedras Blancas Light Station as part of Cambria’s Stewardship Travel Program. For $40, blending seminar participants can choose between Bordeaux blending with the Paso Robles CAB Collective or Rhone varietals with the Paso Robles Rhone Rangers, followed by a barbecue lunch.

The event is held in conjunction with the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance, Visit Cambria, Visit San Simeon and the California Highway 1 Discovery Route.

Sally Buffalo writes about wine, beer and spirits. Reach her at sallybuffalo@gmail.com or on Twitter @sallybuffalo.

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