A sip from the ‘Inner Circle Wineries’ of Paso Robles

Lakeside seating at Terry Hoage Vineyards.
Lakeside seating at Terry Hoage Vineyards. Special to The Tribune

Deliberating over whether to experience new wineries or revisit old favorites, my husband Chris and I opted for the former and headed out to explore the area near Kiler Canyon Road. Dubbed the “Inner Circle Wineries” of Paso Robles, our planned route looked promising.

As it turns out, our path to new wineries was dustier than we expected, as Arbor Road ended up being nothing more than a dirt road. But the vine-lined hills and pastoral scenery encouraged us along to our first stop, Fratelli Perata.

One of the oldest wineries in Paso Robles, Fratelli Perata is steeped in family and tradition. What used to be fields of grain was replaced with fields of Italian varietals in 1980 when the Perata brothers settled in Paso Robles. With grapes from 30 dry-farmed acres, Fratelli Perata offers only red, estate-grown, unique Italian varietals rarely seen in our area.

The tasting room is intimate, with a peek into the back where the wine is made and a large scale mural of the family in a country Italian setting that graces one wall. Of the wines we tasted, I enjoyed the 2009 charbono (the “h” is silent, like Chianti), as well as the 2010 zinfandel. But the one wine Chris and I couldn’t resist bringing home with us was the 2009 Bel’ Bruzzo, a food-friendly, rare 100 percent Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.

Back on the dirt road we ventured to our next stop, Terry Hoage Vineyards. Owned by former NFL safety Terry Hoage and his wife, Jennifer, the winery’s setting was beautiful, with a picturesque lake, welcoming tasting room and enthusiastic staff. Terry Hoage wines are estate-grown and made in 100 percent French oak with a hands-off approach that lets the wine speak for itself.

The tasting started with the 2010 The Gap Cuvee Blanc, a balanced white blend of grenache blanc, picpoul blanc and roussane grapes. We both enjoyed the 2008 The Pick, a GSM (grenache, syrah and mourvédre blend), as well as the 2009 The Hedge, a syrah with classic characteristics of smoke and spice. We also tried a side-by-side tasting of the 2007 and 2009 The 46, a 50/50 blend of grenache and syrah — Chris and I both agreed the 2007 was better. While we enjoyed our tasting and the double meanings behind the wine names (with both a local connection and a sports inflection), we found the wines to be the most expensive of the day.

Relief for my little car came soon after we left, when we reached paved Kiler Canyon Road to arrive at our last stop of the day, Écluse Wines. Écluse means “locks” in French, aptly fitting with the owner’s name, Steve Lock. The Locks were originally only growers and sellers of their 24-acre grape harvest, but in 1996, the Locks made a batch of wine to showcase their grapes. The rest is history.

After entering the big, brick-red tasting and storage room, we were invited to participate in a barrel tasting. Direct from the barrels, we tasted Cabernet Sauvignon in three different wine stages: The first was young wine in neutral oak (the wine tasted very fruity, almost like juice), then some wine aging in new oak (extremely oaky) and finally some wine that had been aged a long time, blended from multiple barrels (there was the Cabernet flavor we know and love!). What a difference time makes!

Écluse had enjoyable white wines to begin the tasting, including the 2009 Prelude, a Rhône blend of viognier, roussane and grenache blanc aged in a bit of neutral oak, and a recently released 2010 viognier. Chris enjoyed the 2009 Improv, a syrah/zinfandel blend that changes every year (hence the name) and we both loved the 2007 syrah from the Lock Vineyard that we had to take home with us.

As days off together are a rare occurrence for Chris and me, we were hoping for a special experience. The Inner Circle Wineries did not disappoint.