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Paso Robles’ Old Vines: A Taste of History

Vintage Paso Robles Signage

Delving into the history of Paso Robles’ oldest vineyards and their unique flavors.

If these vines could talk, the stories they’d tell! While Paso’s oldest vineyards appear gnarled and twisted, the wine they continue to produce is sweet, indeed. In fact, Paso Robles winemakers covet long standing vineyards planted by early California farmers and vintners.

From heritage zinfandel dating back to pre-Prohibition days to the pioneers of cabernet sauvignon in the 1970s, there’s more to explore behind Paso Robles’ old vine history. Grab a glass, sit back and prepare for a fascinating tale that twists and turns through the ages.

What are considered old vines?
What are “old vines” anyway? Here’s a quick primer: The average wine grape vine reaches adulthood around 7 or 8 years. A “mature” grapevine is said to be anywhere from 12 to 25 years old. “Old vines” are usually more than 25 years in age, and can easily date back 50 years or more. That said, there are no legal regulations around using the term “old vine,” so be sure to do your research if ever in doubt.

Why make wine from old vines?
Paso Robles winemakers champion old vines for their unique contributions to wine flavor and impressive longevity. Wines made from old vines tend to be more complex, with better color and higher acidity.

These sturdier, deeper-rooted vines continue to remain productive during droughts or extreme weather, another big plus. Old vines are known to self-regulate, yielding smaller crops based on environmental factors, leading to attributes reflecting specific vineyard sites (terroir, anyone?). Plus, their smaller grapes are prized for their higher skin-to-juice ratio, which boosts the tannins and overarching structure of the wine.

More than just adding a unique flavor, old vine wines preserve the enduring passion of farmers and winemakers long since gone. All of these factors prove that old vines deserve their universally distinguished reputation.

Paso Robles and California Old Vine History

Welcome to the old, old west! California winemaking history dates way back to the late 1700s with the arrival of the Spanish missionaries. Thanks to Paso Robles’ ideal climate and soil, these first Mission vines thrived, making way for all the great wines that we love and enjoy today.

Father Junipero Serra is credited for planting Mission grapevines circa 1797 at Mission San Miguel in San Miguel, just North of Paso Robles. What did the resulting wine taste like? These Mission grapes were the original black grape variety planted for sacramental purposes—so probably not quite as refined as Paso’s modern offerings. Though most of these historic Mission-era vines have long since died off, there are a few fascinating outliers.

The oldest California Mission vines still bearing fruit today are more than 250 years old (planted between 1760 and 1770) at Mission San Gabriel Arcángel in Los Angeles County.

Zinfandel – Paso’s heritage wine grape
After California Mission vines were planted, Italian, French and German immigrants arrived in waves, introducing a new world of European wine varietals to Paso Robles. In the height of the mid-1800s California Gold Rush, Italian zinfandel began to take hold in the region, becoming a star crop.

Expressive and fruit-forward, zinfandel remains Paso Robles’ heritage varietal and is celebrated in Paso Robles tasting rooms today. In fact, Paso Robles continues to boast one of the highest concentrations of old vine zinfandel vineyards in California, with some vines dating back a century. Several of these Paso Robles old zinfandel vines continue to produce globally-coveted offerings, strengthening the link between Paso Robles and zinfandel for a new generation. Characterized by their low-production, dry-farmed status and ideal terroir, these old vines continue to shine, far into their golden years.

Rotta Winery Vineyard
Rotta Winery Vineyard

Paso Robles Old Vine Wineries

mid•point Winery at Radial Estate (previously Rotta Winery)

One of Paso Robles’ oldest wineries, Rōtta Winery continues to welcome tasters to explore the legacy of old vine zinfandel and beyond. However, as of 2023, it’s now called mid•point Winery. The original vineyard and winery got its start in 1856 thanks to Frenchman Adolph Siot, who later sold the successful enterprise to Joe Rotta in 1908. In the 1920s, Rotta sold the business to his brother Clement Rotta, who bonded the winery in the 1930s, forging a label that would become synonymous with Paso’s robust zinfandel offerings.

Just how did Rotta Winery survive those tumultuous Prohibition days? By producing “sacramental wines,” a welcome loophole for crafty California producers. Three generations later, this Willow Creek AVA winery remains strong. With 20 acres of head-pruned grapevines—including old vine zinfandel and cabernet sauvignon—modern travelers are invited to taste the hard-earned fruits of Paso winemaking history. 

Sip from a Paso Robles time capsule at mid•point Winery, where old vine estate zinfandel and classic estate cabernet sauvignon collide.

Gary Eberle
Gary Eberle of Eberle Wines

Eberle Winery

Believe it or not, there was once a time when cabernet sauvignon was virtually unknown in Paso Robles. Thanks to pioneering winemaker Gary Eberle, the varietal would go on to rocket the entire region to worldwide acclaim. 

Eberle began his career helping to establish his family’s Estrella River Winery & Vineyards in the Estrella District AVA. In the late 1970s, the winemaker acquired nearly 64 acres of vines not far from the family business—marking the start of his own Eberle Winery, still popular today. 

The winery’s first release, a 1979 Cabernet Sauvignon, might be one of the most coveted vintages in Paso Robles, historically speaking. The Winery continues to craft award-winning cabernet sauvignon, among other Bordeaux varietals, from Eberle’s long-tended vines. 

Aside from Eberle’s own Paso Robles vines, the winery utilizes quality grapes from local heritage sites like Paso’s Steinbeck Vineyard, one of the oldest Syrah vineyards in the nation, dating back 140 years and seven generations. Eberle’s collection of Steinbeck Syrah library wines helps tell the story of Steinbeck Vineyard, one sip at a time.

Learn more – Eberle Steinbeck Syrah
Learn more – Steinbeck Vineyard

Epoch Estate Wines

Helming the oldest continuously operating winery property in northern San Luis Obispo County, Epoch Estate Wines preserves two of Paso Robles Wine Country’s most enduring sites: The Paderewski Vineyard and York Mountain Winery property. It all started when Epoch Winery Owners Bill and Elizabeth Armstrong purchased the historic west side Paderewski Vineyard in 2004, famously owned and planted by late Polish pianist and Prime Minister Ignacy Jan Paderewski (a.k.a. Paso’s most famous resident). How did a Polish dignitary come to reside in Paso? In 1913, Paderewski visited the area seeking the healing effects of natural mineral springs and became smitten with the landscape.

A quick detour to bring you up to speed: Paderewski purchased over 2,000 acres in the westside of Paso Robles, establishing Rancho San Ignacio and planting historic zinfandel and petite sirah grapes at his Paderewski Vineyard. Those important grapes were then taken to the famed York Mountain Winery (the first bonded winery on the entire Central Coast) and crafted into some of Paso’s first nationally-recognized wines. In 2010, the Armstrongs of Epoch Estate Wines purchased the old York Mountain property, lovingly renovating it into the Epoch Estate Wines tasting room. 

The Epoch Estate Wines tasting room represents sacred ground, indeed (yes, the story goes back a tad further). Its rich past as York Winery marked the beginning of commercial winemaking in all of San Luis Obispo County. In 1882, winemaking pioneer Andrew York purchased land in the Santa Lucia Mountains, northeast of Cayucos, establishing historic vineyards in 1895 (where Ascension Winery stands today). Before the Armstrongs and Paderewski, the York family occupied the land, grew grapes and crafted zinfandel wines for three generations.

Epoch Estate Wines offers a lineup of vineyard-specific wines sourced exclusively from the historic Paderewski Vineyard. Sample the winery’s enduring zinfandel offerings, crafted to honor the late great Paso wine pioneer.

Learn more – Epoch Wines and Paderewski Vineyard

Turley Wine Cellars

Established in 1993, Turley Wine Cellars revives old vines, one vintage at a time. After two decades as an emergency room physician, Turley Wine Cellars Owner Larry Turley developed a passion for bringing forgotten vineyards back from the brink. Where others saw decay, he saw history and potential.

Case in point: Turley sources 100% of the fruit grown at Paso-based Ueberroth Vineyard, now more than 140 years old. Planted by the Tonesi Brothers in 1885 and acquired by Peter Ueberroth in the 1960s, this Willow Creek-AVA vineyard is defined by extreme features and rocky limestone soil, known to give wines added depth and complexity. At the top of the Ueberroth Vineyard, one can even smell the Pacific ocean.

Even more notably, the vines feature head-trained, dry-farmed zinfandel vines planted between the 1880s and 1940s. Warm, sun-filled days and cool, coastal evenings contribute to old vine zinfandel full of fresh and vibrant acidity. Turley, alongside longtime vineyard manager and current Turley Wine Cellars Director of Winemaking Tegan Passalacqua, continue to reinvigorate old vines through organic farming practices, preserving them for generations to come.

Head to Turley Wine Cellars’ for a taste of old vine mystique. Amadeo’s Vineyard Zinfandel is a great place to start: Named for the long-standing family-owned Templeton Gap AVA vineyard planted in the 1920s, this historic Turkey Wine Cellars offering honors the efforts of Paso’s early Italian immigrant population.

Learn more – Turley Wine Cellars old vine zinfandel

Dusi Vineyard

Planted by Sylvester and Caterina Dusi in the early 1920s, Paso’s famed Dusi Vineyard continues to produce distinguished old vine zinfandel known the world over. Benito Dusi Vineyard (a.k.a Home Ranch) and Dante Dusi Vineyard have attracted wine greats like Ridge Winery, Tobin James and Turley Cellars, all of whom utilize this great zinfandel.

The Dusi family’s commitment to sustainable grape growing techniques combined with the unique microclimate of the Templeton Gap AVA contribute to intense flavor profiles known among winemakers as “Dusi Fruit.” Three generations later, Janell Dusi continues the legacy, expanding the family business to encompass J Dusi Wines, located on Highway 46 West. If history is to be repeated, the Dusi vineyard will remain a celebrated source for exceptional zinfandel in the region for the foreseeable future.

J Dusi wines shine with fruit from the family’s historic vines. The winery’s 2020 Benito Dusi Zinfandel is crafted from 100% zinfandel sourced from Paso Robles vines planted in 1925 (just three bottles may be purchased by any customer).

Learn more – J Dust old vine zinfandel

Saint Marie Vineyard

Historic Saint Marie Vineyard, planted in 1965, is the work of Richard Sauret, celebrated as an early champion of Paso’s heritage zinfandel grape. Born in Paso in 1935, the third-generation farmer is remembered for promoting zinfandel as well as the use of dry farming techniques, which utilize rainwater only. Now owned by Stephanie Shakofsky, Sauret’s Saint Marie Vineyard continues to flourish at the base of the Santa Lucia Mountains in the hills of Paso’s westside.

Saint Marie Vineyards’ head-pruned vines are now more than a half-century-old, bedded in ancient limestone, shale and clay soils. These important zinfandel vines, utilized by renowned Paso Robles and California winemakers, maintain low yields and continue to promise compact fruit with ripe, rich berries and intensely concentrated flavors. 

Grapes from the celebrated Saint Marie Vineyard in Paso Robles have been making waves for decades. To sample the fruits of these vines, search out zinfandels crafted by California zinfandel producer Kent Rosenblum Cellars, whose Saint Marie Vineyard-specific offerings garnered Wine Spectator “Top 100 Wines in the World” inclusion three times over.

Learn more – Saint Marie Vineyard zinfandel

More wineries that work with legacy vineyards

lone madrone tasting room exterior
Lone Madrone’s tasting room

Lone Madrone

To best serve wine character and terroir, Lone Madrone works exclusively with Paso’s time-tested mountainous westside vineyards. Since 1996, the winery continues its long tradition partnering with these historic Paso Robles growing operations, many of which continue to be family-owned.

Among these coveted growers are Klau Mine Vineyards, owned by sixth-generation farmers the Dodd family, who have collectively spent upwards of 140 years farming their world class vines. However, this is only one of many time-honored growers Lone Madrone calls friends. Osgood Vineyards, originally owned by blacksmith Oscar Ryan in the 1800s, is another historic Paso Robles vineyard site Lone Madrone favors, and for good reason: Abandoned until the 1970s, when the Osgoods revived the ranch, the land remains ground zero for iconic head-pruned zinfandel, petite sirah and cabernet sauvignon.

And another: The Bailey family. The enduring family farmers acquired their 200-acre Bailey Ranch in 1968, planting an initial ten acres of chenin blanc a year later. Since then, the ranch downsized, but the Bailey family land continues to boast 25 acres of organic walnut trees and prized old vine zinfandel, all entirely dry-farmed. This incredible zinfandel is showcased in some of Lone Madrone’s most popular wines. Head to the Lone Madrone tasting room to sample these fresh, terroir-driven wines and taste Paso’s fascinating winegrowing history in every sip.

Lone Madrone wines are famously sourced from Paso’s most distinguished westside vines. That said, some are more storied than others: Like Lone Madrone’s 2019 Bailey Ranch Zinfandel, which offers up a taste of six-generation farming passion. 

Learn more – Lone Madrone Wines

halter ranch most popular wineries wine tasting trail paso robles
Halter Ranch tasting room

On the way to ‘old’

Vintage vines changing Paso history

While “Old Vines” are often considered to be aged fifty or over, many Paso Robles vineyards are on their way to historic status. Discover these soon-to-be historic vineyards hovering around the three-decade mark.

Halter Ranch Winery

Established in 2000 on a historic 2,700-acre estate, Halter Ranch Winery is proud to preserve a rugged slice of Paso Robles legacy. Set along the westernmost boundaries of Paso and surrounded by the Santa Lucia Mountain Range in the Adelaida District AVA, Halter Ranch produces certified-organic estate wines nearly three decades old.

Representing the modern wave of late 20th century Paso Robles wineries, the vineyard was initiated in 1996 and has expanded to 200 certified-organic acres. Today, Halter Ranch’s vines continue to produce 20 grape varieties planted on the steepest, most south-facing slopes of the property. The remainder of the ranch is dedicated to untouched oak woodland and wildlife corridors.

Envisioned by Swiss entrepreneur, philanthropist and world-leading land conservationist, Hansjörg Wyss, the estate is an homage to his mother, Alice Halter, and a haven for the natural world to flourish. Today, visitors can explore the Halter Ranch tasting room for classic Paso Robles wines and in-depth tours of the historic property by train, plane or Land Rover.

Learn more

Tablas Creek Vineyard

Modern pioneers of the California Rhone movement, Tablas Creek Vineyard is historic for planting grenache, syrah and mourvedre and pushing them into the limelight. Founded in 1989, the winery is the lovechild of two of the international wine community’s leading families dating back to 1967: the Perrin family of Château de Beaucastel, and the Hass family of Vineyard Brands.

Planted in 1992, Tablas Creek’s 270-acre Adelaida District vineyard eventually grew to become the prime source for Rhone varieties, serving growers from Washington to Virginia—no small feat. Tablas Creek Vineyard isn’t just historic for bringing a taste of the Rhone Valley to Paso Robles, they’re also the first to tend a certified “regenerative organic” vineyard in the world.

Stop by the winery and book a vineyard tour to learn how biodynamic practices—like bringing sheep and alpacas into the vineyard for weed abatement—keep these iconic Rhone vines healthy, more than three decades later.

Learn more

Want more Paso Robles wine history?

One sip, and you’re hooked! Learn more about Paso Robles Wine history and gain a deeper appreciation for the area’s wine pioneers with our Paso Wine history run-down below:

Cover images and Vintage Paso Robles Signage courtesy of the Paso Robles Historical Society

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