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It’s been a hell of a year. Until early May, I was selling real estate, or at least attempting to. In March, my then fiancée, now bride, Laura and I spent the weekend in Paso Robles with our dear friends Denny and Jodi Jones. If memory serves me correctly, it was the 5th visit there for Laura and me in about a year’s time. We took Denny and Jodi to one winery after another, introducing them to winemakers we had met and to some phenomenal wines, too. At the end of the weekend, Denny told me what an incredible experience they’d had. He told me I ought to think about taking people out and giving others the same experience we had shared with them. That started the ball rolling. I had been writing a blog on a real estate web site for about two years, sometimes writing about real estate, but more often about travels, wine and life in general. My brilliant wife suggested I started a wine blog and do what Denny suggested and start taking people to wineries. The seed was planted. The name WINEormous popped into my head and we both liked it. We chuckle sometimes when we hear wine descriptions that talk about pencil shavings and the like. We love a good nose on a wine, we love to swirl the glass and let the wine open up, then savoring the mouth feel and picking up the fruit. That’s when I came up with “we’re not wine snobs, we just like good wine.” Don’t get me wrong. There’s a place for wine experts who pick up every nuance and describe a wine in a multitude of terms. I respect and admire that talent. That’s not us. We’re here to share stories of people we’ve met, places we’ve visited and wines we’ve enjoyed along the way.

Paso Robles Inn

With the year drawing to a close, I wanted to look back on what has been a truly remarkable year for us. We have met some amazing people, visited some incredible places and of course have tasted some superb wines. Paso Robles has become almost a home away from home for us. When we first visited last year, we stayed at the Paso Robles Inn and with our dinner there enjoyed the house Zinfandel. We asked who made it and we were told it was a Tobin James wine. Thus began our friendship with Tim & Gail Booth. Since this was our first visit to Paso, we weren’t all that familiar with the wineries there and had no idea that Tobin James was a huge destination and home of the world’s biggest wine club, numbering more than  20,000 members. We went in and had the good fortune of being served by Tim Booth. Tim poured us wine after wine, including the “Ballistic” Zin we had enjoyed with dinner. We have since become close with Tim and his wife Gail and don’t miss an opportunity to visit with them when we are in the area.

Tim Booth

Tim Booth

Tobin James Cellars

Tobin James

Zenaida Cellars was one of the first stops we made in Paso and we don’t miss an opportunity to stop there. We fell in love off the bat. Chances are, Jessica Stapp will be there to greet you when you walk in. She always has a smile on her face and makes you feel right at home. Carolyn behind the tasting bar is also a joy and Cellar Master Tyler often lets you taste a barrel sample. His recipe for Ginger Snap Cookies is on our Cooking With Wine page.The wines, their blends, Syrahs and Zins in particular, are beautifully balanced and a joy to drink. There are also two lofts available for rent upstairs. We spent a weekend in one once and it is an incredible feeling to wake up in the vineyards.

Zenaida Cellars Tasting Bar

Zenaida Cellars Entrance

Carmody McKnight is another of our favorite haunts. On our first visit, Winemaker Greg Cropper was manning the tasting bar and introduced us to the incredible wines he is making. Gary Carmody Conway and Marian McKnight own the winery and their daughter Kathleen runs the business side and also produces a dessert wine and a hand racked and riddled sparkling wine. We’ve attended their last two Cork n Pork barbeques during Harvest Festival and wouldn’t dream of missing it. Denny and Greg hit it off instantly and look forward to their next get together.

Greg Cropper

Greg Cropper

Cork n Pork

Cork n Pork

It’s so hard to narrow down so many wonderful places to a handful of favorites. I’d be remiss if I didn’t include Fratelli Perata. Before our first trip to Paso, we were asking folks which wineries we should visit and someone said we had to check out Fratelli Perata. I can’t tell you how happy I am that we did. They are a small, family run winery producing magnificent wines – Sangiovese, Petit Verdot, Merlot, Zinfandel and more. Carol Perata treats you like you’re family. Whether there are two people or fifty, she’s calm and makes sure your glass isn’t empty. Almost everyone in the family is involved in the winery. It’s one of our absolute favorites.

View From Fratelli Perata

View From Fratelli Perata

Fratelli Perata Family Mural

Although Paso Robles has dozens of wineries that we adore, I’ll mention just three more here starting with Dubost Winery and Starr Ranch. Word of mouth is a powerful tool. While visiting Tolo Cellars, winemaker Josh Gibson said we ought to check out a new place called Dubost. Down the road we headed and hit it off instantly with Kate Dubost. Her son Jacob Raines is one of the “young guns” making beautiful wines in Paso. He’s not afraid to work with unusual varietals, either. Have you ever tasted Negrette? I didn’t think so. Kate’s a great host and they also have estate olive oils for you to taste and purchase. Neighbor Judy Starr is generally open to visitors just a few times a year. She’s regarded as one of the best growers in the area, but she also produces elegant wines. Her 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon is incredible and will only get better with age. Dubost and Starr also collaborate on a line of wines called Windfall.

Laura "Mrs. WINEormous" Plant & Judy Starr

Kate Dubost

Jacob "Jake" Raines

I can’t leave Paso without mentioning Zin Alley. Zinfandel is one of my favorite varietals, so when I saw the name I knew we had to visit. Frank Nerelli makes big, fruit forward Zins. His production is small and the quality is exceptional. Frank is no nonsense, down to earth, easy to talk with and he and his wife Connie are usually always on hand.

Frank Nerelli

Silly me, I thought I could wrap up the year in one story. I could, but it would be a mighty long read. We tip our hat to Deanna Morrison, our wonderful new friend who publishes the Wine Country Journal. She’s a delight and we are blessed to call her friend. Steve and Steffanie Anglim at Anglim Winery are salt of the earth and a joy to know. We love their wines, too, and their charming downtown tasting room. I want to pay proper attention to the Temecula Valley and the people here who have helped make the WINEormous vision a reality. We wish you and yours the very best in 2010. See you soon with part two.