Sitting under a tree next to what was once a one-room schoolhouse before its transformation into a boutique winery you can almost hear the sounds of the Pacific Ocean a few miles west. What you can clearly hear is the sound of Bocce balls clanking against one another, the clinking of wine glasses from a group of tourists sitting at a nearby wooden picnic table and the occasional sound of a car driving along the nearby two-lane highway. The midday sun hangs high in the sky momentarily warming the air before a light sea breeze cools things off.
“It is never not perfect weather here,” said Michael Blany, brand ambassador for Baileyana Winery. “When Paso Robles is 105 and Napa is in the high 90s, we are sitting pretty at 78,” he said, taking a sip of Baileyana Firepeak Pinot Noir.
By here he means the Baileyana Winery nestled in the heart of California Central Coast’s Edna Valley surrounded by green leafy vineyards and the picturesque views of the Santa Lucia Mountains. The winery is just one of 50-plus that form the San Luis Obispo wine region, or as locals like to say, the SLO Coast region.
While it does not get as much fanfare as the Napa and Sonoma Valleys to the north or Santa Barbara to the South, the San Luis Obispo Coast is one of California's most unique wine regions. Just a stone’s throw from the Pacific Coast Highway, the winemakers here are starting to create some of the best cool climate wine in the state. During the past 30 years, vintners have transformed barren fog-drenched hillsides along California’s Pacific coastline into extreme vineyards that specialize in growing Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Albariño. And it is finally getting the recognition it deserves.
In March 2022 the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau designated the San Luis Obispo Coast its own American Viticulture Area, or AVA. The 60-mile-long cool weather strip along the rugged Pacific Coast sits halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Tasting rooms and wineries are dotted along the country roads that wind through Edna Valley and Arroyo Grande Valley’s scenic rolling hills. As the name promises, SLO Coast wineries offer visitors a much sought-after laidback wine tasting experience.
Not only do the 50-plus wineries of the appellation boost top-quality Burgundy-style wines, the proximity to the coast regulates any would-be extreme temperatures, said Rob Takigawa, Director of Winemaking for Baileyana, Tangent, Zocker and True Myths.
More than 90% of the vineyards are planted six miles or less from the Pacific Ocean. The proximity to the coastal winds create mild temperatures perfect to ensure long growing seasons, Takigawa said. In fact, the area has one of the longest growing seasons and one of the coolest climates in all of California.
While Burgundy-style Chardonnay and Pinot Noir flourish in the region, so does a little-known grape from Spain called Albariño. Traditionally grown in Spain’s Rías Baixas region, Albariño thrives in maritime climates. It is a highly aromatic white wine with a floral nose, white peach, apricot and citrus flavors, high acidity and a subtle saltiness.
“Our cool climate and close proximity to the ocean enhances the trademark salinity and briny characteristics Albariño is known for,” said John Niven, brand ambassador for WX Brands. With Niven at the helm, Tangent Winery wine was one of the area’s first big proponents of Albariño in the early 2000s. At the time, Tangent Winery was one of the first wineries in the country to devote a large portion of its vineyard to grow Albariño. As a result, everyday wine drinkers are becoming more familiar with the wine, leading to an increase in demand.
Niven’s family was among the Central Coast pioneers that transformed the region into a grape-growing paradise. Niven family patriarch Jack Nevin began planting vines in Edna Valley in 1973. For more than four decades, three generations of Nivens have farmed the valley. The Niven’s Paragon Vineyard is the largest family-owned and operated vineyard in the Edna Valley. The vineyard was part of the Sustainability in Practice (SIP) pilot program in 2008 that is now wildly popular and is aimed at encouraging sustainable farming practices.
The new SLO Coast appellation is home to more wineries than you can visit during a weekend, so here are the top four that you do not want to miss.
Named after the Acacia Baileyana trees that grow throughout California’s Central Coast, Baileyana is one of the founding wineries in the Edna Valley. The tasting room is housed in a 1909 one-room school that once served as the kindergarten through 12th-grade schoolhouse for the surrounding farming community. The building retained many of its original windows, floorboards and ceilings, adding to the authenticity.
No matter what type of wine you prefer, you will be able to find something that tickles your fancy here. Visitors can choose between 30 different white and red wines across four brands: Baileyana, Tangent, True Myth and Zocker. Regular tastings are $25 per person and include a flight of six preselected wines; a reserve tasting costs $50 per person and includes a flight of six preselected reserve wines, a charcuterie platter and a wine glass to keep.
Who can resist a chrome 1969 Airstream trailer that acts as a tasting room and serves nothing but Rosé? Not us. Malena made its splash on the Central Coast wine scene in 2016 with its inaugural vintage of Malena Rosé. The Airstream, glasses full of pink wine and spacious outdoor tasting area have been a highlight of visitors’ Instagram reels ever since. Tastings for the Provencal-style Rosé cost $25 per person. The open-air tasting room is adjacent to Chamisal Vineyards’ winery in San Luis Obispo. If you have a hard time finding it, keep your eyes peeled for the bright pink Rosé This Way signs.
Ten minutes from downtown San Luis Obispo, Chamisal Vineyards creates some of the best sustainably produced Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in the entire Edna Valley. As one of the oldest wineries in the area, Chamisal Vineyards has long held a reputation for top-quality wines. The longer-than-average growing season allows for cool-climate grapes like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir to develop deep, rich flavors. The winery is open for tastings Wednesdays through Sundays. Visitors are invited to sit on the outdoor patio and soak in the stunning views of the rolling hills and San Luis Mountain Range as they sample their wine. The Estate Patio Experience includes a sample of five popular wines overlooking the beautiful estate vineyards for $35 per person.
It is hard to get a tasting in this independent, micro-winery, but it is worth the planning. Croma Vera is generally only open two days a week for tastings. The small-batch Spanish-inspired winery focuses on making sustainable Albariño, Tempranillo, Grenache and red wine blends, 150 cases at a time. Spanish-inspired flights of five wines are $25 per person. The little tasting room is in downtown San Luis Obispo.