Hardly a day passes that I don't come across an invitation to vote on social media for the best winery tasting room in California. Best, of course, is best only in the eyes of the beholder.
Personally, I have a fondness for the Eberle Winery in Paso Robles, which celebrates its 40th vintage this year. Eberle is situated on California Highway 46, which links the vast Central Valley of California with the state's Central Coast, midway between Los Angeles and San Francisco.
The Eberle Winery is steeped in history. When it was founded in 1979, Paso Robles wasn't even a blip on the California wine map. Not until 1983, with persistent nudging from Eberle, was Paso awarded official AVA (American Viticultural Area) status.
An Eberle Winery cabernet sauvignon became the very first Paso Robles wine to list the Paso Robles AVA on its label. Gary Eberle was raised in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he was a promising high school football player. He later starred as a defensive lineman at Penn State under the late Joe Paterno.
Eberle developed his interest in wine while working on a graduate degree in New Orleans and became so enamored with his new passion that he enrolled at the University of California, Davis, and secured a degree in enology. He settled in Paso Robles because of its potential.
And even though Eberle was first to introduce syrah to the region, he has retained his passion for cabernet sauvignon throughout the years.
"I know syrah does well here, but I still believe cabernet sauvignon is our best grape," he told me on a recent visit.
Eberle Winery was built with underground caves that remain an attraction and a rarity in the region to this day. Free tours are conducted daily, and the caves are available for private tastings, dinners and other celebratory events.
The tasting room overlooks the city of Paso Robles to the west, with the rolling hills covered in vines. Outside there is a Santa Maria-style barbecue that is sometimes manned by Eberle himself, along with a wood-fired pizza oven and a covered stage for live music, mostly small groups or solo artists.
Pizza is served for free most weekends, and that mirrors the tasting room philosophy that Gary and Marcy Eberle cling to in the face of an ever-changing wine business. Eberle is one of the few remaining wineries in California that doesn't charge for tastings.
Most days, the big guy, often called the "Godfather" or Paso Robles wine, sits at a table near the tasting room entrance and entertains visitors with his sharp wit and tall tales, mostly delivered tongue-firmly-in-cheek. Earlier this year, Eberle was honored with the Robert Mondavi Food and Wine Award for extraordinary hospitality in the wine industry.
Among that and many other accolades over his long career, Eberle has been presented the Lifetime Achievement Award by the California State Fair for his pioneering spirit and significant contributions to the development of the Paso Robles wine region.
The tasting room staff is friendly and amiable, and if you're lucky, you might catch Marcy Eberle, a former television news reporter, strumming her guitar. Everywhere you turn there is a feast for the eyes, the wonder of California's Central Coast. Hawks circle above the vineyards. Gophers frolic between the vines. Hot by day, cool at night due to the close proximity of the Pacific Ocean, Paso Robles is ideal for French grape varieties from the Rhone Valley (syrah, grenache, viognier, mourvedre, roussanne, marsanne, grenache blanc) and Bordeaux (cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc) as well as the indigenous zinfandel.
For those reasons and others too numerous to mention, the Eberle Winery tasting room is more than a refreshing pit stop for a sip or two. It is a peek into the soul of a California wine legend.
Follow Robert on Twitter at @wineguru. To find out more about Robert Whitley and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com. Email Robert at [email protected]
Photo credit: JillWellington at Pixabay