Those who know me, even marginally, know I love three things with pretty much reckless abandon: pinot noir, petit verdots and merlots, pooches of all varieties and people who give me chocolate – hint, hint, dear hubby, my stash pandemically speaking is rather low.
I also really like Paso Robles. Which is very convenient as there is, of course, plenty of great wines and as I recently learned, plenty of pooches. In fact, a whole platoon of pooches under one roof. More on that later.
No matter what additional boutique properties pop up in Paso, my favorite is still the 20-acre, pet-friendly Allegretto Vineyard Resort. Even though Allegretto has 171 spacious, well-appointed, high-ceiling rooms, its layout and Italianate design, fire-pit freckled courtyards and cabana-clustered pool and Jacuzzi feel less like a hotel and more of a country retreat to a favored relative’s Italian villa.
Lining one hallway, black-and-white photos reflect the owner’s family contribution to California development over the years. Throughout the property is a vast, museum-worthy collection of art and antiques on display, including some spectacular and rare East and South Asian pieces. One room off the lobby has on display a trunk slice from a massive fallen sequoia. Saying it’s massive doesn’t really do it justice – its circumference is significantly larger than that of a Volkswagen.
A small gym – with equipment moved outside for COVID safety – spa, chapel and tasting room complete the vineyard-lined property. allegrettovineyardresort.com
The newly opened Paso Market Walk is a terrific example of the community leading sustainable food system efforts. The Vreamery has beautifully displayed plant-based and dairy-free fare using superfood ingredients, while Just Baked Cake Studio had my chocolate heart profusely palpitating.
Lunch at The Third Degree required that choices be made with serious repercussions. With burger names like The Lawyer, The Interrogation, The Suspect and The Jury, diners must consider their motives. Fortunately, no crimes were committed while I was there and the consequences were delicious, fresh food. No probation proffered. thirddegreegrill.com
Paso’s farm-to-table institution, Thomas Hill Organics, has a lovely lit courtyard to enjoy chef Libry Darusman’s creations, including pumpkin ravioli, black lentil tacos with candied jalapeños and Reggiano thyme biscuits. Happily I saved room for the outstanding key lime pie. thomashillorganics.com
Cello Ristorante at Allegretto likewise has lovely al fresco dining under heat lamps. The Tri-Colores salad with Chapparal Farms plum balsamic vinaigrette was just out of the garden and the pappardelle Bolognese made with Black Angus and pork sausage was as good and satisfying as Nonna used to make. allegrettovineyardresort.com/the-resort/cello-ristorante-bar
No trip to Paso would be complete without a visit to DAOU Vineyards. In Paso’s breathtaking hilltop Adelaida district rests this lovely vineyard that looks like Tuscany, produces some fantastic wines that have won numerous accolades and serves delectable Mediterranean fare. All in an atmosphere of unbridled passion for the products DAOU produces and the community it shares.
With 212 acres and 120 under vine, DAOU Vineyards is the result of Lebanese-born, France-reared, San Diego-educated wunderkind brothers Georges and Daniel Daou’s commitment to and honor of the terroir they so clearly love.
Seated outside near a fire pit embracing DAOU Mountain’s expansive view with a diverse wine flight, it became obvious why wines from DAOU have received so many rated scores from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate between 95 and 99 points. These are simply great wines at price points available for all budgets to enjoy.
If you love someone, or are just heavily in like with them, drinking DAOU’s outstanding 2017 Estate Soul of a Lion, Wine Advocate 97 points, may alter the nature of your relationship altogether. daouvineyards.com
Since I am not prejudiced, I also like some white wines. In nearby San Luis Obispo, Tolosa Winery serves up a terrific 2018 Pure Chardonnay with hints of honey crisp apple that’s fermented and aged sur-lie – on the lees in contact with dead yeast cells to enrich them – in stainless steel tanks.
Tolosa also produces 12 pinots from various regional vineyards with a wide variety of complexity. The prince of its collection is an impressive 2019 Primera Pinot rare lot from Edna Valley. tolosawinery.com
Dogs are my other great love, and I was deeply inspired by late-blooming animal lover Charlotte Meade. Charlotte, who had never owned a dog before the age of 40, one day walked into a high kill shelter in Connecticut where she was living. Charlotte saved numerous dogs along the East Coast while realizing she needed more space to save more lives.
Today her 501(c)(3) nonprofit, Meade Canine Rescue sits on 12 hilly acres in Creston, not far from Paso. Here Charlotte and a handful of rotating volunteers concentrate on saving elderly, special needs and hard-to-place dogs. I met up with Charlotte and her animals at her ample property.
Roaming the property were 59 dogs of all shapes, sizes and ability, several cats and an enormous pot-bellied pig named Marvin who had been recently rescued from an L.A. shelter.
In addition to donations from those who know Charlotte’s story so she can continue to care and feed her charges, Charlotte also has a small thrift shop, Meade Canine Resale, in nearby Atascadero. Known to pay to spay or neuter anyone’s pet if the owner asks, Charlotte’s generosity is all-encompassing and her love of animals is transcendent.
After raising $8,000, Charlotte was also part of a group that went in August to Escondido, Mexico where, with a local veterinarian, they spayed and neutered 300 dogs in one day and also provided those dogs with vaccinations at no charge to the owners. Charlotte is headed back to Mexico in January, this time near Tijuana, to do it again. Without a doubt, Charlotte has changed the lives of so many animals and the people who love them. Tax deductible donations can be made at meadecaninerescue.net.
The lessons learned
There is plenty to love about Paso Robles and the central coast. Good food, great wines, an undeniably strong sense of community populated with those willing to open their hearts and homes to pay it forward. I am already plotting my return. Woof.
Julie L. Kessler is a journalist, attorney and legal columnist and the author of the award-winning travel memoir “Fifty-Fifty: The Clarity of Hindsight.” She can be reached at vagabondlawyer.com. Some establishments hosted the writer, but content was not reviewed by them prior to publication and is solely the author’s opinion.