Peanut butter and jelly, macaroni and cheese, wine and… history? Ok, that last one might not go together as well as the others but I think they make an awesome combination. I love seeing historic sites and I love drinking wine, so how could they not go together? California’s central coast holds some pretty amazing hidden treasures often overlooked by people traveling north via the 5 freeway. The cool weather and seemingly endless amounts of open land make it the perfect region for growing wine grapes. Paso Robles is a tiny city about 30 miles inland from the famous Highway 1 and 30 minutes north of San Luis Obispo, that is pretty much filled to the brim with wineries. There are so many wineries here it could take you a couple of years to try them all.
So, if you’re like me and have a hard time choosing from too many options, take a break and head north on the highway about 15 minutes to the even smaller town of San Miguel. There are actually a surprising amount of wineries here, but I’m going to share my favorite with you. And not only do you get to taste some amazing wines, you can also travel back in time when you tour two important buildings rich in California history.
Villa San Juliette
I was introduced to Villa San Juliette while I was working the Food & Wine Festival at Disneyland. They had chosen VSJ’s Petite Sirah which was my favorite of all the wines we offered. (Yes, even more than Ballistic by Tobin James) I loved it so much that when I went to Paso Robles for the first time a few months later I made the extra trip to San Miguel to go to the winery. However, apparently this winery was so new that they didn’t even have a tasting room yet.
On another trip a few years later, we were finally able to visit the beautiful Tuscan villa that is Villa San Juliette’s tasting room and try out more of their wines. We happened to visit during Paso’s Zinfandel Weekend, but we wouldn’t have known that if the girl pouring for us hadn’t said anything. The front lawn and patio were busy and there seemed to be a buffet lunch being served, but the tasting room wasn’t crowded and our hostess was very attentive and super sweet. When I noticed that the Petite Sirah was not on the tasting menu, I told her about how I had heard about VSJ and she graciously opened a bottle of Petite Sirah so we could get a taste.
Tasting fee of $10 waived when you purchase a bottle.
Mission San Miguel de Archangel
The original church at Mission San Miguel was dedicated in 1797, but the current church was built between 1816 and 1821 from adobe bricks. At one time there were over 1000 local Salinan Indians living at the mission. After the Mexican revolution and subsequent independence, the missions were secularized and the Franciscans left. It was purchased by Petronillo Rios and William Reed in 1846. Since then, it’s been used for many different things including being a home, hotel, shops, etc. Eventually the land and Mission was given back to the Catholic church and has been an active parish since 1878.
While it is still an active church and offers mass throughout the week like most other missions, the historic buildings are open as a museum for public viewing. Six Mission rooms as well as the chapel are open, displaying artifacts and and decorated with furniture similar to the way they would have looked during the time the Mission was active. While the Mission was heavily damaged during an earthquake in 2003 and has been restored, the footprint of the Mission buildings are basically the same as they were when originally built. The chapel still has the original frescoes painted on by the indigenous Salinan people on the walls. The only part of the Mission that is open without a tour is the small cemetery.
Self guided tours are available from 10 am to 4:30 pm every day except major holidays. The tour costs $5 for adults, $3 for children and is free for kids under 5.
Down the street from the Mission is the Rios-Caledonia Adobe. It’s hidden from the street in a little green belt, but has a sign out front – just follow the long driveway to the parking lot. There is a lot of history on this little plot of land. The original adobe was built in 1835 on Mission land and has been used for so many things it’s kind of hard to keep track. It has been a home, a school, a saloon, an inn, a post office, and the list goes on and on.
Inside the adobe you’ll find not only a plethora of information about all of these incarnations (and a whole binder full of ghost stories) but also docents who know so much about the history of the place they could talk your ear off for ages. They didn’t seem to have guided tours, only a small portion of the house is open, but if you’re really interested in the history I’m sure you would have no problem getting someone to give you a lecture. The room downstairs has two glass cases filled with ephemera, and walls covered with pictures of the people who lived there, and a saloon set up in a tiny room in the corner. Upstairs there are rooms decorated as a school house and bedroom, and more cases of memorabilia and pictures on the wall. I love how much they have in their collection and can display. The only thing I didn’t like in the museum were the mannequins they use to jazz up their room displays. Freaks me out. Maybe too many Doctor Who episodes….
Museum open Friday – Sunday 11 am – 4 pm. Free admission.
In doing research for this post I was ready to say Villa San Juliette was the only winery in San Miguel, making it a really easy choice. But, it turns out there are several, even warranting a ’10 best list’ from yelp. I guess wineries in wine country are like craft breweries in San Diego – they keep popping up as the interest grows. The result is that you keep wanting to come back, and every time you do, you discover a new favorite place. Nothing wrong with that.
What’s your favorite winery in the Paso Robles area? Let me know in the comments!
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