Old friends in San Luis Obispo, California, are avid fans of the wines made in their county, so when we visit they enjoy introducing us to new wineries. And wineries there are—more than 300 in this part of the California Central Coast. Most are clustered around Paso Robles, a short trip north of San Luis Obispo on Highway 101. On our most recent trip we visited two Paso Robles wineries, one described as a “destination” or “luxury” winery, the other known as a “boutique” winery.

Daou, situated on Daou Mountain, is a luxurious destination winery. It offers a panoramic view of the countryside from the umbrella-shaded comfort of its impeccably landscaped surroundings. The wine bar exudes elegance and leisure. The wines are big and bold and the tasting experience is costly but memorable. 

Oliver Winery’s 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon. Photo by Rodney Margison

The wines, highly concentrated with low tannin, are immediately drinkable. They have the characteristic high alcohol levels of the hot Central Coast. Many are 14% alcohol by volume and above, but the alcohol is well- integrated and in balance with the wine’s strong flavors.

At the winery, the 2012 Daou Vineyards Aux Reserve—a syrah, grenache, mourvedre grape blend—costs $65; the 2014 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon will set you back $85.

A few miles down the road, the Alta Colina Winery presents a very different experience. The facilities  are modern but welcoming, with a simpler presentation. The tasting room is basically a stand-up bar, the outdoor seating is comfortable but not lavish, and the atmosphere is relaxed. Bob Tillman, the owner, often makes an appearance to talk with his guests.

Alta Colina wines, like those of Daou, are potent concoctions, with highly extracted fruit and high alcohol, smooth on the palate. The 2016 Old 900 Estate Syrah is $58 at the winery. The 2016 GSM—a blend of grenache, syrah, and mourvedre grapes that emulates classic French Rhone blends—is $50. 

Our  local destination winery, Oliver, is a few miles north of Bloomington. The newly renovated tasting room is elegant and cozy, and the grounds are beautifully landscaped, with comfortable seating and serene views. Its lush 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon, made with grapes sourced from Paso Robles and Lodi, California, sells for $22 at the winery.

Butler Winery, with a small tasting room and wine garden in Bloomington, presents a boutique wine experience where one can linger and talk with the staff. At its vineyard northeast of town, guests can picnic and take in the southern Indiana views. Its earthy 2016 Chambourcin sells for $24.99 at the winery.

Oliver and Butler and a myriad of local wineries are keeping both wine experiences alive and well. And I will drink to that.