Tin City is a little area in Paso Robles which was developed specifically to attract wine makers, beer brewers, restaurants and other local craft artisans. It has been very successful. It is called “Tin City” because all the buildings are clad in steel, in a modern industrial fashion. It bears many similarities to its cousin to the South in Santa Barbara, The Funk Zone. There is also a very similar area in Sebastopol called The Barlow.
On yet another rainy day in February, our friend Cassandra, Dominique, and I decided to explore Tin City in earnest and do some wine tasting. I had not been wine tasting since I was at UCLA in the early 90’s, and some friends used to drive up to the Santa Ynez Valley for the day to explore the wineries there. Dominique had actually never been wine tasting, at least she had never tasted wine at a winery. Many store bought wines don’t sit well with her. She tends to stick to Champagne or French reds.
When we first arrived at Tin City we visited the new location for Olivas de Oro. They are an olive oil producer based out in Creston. They have a beautiful farm out there with many very old olive trees, and they used to do tasting there. But they decided to move tasting and sales to Tin City to increase their exposure. We love their olive oils and their vinegars. Cassandra wanted to stock up. For those who may not be aware, the Paso Robles area has many excellent olive oil producers, and you can go to most of them for tasting.
At the time of our visit their tasting room was still being completed. But it was obvious it will be very cool, with a gorgeous old Oak tree just outside the large window panel.
As we were checking out Olivas de Oro, I noticed across the creek there was what looked like a cool winery. I suggested we go and visit. To get there you have to cross a wooden bridge, which although it is new, is made to look old. Rico got quite a jolting in his dog carrier as we wheeled him across.
The winery we arrived at is called Sans Liege. The owner/wine maker likes to push boundaries outside the limits dictated by tradition. This is, in fact, one notable difference between Napa wineries and those on the Central Coast, this desire to explore new ways of making wines, new blends, new methods etc. Just to see what is possible, what sticks and what doesn’t. The French would be aghast, and that might not worry these new wine makers a bit.
Being a cold rainy day, when we arrived we were the only ones there (though other couples arrived during our visit). The atmosphere was very laid back and the young woman behind the counter was friendly and knowledgeable (everyone in Paso is friendly, it blows your mind coming from the city). Sans Liege does not grow grapes, they purchase harvests from local vineyards. It may surprise some to learn that many wineries do not produce their own grapes, and that many vineyards to not produce their own wine. Only some labels do both, and even then they may still buy grapes from other vineyards to supplant their own harvests. It is a big exercise in cross-pollination with arrows pointing in many different directions. I happen to think this is pretty cool. All of the harvests purchased by Sans Liege in 2018 to make their wine are listed on a chalk board next to the tasting bar.
We began tasking some of the wines. I love wine but am far from a sommelier, so I cannot recall exactly which ones we tried. But we liked them all, enough that we bought a few bottles and even joined their club. And the best news was that Dominique discovered she could drink this wine with no ill effects. Sans Liege is not sold in stores, and perhaps that frees them from requirements to add certain preservatives? I have no idea, but there is something at work here.
Leaving Sans Liege we wandered up the street and found Etto, a purveyor of Italian food stuffs as well as a producer of organic pasta, olive oil and wine.
We bought some olive oil and a few other things and then head outside. Next door is a fairly large restaurant called Tin Canteen. It looked real fun, with great outdoor seating (for better weather). But we had eaten earlier so this will wait for another time.
Next door to that is building with a large graphic on the outside saying “Field Recordings”. At first I had no idea what this might be. We saw a group of young people come out of the building, many holding what looked like bottles of wine. Hmm, this had to be investigated. Well Field Recordings turned out to be another boutique winery. Hey, we were looking good!
We each had a “flight” (tasting of about 5 wines). Some of them were quite unusual. All were very good. The winemaker Andrew Jones, another iconoclast, likes to try new things. Even wine in a can!
Dominique and I bought a bottle of Haar Family Vineyards red.
It was starting to get late, and the weather looked to be closing in. But I wanted to walk over to the other side of Tin City to have a look at a few wineries over there. We were thinking to visit ONX Wines, but were drawn over to Lefondusac. The name is French slang for the end of the cul de sac, which pretty much describes their location. They are at the very end of Tin City, right next to the railroad tracks.
Lefondusac has a fantastic outdoor patio, and during warmer weather a lot of small bands play there. But today it was pretty quiet. We met Wanda behind the counter. She gave us wine to taste and regaled us with stories of Paso and its history. Her family has lived here for 5 generations, and she said she is still considered a “newbie”. Yes this little town has a long history. We also met the local cat, Lefonducat, who adopted this winery as his home. He was very friendly and seemed to enjoy us humans.
At one point Wanda said “the train is coming”. We were confused, we heard nothing. But sure enough, a few seconds later we also heard that whistle blowin’. She rolled up the large garage type door that connects the tasting room to the outdoor area. She said they waved at every train that came by, so we all waved! What fun.
On the way back to the car we saw this sign:
It took me a bit to discern what the sign said, finally it hit me, duh, Desperada. Vailia Esh is the winemaker, and it is another boutique sort of place. Unfortunately they are reservation only. But check out the wine labels on their website. Very unique and beautiful. Also read Vailia’s “Ethos“.
Well, that was it for our first visit to Tin City. There are many other places to visit there, but that will have to wait for another time.