Justin, J. LOHR, DAOU (Paso Robles) and Bernardus (Carmel Valley)

Paso Robles is quickly becoming a rival to Napa Valley and Sonoma County by having some of the best wines produced globally.

In May, my wife and I visited Justin, J. LOHR, and DAOU – all three competitive with the great wines of the world – and each with fabulous surroundings and tasting experiences.


There is a tasting room in downtown Paso Robles, but if possible, visit the Justin Vineyards and Winery in the midst of its 1,000 acres with 500 acres devoted to vineyards.  Wines tasted and all highly recommended: Justin Rosé 2020 – 100% Syrah; complete and delicious, $20. Justin Reserve Tempranillo 2017 – aged 22 months in 44% new French Oak; rivals some of the best of Spain, $45. Justin Justification 2018 – 66% Cabernet Franc, 34% Merlot.; aged 20 months in 44% new French Oak; first produced in 1987, this is the wine that made Justin famous, $60. Justin Isosceles 2017 – 83% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Cabernet Franc and 8% Merlot; aged 20 months in 100% new French Oak; the wine I tasted years ago that made me a life-time fan, $75.

Also available are reserve wines made in small quantities, offered only to Justin Wine Society members. An array of snacks is offered at the tastings, including cheeses, olives, nuts, salads (with or without chicken), etc.


The fabulous tray full of goodies at DAOU. Photo by Marijo Moody.

Possibly the greatest view of any winery, along with a gorgeous tasting room and wines rivaling the best of California and France. Wines tasted and highly recommended: DAOU Grenache Rosé Reserve 2019 – my favorite grape for a rosé, $38.  DAOU Chemin de Fleurs 2019 – 48% Grenache Blanc, 27% Viognier and 25% Roussanne, $45.  Seventeen-Forty Reserve 2018 – 71% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Merlot; aged for 16 months in 100% new French Oak, $75.  DAOU Cabernet Sauvignon Estate 2018 – 100% Cabernet Sauvignon; aged for 20 months in 80% new French Oak, $95.  DAOU Son of a Lion Estate 2018 – 79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Cabernet Franc and 8% Petit Verdot; aged 22 months in 100% new French Oak.  Chateau Margaux, $150.

J. Lohr

Cynthia Lohr and Denman Moody. Photo by Marijo Moody.

Jerry Lohr is a true pioneer.  He planted Chardonnay grapes in Monterey’s Arroyo Seco in 1972 (now 1,400 acres including Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Blanc). In 1984, he bought 34 acres in Napa Valley and planted it to Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot.  Later in 1986, he planted Cabernet Sauvignon in the Paso Robles American Viticultural area (now 2,600 acres including Merlot, Petit Verdot, Petite Sirah, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Grenache, Viognier, Roussanne, Mourvèdre and Grenache Blanc). This has become one of the great success stories in the world of wine, with Mr. Lohr recently receiving the American Wine Legend honor from Wine
magazine. And along with the hundreds of gold medals, including “Best of Show” wines, J. Lohr was recently named the top winery of all international entrants in the Houston Rodeo International Wine Competition.

Wines recently tasted and all highly recommended: J. Lohr Gesture Grenache Blanc Paso Robles 2019 – lovely aperitif wine, $20.  J. Lohr Gesture Grenache Rosé 2019, $20.  J. Lohr Chardonnay Arroyo Seco October Night 2019, $24.  J. Lohr Chardonnay Arroyo Vista 2018 – made in classic Burgundian style; excellent with creamy Danish Havarti and turkey sandwich, $25.  J. Lohr Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles Hilltop Vineyard 2018 – perennially one of the best Cabernets on the market for under $28. J. Lohr Syrah Paso Robles Beck Vineyard 2018 – from a 1,700’ elevation vineyard planted in 2000; with a blend of a small amount of Viognier, a rival to the great Northern Rhone look-alikes; perfect with prime rib, $50. J. Lohr POM Paso Robles 2010 – this wine is primarily Merlot (like Pomerol), the J. Lohr STE. E is primarily Cabernet Franc (like Saint Emilion), and the J.Lohr PAU is basically Cabernet Sauvignon (like Pauillac); every one of the three that I have tasted are worthy of a score of 90 or higher; the most recent POM that I have tasted is the 2016, $50 each. J. Lohr Signature Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles 2017 – also from the Beck Vineyard, this is the ultimate expression of J. Lohr Cabernet Sauvignon with beautiful tannic structure, power, class and breed, $100.

Jerry, Steve, Cynthia and Lawrence Lohr. Photo by Paul Kirchner Photography.

The future looks bright for Jerry and J. Lohr Winery.  His three children, Steve (CEO), Cynthia (Chief Brand Manager) and Lawrence (COO) ensure that one of California’s historic, best-known wineries is in good hands.


On to Carmel Valley and Bernardus Winery, which was the first to open a tasting room in Carmel Valley Village.  The founder, Ben Pon, was a world traveler with impeccable taste and a vision of making great wines similar to that of J. Lohr and the founders of Justin and DAOU.  He also built the renown Bernardus Lodge and Spa in Carmel Valley.  The Lodge, its Lucia Restaurant, and the following recently tasted wines are all highly recommended:  Bernardus Sauvignon Blanc Monterey County Griva Vineyard Arroyo Seco 2019 – possibly the best ever tasted at this price!  The winemaker spent time at both Le Flaive and Lafon (French wineries that make some of the greatest white wines in the world), $20.  Bernardus Chardonnay Monterey County 2019 – aged 4 ½ months in new French Oak, $28.  Bernardus Chardonnay Ingrid’s Vineyard Monterey County 2019 – very low yields and very high quality; Montrachet look-alike, $50.  Bernardus Marinus 2014 – a blend of all five Bordeaux varietals, this wine was released only after six years of aging (four years in bottle at the winery); perfect with a beef tenderloin and a slice of one year-old Manchego on a warm, thin, slightly toasted slice of French bread, $75.