Last fall I craved Perugia's peaceful tranquillity but I didn't want the jet lag. Instead of a 12-hour flight to Italy I drove to Paso Robles in less than four. Just as Perugia is overshadowed by Tuscany, Paso Robles is eclipsed by Napa. Downtown Paso Robles is a throwback to a simpler era, without a single parking meter. It has inspiring art galleries, quaint tasting rooms such as Bodegas and charming boutiques surrounding its central park.
For many wine sophisticates, "Southern California wine" is an oxymoron. The criticisms of the wines, usually produced in Temecula, are vast: They're too sweet, the aromas are funky, they lack the complexity and flavor found in wines from Napa or even Paso Robles. "When I tell Central Coast winemakers that I'm going south to explore Temecula wines, they say, 'Well that sucks. I'm so sorry,' " said Matt Kettmann, contributing editor for Wine Enthusiast Magazine, who rates central and south coast wines for the publication. "But no one ever really tries the wine."
About 50 such garagistes gathered in Santa Monica on a recent Saturday to connect with the thirsty, to speak with their clientele, an enthusiastic, comparably obsessive cohort who would otherwise be frequenting tasting rooms in Paso Robles or Los Alamos or the Funk Zone in Santa Barbara, wearing loud shirts and flip flops, living the dream one sip at a time, right alongside the producers pouring for them. It worked: Five hundred attended in Santa Monica; in Paso Robles, attendance can go as high as 1,000.
In June, Simonne Mitchelson, the general manager at Zotovich Vineyards and Winery in Lompoc, California, had an idea: a scholarship fund to attract Black talent into the world of wine, where non-white managers and business owners are anomalous. Most visitors to the wine region that stretches across the state's Central Coast notice its natural beauty, characterized by lattices of grape vines cover hilly, green terrain like the grid of blueprint paper, buttressed by a Mediterranean-like coastline. What for some might be less apparent is the racial monotony of the region's leadership and landowners. For Mitchelson, who is Black, it's been a challenge to assimilate. "When I bring up that diversity is an issue--and that it's isolating, people have gotten very defensive," she said. "From those interactions, I feel like I've had to make myself more palatable and not bring it up.