The area hugs the Pacific Ocean on the seafront side of the coastal range mountains in San Luis Obispo County and also includes two contiguous AVAs—the Edna Valley and Arroyo Grande Valley. San Luis Obispo’s proximity to the Pacific Ocean shapes the terroir, the wines and the convivial lifestyle that is distinctly “SLO.”
Dwarfed by the larger and inland-lying Paso Robles AVA to the north, SLO Coast Wine is comprised of 30 wineries and is destined to become an appellation of its own, due to its cool maritime influence and personality which grant the wines a natural and energetic balance of acidity, complexity and freshness. SLO’s wine culture is not new. The modern era of winemaking in San Luis Obispo County dates back to the early 1970s, approximately 200 years after mission priests of San Luis Obispo grew grapes to make sacramental wines.
Together with generational wine making families and young pioneers, a thriving dining culture and coastal activities, the seaside destination – which once was one of California’s best kept secrets – is catching on throughout the world.
The quaint small-town feel of San Luis Obispo and surrounding areas are punctuated with coffee shops, artisanal crafts, beach-front eateries and ocean activities that favour the vibrant college town crowd and discriminating tastes of the well-travelled. San Luis Obispo is bordered to the north by the magnificent Hearst Castle, which was developed by media mogul William Randolph Hearst, who had an impeccable wine collection whom locals say he kept the keys in his front pocket at all times during Prohibition in the U.S. Along the coastline are sandy beaches and towns of Avila and Pismo that draw beachcombers, surfers, and fishermen, adding to the inherent beauty and relaxed culture.
Here, cool climate and coastal influence go hand-in-hand with vineyards located at an average of five miles from the Pacific Ocean. Slow burning fog melts away to warm sunshine and reliable coastal breezes, making San Luis Obispo Coast home to one of the world’s longest wine growing seasons and with the natural ability to produce crisp Chardonnays, and juicy and earthy Pinot Noirs by producers such as Sinor-Lavalle, Oceano, Cutruzzola, and Niner Estates. Also commonly found in the area are Rhône varieties, such as Syrah, Grenache, Viognier as well as aromatic whites, including Albariño, Grüner Veltliner, Riesling and Gewürztraminer. San Luis Obispo is leading the charge in producing Albariño in the New World, with producers such Tangent, Croma Vera Wines, Peloton Cellars, Stephen Ross Wine Cellars, among others accounting for more than 20 percent of all of California’s Albariño. Pronounced marine conditions are ideal for coaxing essential qualities out of locally grown Albariño fruit.
The soils in SLO Coast emerged from the collision of tectonic plates causing a commingling of ancient seabed, marine shale, sand, ocean-carved sandstone, fossilized shells, calcareous clays and volcanic soil from the areas dormant chain of 20+ million year-old volcanoes, called the Morros. Together the patchwork of soils often varies within areas smaller than a hectare, giving more diversity to the region’s wines.
Wineries to visit
A picturesque drive along the coast leads to Stolo, located in the seaside town of Cambria. The Stolo team, headed by winemaker Nicole Bertotti Pope, strives to maintain the integrity of the grape and vineyard by crafting wines that represent the unique terroir of this cool growing region with small-lot, estate wines ranging from Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Syrah.
- 3776 Santa Rosa Creek Rd, Cambria, CA 93428
- Estate tastings: Daily. For up to 8 guests no reservations required. For groups over 8, advanced booking of 48 hours needed.
Croma Vera, specialises in Spanish varieties and sources its Albariño from SLO Coast’s Spanish Springs, a vineyard known for its cool climate varietals and similarity to the vineyards of Rías Baixas, Spain. Owner Mindy Oliver’s philosophy is to guide meticulously farmed, high-quality grapes using minimal intervention and sustainable practices.
- 3592 Broad St., Ste. 106, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401
- Tastings: Friday & Saturday 12-7pm, Sunday & Monday 12-5pm. Group & private tastings must be booked ahead
Headed by winemaker Ryan Deovlet, Biddle Ranch produces still and traditional method sparkling Chardonnay from its 17-acre estate in Edna Valley. Fruit is also selected from neighbouring Santa Ynez and Arroyo Grande Valleys and Paso Robles, for each of their limited-production wines, ranging from Pinot Noir, Syrah and Italian and International varieties. Guests can enjoy accommodations at Biddle Ranch and also spend the day in the tasting room and relax in outdoor spaces overlooking the vineyard and expansive views.
- 2050 Biddle Ranch Road, San Luis Obispo, CA
- Tastings: daily 11am-5pm. For groups of 6 or more, reservations are needed.
For three generations the Talley family has farmed in San Luis Obispo County. What began as a thriving vegetable farming business in the Arroyo Grande Valley expanded to grape growing and winemaking. Talley’s Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are made in classical winemaking techniques, fermented with native yeasts, aged in French oak barrels, and generally bottled without filtration. Talley offers tours of the historic El Rincón Adobe, tastings and al fresco ambiance in their picnic grounds.
- 3031 Lopez Drive, Arroyo Grande, CA 93420
- Tastings: daily 10.30am-4.30pm, Fridays 10.30am-6pm. For groups of 7-20 people, reservations required
Restaurants, bars and food markets to visit
Situated inside the historic Granada Hotel in downtown San Luis Obispo is Nightcap a swank cocktail lounge which features craft cocktails, light bites and sipping spirits. The hotel’s bistro specialises in Spanish-inspired seasonal cuisine. Dine on the street level or second story terrace for a casual-chic ambiance and an eclectic wine list with local wines along with Spanish and Latin American selections.
- 1130 Morro Street, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401
- Bistro: Saturday & Sunday 10am-3pm, Sunday-Thursday 5-10pm & Friday-Saturday 5-11pm. Aperitif hour Saturday & Sunday 3-5pm
- Nightcap: Tuesday-Thursday 6-11pm, Friday & Saturday 6pm-midnight
San Luis Obispo’s Farmhouse Corner Market is a destination unto itself. Steeped in a modern healthy culture, Farmhouse masterfully fuses creative, fresh flavours with a welcoming, American retro vibe. Located at the edge of the Edna Valley, this bustling hot spot offers daily meals as well as to-go items that are perfect for wine country picnics a retail shop and and an ice cream counter featuring house-made flavours.
- 1025 Farmhouse Lane, San Luis Obispo, California
- Restaurant: Monday-Saturday 7am-3pm, Thursday-Saturday 5pm-9pm. Sunday closed
- Market: Monday-Wednesday 7am-5pm, Thursday-Saturday 7am-9pm. Sunday closed
Located in Grover Beach, Spoon Trade specializes is upscale house-made comfort food that satisfies all cravings, from pan seared local albacore and tri-tip steak, to chicken & waffles. The beverage list is deep with central coast wines and beyond, as well as an eclectic selection of vermouth, sherry and beer.
- 295 West Grand Ave. Grover Beach, CA
- Open: 7 nights a week, 4pm-9pm, Saturday & Sunday brunch, 10am-2pm
Owner-chef Brian Collins’s rustic bistro features an open kitchen with a wood-fired oven that cranks out Mediterranean-inspired pizzas and mains made from local produce, fresh seafood, and sustainable meats. 30 wines by the glass affords guests to taste the diversity of SLO Coast offerings by artisanal winemakers.
- 1200 E Grand Avenue, Suite 101, Arroyo Grande, CA
- Open: Wednesday-Thursday & Sunday 4pm-9pm, Friday-Saturday 4pm-10pm. Monday & Tuesday closed
Every Thursday evening Downtown San Luis Obispo hosts a street-lined bounty of just-picked fruits and vegetables by family operated small farms. Locals and visitors alike take in the festival vibe, hometown spirit and local cuisine, particularly barbeque ribs, chicken and pork, cooked over outdoor fire pits, while enjoying live entertainment.
- Thursday evening from 6pm-9pm (weather permitting and excluding major holidays) on Higuera Street between Nipomo and Osos streets.