In recent years, Paso Robles has received its due as “The Rhone Zone” for producing rich, full, gregarious Rhone-varietal wines.
But just under 100 miles to the south lies another Rhone Zone—the Santa Ynez Valley—with a distinctly different climate, and wines possessing personalities that mirror those of France’s Northern Rhone.
The coexistence of two divergent terroirs and styles within a major wine region—California’s Central Coast appellation—is not unlike that of the Rhone Valley itself, where the cooler-climate North produces structured and elegant Syrah-dominant wines, while the South is known for juicier Grenache-based wines.
The Paso Robles appellation is situated in a valley that runs north-south, with the Santa Lucia Mountains to the west and the Cholame Hills to the east. With the largest diurnal swing of any winegrowing area in California (40 to 50 degrees during the summer), heat-loving varieties such as Grenache have put the region on the map for big, ripe flavors, much like those of the Southern Rhone.
Conversely, the Santa Ynez Valley takes more after the Northern Rhone, with an east-west transverse range that allows the Pacific Ocean a significant influence over the area with near-daily fog and crisp ocean breezes. This cooler climate leads to trimmer wines than those from Paso Robles, with firm structure, plenty of secondary flavors like white pepper and tobacco, and great potential for aging.
Whether you prefer wines of the Northern Rhone or the Southern Rhone, you’ll find wines of similar quality and flavors in California’s Central Coast “Rhone Zones.”