It’s rare to find a very good winery tasting room with very good food prepared by an experienced chef.
Yet that is exactly what I discovered on my first visit to AronHill Vineyards on Vineyard Drive in Paso Robles.
I was truly surprised by another unusual happening: running into a winemaker who resides and makes wine in vintner/winemaker Judy Aron’s neighborhood. Winemaker Joe Barton, of Grey Wolf, who was there to enjoy his birthday lunch with his wife Jenny Barton.
I don’t believe that situation has happened before in all of my 21 years writing about Central Coast wine country, except at festivals featuring multiple winemakers.
After our outstanding wine tasting and lunch experience, I understand why that unusual meeting happened. There wasn’t a disappointing moment in our visit, except the lack of opportunity to meet Judy Aron, who was “under the weather,” according to our server/hostess Amy Mintun.
Nevertheless, Aron’s well-educated staff did a great job of representing her and telling her story.
I plan on explaining to friends, even if you don’t drink, you will surely enjoy executive chef Kara Massey’s small but outstanding menu of locally grown, gourmet foods.
Lunch is served every day except Thursday from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., reservations are accepted at OpenTable.com. Note that reservations are required for parties of six or more people. The tasting room is open every day, except Thursday, too, but from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m.
One of the menu choices I enjoyed was the charcuterie platter of meats with cheese selections from the outstanding Fromagerie Sophie, an international cheese specialist in San Luis Obispo, along with crackers, baguette slices, olives, nuts and fruits to enjoy during the wine tasting.
Another great dish was yet to come, chef Kara’s fantastic cheeseburger with brie cheese, crispy bacon, heirloom tomatoes, arugula, leek and thyme aioli on a fresh ciabatta bun. I normally don’t like what I consider odd cheeses on a burger, but this was truly exceptional. My husband Dan and I shared the food, but I could have devoured that entire, delectable burger myself.
Fortunately, the fun didn’t stop there. We were impressed by Aron’s delicious wines -- from the sauvignon blanc blended with 4% dry Riesling, making it an ideal wine for the charcuterie platter; two primitivos; two cabernet sauvignons; and Aron’s second label named YeeHaw Britchen, a red blend of 70% primitivo, 20% cabernet sauvignon and 10% zinfandel. Lastly, we enjoyed the AronHill port, consisting of three Portuguese varieties, representing Aron’s Portuguese heritage. Although I enjoyed them all, my favorites were definitely the primitivos and the YeeHaw red blend.
According to Mintun, Aron purchased her home ranch in 1996, where she had 8 acres with limestone soils, ideal for planting grapevines. She planted primitivo.
“It’s the Italian equivalent of zinfandel, along with planting cabernet sauvignon and zinfandel," Mintun explained. "She wanted to do something different, being in what is locally known as ‘ain alley,’ so Judy chose primitivo.”
The zinfandel she grows is only a half acre, so she uses it for the YeeHaw red blend. There’s not enough to bottle on its own.
“After planting the vines in 1996, Judy watered them until 2000, but stopped once they were established,” Mintun said. “For the last 17 years, the vineyard has been totally dry farmed, which makes the roots dig much deeper through the limestone to find water.”
That reasoning has been proven over many decades in Europe. The grapes on vines that have to struggle to survive make far superior wines. With the quality factors that go into the wines, I found them of very good value, ranging from $24 to $59 per 750 ml bottle.
I learned a lot about this passionate vintner and winemaker from her press release:
“AronHill Vineyards was born in 1996, when Judy joined the proverbial ‘boy’s club’ of Paso Robles winegrowers at a time when the region was only beginning to make a name for itself. She never looked back. Her experience as a horse breeder forged a hands-on work ethic that drove her to learn the wine business literally from the ground up.
Along the way, she became an early proponent of dry farming, a challenging yet rewarding method of winegrowing that conserves water and allows for a pure expression of place (of origin). She is also renowned for cultivating a spirit of warm hospitality at the tasting room, where she can often be found pouring wine for guests.
"‘You never know what passion you might discover, and where it will take you," Aron said. "For me, winegrowing began as an unexpected journey. It evolved organically, and has become a way of life. I find true thrill in the process, and in sharing the fruits of our labors with others.’”
Aron was wise to befriend Paso Robles pioneer, Richard Sauret, who was renowned for the zinfandel he grew in northern part of Paso. She called him, “My consultant as well as my mentor.” Aron’s passion to promote the fine qualities of Paso Robles of everything grown there also motivated Aron to find the perfect chef to run the bistro in the tasting room (which was formerly a guest house on her estate).
Massey, a longtime local culinary veteran, graduated from the Paso Robles Culinary Academy in 2001, cooking in fine local restaurants.
“Kara brings a refreshing new culinary twist to our small family bistro," Aaron said. "She is implementing an array of exciting specials as well as taking our daily menu to the next level. Her dishes are the perfect showcase for AronHill wines.”
Make AronHill Vineyards a destination on you next visit to Paso Robles.