Extend the pleasure of tasting at this Paso Robles winery by staying for lunch.
The massive fieldstone hospitality center of Niner Wine Estates and the heart-shaped grove of blue oaks amid Heart Hill Vineyard catch the eyes of most travelers along Highway 46 west of U.S. 101. The barnlike building houses a restaurant with a vineyard-view patio where lunch is served daily and occasionally dinner. The patio and, when conditions permit, the vaulted-ceiling tasting room also within is open for sampling wines crafted from grapes grown on estate vineyards in three separate AVAs (American Viticultural Areas).
Catching the Heart Hill Fog
The winery, which was established in 2001, first came to notice for Cabernet Sauvignon and the flagship Fog Catcher blend of that grape and other Bordeaux varietals plus Syrah. Two estate vineyards acquired subsequently – one on the east side of U.S. 101 in Paso Robles, another in the Edna Valley to the south – supply more Rhône grapes plus Sangiovese, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and a few others.
Much of the fruit for the robust Fog Catcher, which ages for two-plus years in mostly new French oak, comes from Heart Hill Vineyard, part of the Willow Creek District AVA. Near the end of the growing season, the fog here often lingers late into the morning. The resulting cooler temperatures lengthen the ripening process, deepening the flavors. Rhône varietals, most notably Syrah, also grow in Heart Hill’s mix of loam and shale soils, with these grapes positioned on the slopes receiving the least sun exposure, again to keep the fruit from ripening too quickly.
Niner’s other Paso Robles vineyard, Bootjack Ranch, is located east of U.S. 101 in the Geneseo District AVA. Nearly half the vines are Cabernet Sauvignon, which thrives alongside other Bordeaux varietals and small amounts of Sangiovese and Barbera. The winery gained early notice for its Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, most of whose grapes come from Bootjack.
Chard and Pinot in Edna
The 2011 purchase of the Jespersen Ranch, 30 miles south of Paso Robles in the cooler Edna Valley AVA, allowed Niner to expand into Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, made by Molly Bohlman, a specialist in both. (Sauvignon Blanc, Albariño, and Rhône grapes also grow at Jespersen; except for Albariño that Bohlman makes from here, head winemaker Patrick Muran crafts the rest of the Niner lineup.) Given the excellent fruit Jespersen yields, Bohlman shows an appropriately light touch with the Pinot Noir, aging it in oak for about 10 months. Despite undergoing malolactic fermentation, which gives Chardonnay its creamy notes, the Niner reserve version comes off pleasingly fresh.
Lunch on the Patio
Niner is worth a stop for its wines alone, but you can extend the pleasure by having lunch. If you’re dining on the patio, you might see the estate horticulturist tending the ingredients for the farm-to-table cuisine served at the Restaurant at Niner Wine Estates.
Why go: range of varietals; vineyard setting; winning restaurant.
Niner Wine Estates appears in 12 Foolproof Paso Robles Wine Tasting Experiences.
What to Do Eat, and Sleep
This story first appeared online in 2017; it was fact-checked and updated in 2021. The lead photo of the tasting room is courtesy of the winery.