A fresh sign along Highway 101 in Monterey County points the way to Paraiso Vineyards. "Wine Tasting Daily," it says simply. Those who recognize the Paraiso name respond eagerly, taking the drive up a short country road to the winery.
Paraiso Vineyards is a family labor of love. Its roots go back 35 years to the time when Rich and Claudia Smith first arrived in the bench land that has come to be known as the Santa Lucia Highlands, eager to practice their newly minted UC-Davis training. The couple planted the district's first Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and have implemented sustainable farming practices ever since. In fact, the winery was the first vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands to be officially certified sustainable. Rich is a founding member of the Central Coast Vineyard Team, which for the past decade has promoted sustainable farming practices in the area.
At first, it's hard to grasp the full extent to which Paraiso is family-owned and operated. Rich and Claudia's daughter Casey and son Jason represent the second generation of Smiths working at the winery. Casey's husband Dave Fleming is Paraiso Vineyards' winemaker. Jason's wife Jennifer Murphy-Smith manages the winery's tasting room and boutique.
Paraiso Vineyards is primarily known for its Pinot Noir. There are three Pinot Noirs currently offered: Paraiso Estate; West Terrace; and a very limited bottling, Faite, available in the tasting room only. The vineyard-designate 2006 West Terrace Pinot Noir won a Gold Medal at the Los Angeles International Wines & Spirits Competition and a 91-Exceptional from The Wine News. But Dave's great wines go beyond Pinot Noir to include Chardonnay, Syrah, and Riesling. The 2004 Wedding Hill Syrah, made from grapes grown in the vineyard where Casey and Dave were married, scored 95 points in Wine Enthusiast magazine.
Speaking of weddings, many happen at Paraiso Vineyards. There is a tented lawn that holds 190 in all, bordered by Pinot Noir vines and cypress trees. It opens to a Mediterranean-style fountain courtyard displaying views of the magnificent Salinas Valley. Jennifer guides each bride through the planning stages. Jennifer is also the buyer for the winery's unique Boutique at Paraiso. Visitors are often surprised to discover that the shop carries nothing related to wine, but rather distinctive items for the home and garden. She says that she always wanted to own and manage a boutique and her father-in-law Rich offered her a deal. "He told me I could have a store, if I also managed the tasting room," Jennifer says. "I love doing both."
The grounds at Paraiso Vineyards exude a feeling of family. Picnic tables are thoughtfully placed near the courtyard fountain for those who want to linger. Dogs are welcome, and may even find new friends in Arrow, Bleecker, and Irie, the family's three winery dogs.
From the land to the wines to the splendid views, it is apparent that the new sign pointing the way to Paraiso Vineyards is something to watch for and follow.
What to buy:
'06 Chardonnay Estate Rich tropical fruit, creamy, toasty oak, vanilla $18
'07 Pinot Noir Estate Rich cherry, plum, hints of spice, smoke, toasty oak $25
'06 Pinot Noir West Terrace Made from 10 barrels of the estate's best Pinot $40
'07 Riesling Estate Peach, apricot, intriguing minerality, refreshing acidity $14
831.678.0300; Fax: PLEASE PROVIDE
37500 Foothill Rd
Soledad, CA 93960
Tasting Room Open Mon-Fri 11-4; Sat-Sun 11-5
From Hwy 101 in Soledad, take the Arroyo Rd exit. Go west on Arroyo Rd (1 mile) to stop sign. Continue straight on what is now Paraiso Springs Rd. Go about 1 mile to the vineyard sign. The tasting room is up the steep driveway.
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