Savor the Spirit of Central Coast - Paso Robles' Zinfandel Festival

By Mira Advani Honeycutt

Zin Fest, Paso Robles

Over the years, I've attended a good number of food and wine festivals in California, but I must say, the Zinfandel Festival is amongst my top five. This is when Zin-crazy fans descend on Paso Robles to savor the region's heritage grape in all its glory. Let me warn you though this robust, fruit-forward wine is not for the faint-hearted. I've seen Zinfandels topping almost 18% in alcohol level.

This is the kind of festival where such spirited winemakers as John Munch regale you with stories on this exalted varietal at Zin Summit - an educational and highly amusing series of panel discussions held at Justin Winery and organized by the Far Out Wineries group.

Although most of the region's wineries participate in the auction and open-house events only a handful host the Friday evening winemaker dinners. Among my memorable ones are the candle-lit dinners: at Eberle Winery held in its caves and the 2011 Justin dinner staged in the spacious barrel room. At this year's festival (March 16 and 17) we can look forward to the "Members Only" dinner atop Daou Mountain, hosted by its namesake winery; the Zydeco and "Zeafood" boil at Zenaida Cellars; August Ridge Vineyards' Spaghetti Western Night; and Proulx's intimate dinner at Willow Creek Farm.

I miss the days of live auction as part of the Saturday event where local vintners such as Gary Eberle would ante up his auction package by adding extras like a ride in his private plans, just to raise the auction bids. Nowadays, the silent auction does get plenty of wine and attractive vacation packages as well. The grand tasting at the Paso Robles Event Center brings together over 100 wineries pouring nothing but Zinfandel or Zin blends. And yes, by the end of the evening your palate turns purple-hued and Zin-fatigued.

The Saturday/Sunday (March 17 &18) open houses offer food and entertainment besides wine. Derby Wine Estates is getting its charcuterie Bento Box ready and I hear at Dover Canyon, Dover Dan is bar-b-que'ing his famous lavender-dusted lambisicles. This being St. Patrick's Day weekend, Harmony Cellars (the only winery in the miniscule town of Harmony) is going all Irish. Winemaker Charlie Mulligan will be serving his Zins with Irish pub fare. And, let's not forget Gary Eberle manning the Santa Maria style BBQ grill with wife Marcy by his side, handing out sizzling sausages and short ribs (I have on occasion helped out at the grill). This year they might even uncork some green wine.

Then there's Ecluse Winery, no BBQ, food or music here. Just incredible wines as owner/winemaker Steve Lock uncorks his new Estate Zinfandel/Syrah blend.

If by then your palate is Zinned-out, drive over to Jack Creek Cellars or Windward for a taste of elegant Pinot Noir.

For Zinfandel Festival schedule visit

Honeycutt is the author of "California's Central Coast, The Ultimate Winery Guide: From Santa Barbara to Paso Robles." (Chronicle Books.)