May 13, 2020
The Paso Robles American Viticultural Area (AVA) was established in 1983 and at that time there were 556,765 total acres with a little over 5,000 under vine. In 1996, the AVA expanded by 52,600 acres and then again by 2,635 acres in 2008. In 2007, a petition was sent to the federal government to establish 11 districts within the Paso Robles AVA. In the same year, a conjunctive labeling law (AB 87) was passed, which preserves the brand awareness of the Paso Robles AVA by ensuring that “Paso Robles” will always be seen in conjunction with the districts on wine labels. These 11 districts within the Paso Robles AVA were finally approved in 2014.
The Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance will be focusing on all 11 AVAs in this blog through 2020, in alpha order.
Learn a little about the Creston District and what makes it a unique and beautiful district within the greater Paso Robles American Viticultural Area.
The Creston District is rich with a pioneering and agricultural history that harkens back to the late 1800s, which has been exceptionally influential on the area as it stands today. This region was largely “lomas montuosas”, directly translated to mountainous hills, which was an area of rolling hills covered with trees. This made the land perfect for cattle and horse ranching. Much is the same today when you head south-east from Paso Robles, with many horse and cattle ranches still in operation. Today vineyards complement the agrarian landscape with a beauty that can easily be described as old California.
Although first called Huerhuero, due to its original land grant of 1842, the town’s name of Creston was adopted in 1885, which later was used to describe the area surrounding it as the Creston District.
“The founding fathers, Thomas Ambrose, Amos Adams, J.V. Webster, and C.J. Cressy, in March, 1884, marked out a community of nine blocks, each 300 feet square, calling it Heur Heuro (sic) after the early-day Spanish land grant in that area. They recorded the town map of Huer Huero with the County of San Luis Obispo in July 1885. This impressed the hardy pioneer residents not a whit. They liked Cressy and referred to the town as Creston to honor him.”
Linnea Walz, And just where is Huer Heuro?, San Luis Obispo County Telegram-Tribune, Oct. 5, 1974, p.8.
It is around this time that the first grapes were planted in the Creston District. One of the founding fathers, J.V. Webster, an experienced horticulturist, exhibited grapes at the 1888 county fair. It wasn’t until the late seventies and early eighties that wine grapes and wineries began to establish in the Creston area. Mirroring the greater Paso Robles American Viticultural Area’s (AVA) early growth as a wine region, Creston was recognized for its potential for wine grapes.
The Creston District has medium to high elevation areas, ranging from 1,000 to 2,000-foot elevation, of old river terraces as well as mountain foothills. Situated at the base of the La Panza Range, this area has been subject to uplift from the La Panza Fault (as well as the adjacent Huerhuero Fault), which has allowed creeks to erode the land and reveal granitic rocks, sandstone, and the Monterey formation shale that is so prevalent throughout the Paso Robles AVA.
Creston’s geographic position on the map of the Paso Robles AVA plays another key role in what makes it unique. As one travels south-east from the city of Paso Robles, leaving the Santa Lucia range and Salinas River to the north-west, the land transforms to rolling savanna. Looking back to the west, the Santa Lucia range outline appears taller to the north with a noticeable dip in the ridgeline as the eye trains south, almost parallel to Creston. This is the Templeton Gap, a slightly lower overall elevation of the Santa Lucia Mountain Range that allows the cooling influence of the Pacific Ocean to infiltrate the Paso Robles AVA. Ranchers in the district have historically noted that the late afternoon and evening winds that bring warm temperatures down considerably. The Creston District has an average diurnal temperature swing of 25 to 35 degrees Fahrenheit and has seen swings as high as 50 degrees. Also contributing to Creston’s climate is it sitting at the base of the La Panza Range, which has cold air drainage, or Downslope Winds, that feed into the District in the early morning hours.
Huerhuero Creek is the major watershed of the Creston District. This creek bisects the region and mostly sits dry, with a sandy bed, indicative of the sandy loam soil that is found in the lower elevations of the district. Hillsides and higher elevations in the district give way to clay loams on the terraces. On exceptionally wet years, the Huerhuero, a major tributary to the Salinas River, can be seen flowing on the surface as it winds its way north-west. The District is well in the rain shadow of the Santa Lucia Range, so rainfall decreases as it moves east from about 20 inches in the Templeton Gap District, to 15 inches in the El Pomar District, to 11.5 average inches in Creston. It takes far more than 11.5 inches in a year to see the Huerhuero flow.
At approximately 47,000 acres, with 1,400+ under vine, vineyards in the Creston District are mostly planted at elevations of 1,000 to 1,300 feet, with some higher up to 1,800 feet. Many are on west and southwest facing slopes, facing the breezes brought in from the Templeton Gap. The Paso Robles AVA has approximately 64 different varieties of wine grapes grown throughout the region, so it is difficult to say what may grow best at this point in the different districts, but the Creston District has a considerable amount of Bordeaux varieties, with the majority being Cabernet Sauvignon. At a moderate to low region three climatically (Amerine and Winkler), Rhône varieties are grown here as well. Of course, the winegrower knows his land the best, so depending on aspect, soil, elevation, and all the things that make the Creston District unique, anything is possible.
Wine tasting in the Creston District is a little like stepping back in time. Wide-open space surrounds as the roads rise and fall from grassy hillsides down to dry creek beds. Much like the ranches and homesteads of Creston, wineries, vineyards, and tasting rooms are spread out across the district, each showcasing the pioneering spirit of Creston in their architecture and landscaping. It’s a beautiful and historic district that embodies the personality of the greater Paso Robles AVA.