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Comparing Paso Robles to Napa Valley

December 10, 2018

Whether you’re a longtime wine lover, or someone planning to go wine tasting for the first time, Paso Robles is a wine country welcoming to everyone. Paso Robles, located in northern San Luis Obispo County along California’s Central Coast, is a small town with a rich history and a pride that’s come from being an agricultural community at its core. In the last few decades that agricultural drive has shifted from almonds and alfalfa to the production of world-class wine and a booming wine industry.

The Paso Robles American Viticultural Area (AVA) was established in 1983.

What is an AVA?

The California Wine Institute explains “Every bottle of California wine lists the geographical origin, or appellation, where the grapes were grown. Appellations here are defined either by political boundaries, such as the name of a county or by federally recognized growing regions, called American Viticultural Areas (AVAs).

For a wine to carry an AVA name on its label, at least 85% of the grapes must be grown in that AVA; for county appellations, that number is 75%. And any wine bearing “California” or any California AVA or appellation guarantees that 100% of the grapes are grown in the Golden State.”

With California producing 92.5% of the domestic wine consumed in America, Paso isn’t alone in being a great California wine destination. Visit California highlights many of the state’s amazing wine country destinations.

each of california's 139 avas has its own unique characteristics reflected in the wines from that region.

In addition to the main Paso Robles AVA, there are 11 sub-AVAs within Paso’s boundaries further defining what is in the bottle and helping consumers make a more informed buying decision.

Let’s focus on the differences between Paso Robles and Napa Valley, specifically addressing the qualities regions share, what makes them unique, why those traits make a difference, and which one better suits what you’re looking for.

Paso Robles Wine Country vs. Napa Valley


The Paso Robles wine region is equidistant between Los Angeles and San Francisco near the iconic Hearst Castle. Napa Valley is located 48 miles north of San Francisco, and about 270 miles or nearly 5 hours north of Paso Robles.

The Paso Robles AVA is comprised of 612K acres, 45 miles from east to west and 25 miles from north to south, with 40K planted to winegrapes. At its closest 6 miles from the coast, winds from the Pacific Ocean have a major impact on the local area causing up to 50-degree diurnal temperature swings from day to night, meaning warm days and cool nights. Coupled with 700 – 2,000-foot elevations, 30 distinct soil series, and the diverse mesoclimates created by these factors, Paso Robles is blessed has a long season that allows growers to ripen 69 different varieties balanced with sugar and acidity ideal for producing world-class wine.

Napa Valley, the first American AVA to be recognized in 1981, has 16 recognized sub- AVAs. The Valley, which is 5 miles across at its widest point and 30 miles at its longest, has 45K acres of planted winegrapes. Like Paso Robles, it is impacted by the Pacific Coast 36 miles away with a cooling effect from the marine fog. Napa is home to 33 soil series, and like Paso, has changes of elevation (0 to 4,000 feet) throughout the region that allows the AVA to produce many wine grape varieties.


Both the wine countries of Paso Robles and Napa are built in large part by family-owned wineries, with more than 95% of the members for both the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance and Napa Valley Vintners made up of privately owned businesses. This makes the wine tasting experience that much better, when you can hear the story of how the family started the business, the challenges they faced, and how their identity has become integral to the identity of the wine country in which they reside.

Paso Robles AVA has more than 200 wineries in the region, most open for tasting without an appointment and an average tasting fee of $10-15, with many concentrated on the Highway 46 corridor.

Napa Valley offers more than 400 wineries, with about half requiring reservations for tasting with tasting fees ranging anywhere from $5 to $50 per person and primarily concentrated on the two north-south highways: Highway 29 and Silverado Trail.

Cabernet Sauvignon is the leading variety for both Paso Robles and Napa, with 49% of Paso Robles and 40% of Napa planted to that variety, the most consumed red wine in the United States.

Beyond Cabernet, the differences are more apparent, with Paso Robles’ 69 varieties dominated more by the 21 Rhône varieties (Syrah, Grenache, Viognier, etc.), other Bordeaux varieties (e.g., Merlot), and Zinfandel, the region’s heritage grape. Paso Robles has also become known for proprietary, non-traditional blends.

Napa Valley is more a producer of Burgundian varietals like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

If you’re someone that likes to maximize the number of wines tasted, or just enjoy more festive trips, Paso Robles has a lot to offer in the realm of events. Event weekends like Vintage Paso: Zinfandel and Harvest Wine Weekend are celebrated by wineries throughout the AVA, with each winery doing something a little different. Whether it’s bringing food and music to their tasting rooms, pouring library wines or barrel samples, or hosting winemaker’s dinners, anyone can find a location they’d enjoy visiting during these times.

You can also buy a ticket to the Paso Robles Wine Festival, where you get to enjoy walking around the Paso Robles downtown park tasting wines from more than 75 wineries in the region.

Besides the famed and exclusive Napa Valley Auction, which raises millions for local charities, Napa Valley incorporates wine into different types of festivals, including the Napa Valley Film Festival, where wineries sponsor, and sometimes host, screenings of films.

Napa Valley’s winemaking history dates back as far as the early 19th century when George Calvert Yount planted some of the first vineyards in the area.

After the first vineyards were planted in the area, Charles Krug established the first commercial winery in the 1860’s, and of course, the 1976 Paris Tasting that named Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley as the competition’s best.

Similarly, Paso’s history dates back more than a century.

In 1882 Andrew York established Ascension Winery, the first winery in our region and known today as Epoch Estate Wines.

York first planted Zinfandel with many following his lead until the 1960’s when Dr. Stanley Hoffman planted Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay at Hoffman Mountain Ranch (some of those original vines are still producing today).

The stories can still be heard today at establishments like the Steinbeck Vineyard & Winery tasting room, whose family has worked the vineyard for seven generations and has been growing winegrapes for more than 125 years. It’s rich histories like theirs and many other local wineries that make learning while tasting in Paso all the better.

Paso Robles and Napa Valley share many great qualities as world-class wine regions, but also have many unique characteristics that set them apart.

In Napa, you can find a pedigreed wine country, with a focus on Bordeaux and Burgundian wines. In Paso Robles, you can find a region that loves it’s Bordeaux and Rhône varieties, and sometimes a blend of the two, with a small town community that welcomes all who visit, and where a festival weekend to celebrate our love of wine is never too far down the road.

No matter which region you choose to visit, you can expect a fantastic wine tasting experience that shows you what makes California wine so special.

Paso Robles vs. Napa Valley at a Glance

Total Acres Planted Acres Wineries Wine Varieties AVA Est.
Paso Robles612,00040,000200+691983
Napa Valley504,320 45,000400+34+1981