Please Paso the Wine!

by Bob Sparrow

“I cook with wine, sometimes I even add it to the food”    W.C. Fields

Please pardon any split infinitives and dangling modifiers this week as there may be some residual sugar in my bloodstream having just returned from a tour of Central Coast wineries with some neighborhood winos – so I’m feeling a little Sideways.

Day 1

Wine Capt. Jack Sparrow

First stop was a visit with brother Jack at the Fess Parker Winery, established in 1988 when Fess bought 714 acres on what is now the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail in Los Olivos, he originally planned to run cattle, but grapes proved to be a bit more profitable. Jack did a great job of weaving stories about his friendship with Fess Parker around the pouring of some excellent wines.

Off to San Luis Obispo, but not before stopping at the iconic Madonna Inn, built in 1958 with unique architecture in each room and a giant waterfall as the men’s urinal.

Dinner in downtown SLO where every Thursday night they have the main street walled off for a farmer’s market and on this evening we saw the precursor of the up-coming holiday as many of the citizenry were regaled in Halloween attire. We enjoyed outside dining at Novo, a creek side restaurant on the main street.

Day 2

Gary Conway

Marian McKnight

After a night in SLO we’re off in the morning to Paso Robles for some ‘breakfast wine’; first stop Turley Winery, founded by former emergency room physician Larry Turley in 1993. They make 28 separate wines, mostly Zinfandel and Petite Syrah, but also a white wine, ‘White Coat’ named after his doctor’s frock.

Carmody-McKnight – Our next stop provides an interesting story of the owners. He was an accomplished artist, concert violinist, architect, actor (stared in Burke’s Law and several other tv shows and several movies) and screenwriter; Gary Conway, born Gareth Monello Carmody. His wife, Marian McKnight Conway was her high school valedictorian, graduated Magna Cum Laude and was Miss America in 1957. Together they became winemakers when Gary saw the idyllic beauty of this mountain valley aboard a helicopter moments before it crashed. Emerging from the wreckage, Gary dusted himself off and promptly announced to the real estate broker, “I’m going to buy this place”. Their story, in my opinion, was more interesting than their wine, but the winery provided a picturesque setting for our picnic lunch.

On to Adelaida Winery, a producer of grape varieties from the Rhone Valley in the south of France, but a fairly unremarkable winery especially when we compared it to our next stop – Daou Winery. While we didn’t taste the wine there, which is delicious, the view from the tasting room was nothing short of spectacular.

Dinner at an Italian restaurant in Paso Robles with, of course, a little wine, OK maybe more than a little.

Day 2

Tobin James Winery – In 1987 when a young Toby James was an assistant winemaker at a local winery that had 6 tons of grapes that it could not process, he asked if he could have it to make some homemade wine. The owner said, “Sure kid, knock yourself out”. In a year and a half Tobin (He was now called Tobin instead of Toby), leveraging his last name as being the same of the famous outlaw brothers, created a western theme by purchasing a building on the site of an old stagecoach stop and brought in an 1860s western bar in the tasting room, imported from Missouri and rumored to have a bullet hole in it from the days of Frank and Jesse James, although I was not able to confirm that, it does make for a good story.   We bought a lot of wine here and many of us joined the wine club, which, at 35,000 club members, is the largest wine club in the (Pick one) Central Coast, California, U.S., world.

After spending several hours there, we decided we should probably eat something, so we had another picnic on the grounds of Tobin James.

We visited two more wineries that afternoon, La Vigne, which I thought had better cheese than wine and Via Vega, which was in its ‘Day of the Dead’ mode, an annual event where people bring in pictures of friends and relatives who have passed and . . . I’m not sure what happens, drink wine I guess.   By this time we were pretty much ‘wined out’ and after some rest and relaxation at the hotel we went to an Irish Pub, Pappy McGregor’s and had some beer with dinner!

If you’re headed up to the Central Coast for some wine tasting any time soon, don’t miss Fess Parker, Daou and Tobin James. Cheers!


By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

We’ve been spending a lot of time this past month in the historic city of San Luis Obispo – a city of many dichotomies. Where else can you visit a historic religious site and be solicited by Greenpeace crusaders on the same block? Or mingle with whiz kids at the coffee house and then potentially sleep in a room dedicated to one of the biggest pop stars in the world? San Luis Obispo (or “SLO” as it’s known here), that’s where!

San Luis Obispo Mission and the statue of Father Serra before he took off.

San Luis Obispo Mission and the statue of Father Serra before he took off.

Our first visit on this trip was to the beautiful San Luis Obispo mission. It was fifth in the succession of missions established by Father Junipero Serra, built in 1772. Yes, that’s right. He founded the mission before the first tea bag was even dumped in Boston Harbor. Father Serra had traveled through SLO some years before and remembered it as a place of abundant flora and fauna, in addition to almost perfect weather. And bears. Yep – here on the central coast of California apparently the area was rife with bears.

He quickly made friends with the local Chumash Indian tribe and engaged them to help build the mission. But shortly after the cornerstone of the building was set, Father Serra said a quick mass and hightailed it back to San Diego. The history is unclear as to what sent him running back to civilization before the building was complete. My guess is it was the bears. In any event, the mission was completed two years later and is still thriving today. It remains an active Catholic parish and its plaza is considered the town center where on any given weekend you’ll find a wide array of concerts, fairs and festivals.

After leaving the Mission we decided to grab a quick cup of coffee before visiting our next stop. A few steps later I was approached by a

A typical Cal Poly geek

A typical Cal Poly geek

rather scraggly young man who told me that I looked like a nice person. So right away I knew he was no judge of character. He then proceeded to follow me down the street, talking about the rain forests and whales. He gave up on me when I showed no interest but at the next corner I ran across one of his counterparts who made no attempt to assess my personality but gave me pretty much the same pitch. Turns out they were students at Cal Poly-SLO and worked for Greenpeace in their spare time. Cal Poly-SLO is a school for high tech geeks. Think of the characters on “The Big Bang Theory” and you’ve pretty much nailed the average Cal Poly student. Still, I hadn’t been solicited by Greenpeace (or anyone else for that matter) in 10 years. I felt as if I’d been transported to another time and space. But actually, that phenomenon was awaiting me at our next stop – the Madonna Inn.


The Madonna Inn

The last time I had been to the Madonna Inn was in 1971 when I was a college student traveling between San Diego and Marin County. It was a good mid-way stop for coffee, food and bathroom breaks. I still remember the pink flocked wallpaper and gold fixtures in the restrooms. I assumed that the Inn would have gone under lots of modernization since then. I was wrong.

The Madonna Inn opened in 1956 and specializes in “theme” rooms. Their website offers 110 such rooms, from the “Caveman” to “Oriental Fantasy”. I think for my next job I want to be the room namer at the Madonna Inn. In any event, I wanted to see what modern-day changes they had made so I looked up the Madonna Room. I assumed it might be adorned with pointy bras and maybe some Vogue magazines or posters of Sean Penn or Warren Beatty. Nope.


Madonna Inn suite


This is a picture of the suite – named for the wife of Alex Madonna, the founder of the hotel. Apparently Mrs. Madonna was quite find of pink. I didn’t even want to see what the “Barrel of Fun” or “Jungle Rock” rooms looked like. I did get a glimpse of a room that had a safari theme with a huge buffalo head mounted on the wall staring down on the bed. It’s things like that that made Father Serra run for the hills.

All on all, SLO is a fabulous little town, well worth visiting. But unless you’re into gargoyles and pink, you might want to stay at the Marriott.