Award-winning wines and buildings offer guests a one-of-a-kind experience
Just a short drive off Highway 46 West lies the beautiful, sustainable oasis of Shale Oak Winery. Known throughout the area for its award-winning, small batch wines, the winery’s tasting room has become one of the top destinations for wine lovers visiting the Paso Robles wine region.
Taking his 30 years of experience and knowledge of the grape, vineyard, and wine industry, Shale Oak Owner Al Good brought a holistic and sustainable approach to planting his vineyards and building a tasting room back in 2008. Under the careful watch of Winemaker Curtis Hascall since 2010, the SIP-certified (Sustainability in Practice) winery has garnered an impressive list of awards and accolades. And, according to Hascall, there’s more to be had with the introduction of new releases in 2021.
“We grow and buy grapes in an area that produces amazing, high quality fruit and that allows me to make some really nice wines,” Hascall said. “We are doing our first Mourvedre release, and we’re about to release a four-year barrel-aged Cabernet.”
Hascall was born in England and lived most of his adolescent life in the Bay Area before attending college at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo to study Food Science. Although he started out brewing beer, he quickly fell in love with the winemaking process after a friend hired him to help out at a local winery.
“I fell in love with winemaking and I fell in love with this area,” Hascall said. “Everything about Paso Robles and SLO County is amazing. I always dreamed of living and working some place where people vacationed. I just love how this area has become a top destination, yet it’s still safe and family-oriented.”
Sustainability in practice
Hascall and his wife, Gayle, a local florist, are parents to an active, energetic toddler named Adley. His faithful companion, an Golden Retriever named Cooper, is always by his side. Raising a family and looking out for their best interests, it’s no small wonder why the sustainable, holistic approach of Shale Oak was a big draw to this young winemaker.
“The LEED-certified building, the SIP-certified vineyards and landscaping, the way we do things from planting, to harvesting, to winemaking – all of that drew me in,” Hascall said. Working alongside the entire Shale Oak team, including Assistant Winemaker Sean Walter and General Manager Peter Ray, Hascall is dedicated to the success of the winery. “Every single aspect of how we conduct our day-to-day operations is important to me.”
The SIP certification extends to both the eastside and westside vineyards. Situated in the Estrella District, the 60-acre Castle Oak Vineyard is planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Syrah, Albarino, and Petit Verdot as well as Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Merlot. On the backside of the hill on the Shale Oak Winery tasting room property, approximately six acres are planted to Syrah, Grenache, and Zinfandel.
“We have the classic Paso Robles Westside calcareous soils,” he said. “They hold the water nicely and provide great acid for the fruit; it’s a great soil all around. We also source fruit from a few other SIP-certified vineyards and dry farm vineyards in the area.”
When asked to choose his favorite Shale Oak wine, Hascall says his go-to has always been Syrah and other Rhone blends. This leads him to choose the Chi, a blend of two estate-grown Rhone varietals, Syrah and Grenache, aged in 80 percent new French Oak. Although no one particular wine is known as being Shale Oak’s flagship, Hascall points to the bright and juicy Albarino and the dark ruby Petit Verdot as stand outs.
“The Chi is a beautiful, full bodied wine that recently took Best in Class at the Winemaker’s Challenge for the Best Red Blend,” Hascall said. “And the Albarino and Petit Verdot are probably the two that not many other wineries are doing so people get excited about those.”
Another must-try is the rich tasting Ku, a gorgeous blend of Zinfandel, Syrah, and Grenache.
When it comes to the winemaking process, Hascall enjoys having the freedom to experiment and try new things at Shale Oak. “I like how there’s a combination of art and science to the winemaking process,” he said. “I like to try to find that balance between the two; I don’t lead one way or another.”
From start to finish, Hascall and his team focus on individual lots. Everything is fermented in small batches, and they sort all of the fruit twice beginning with cluster sorting followed by berry sorting.
“I’m a big ‘take the time to do it right’ type of guy,” Hascall said. “We are not a huge winery, so we are not totally rushed all of the time. We have the space and we have the ability to control things.”
Sourcing grapes from the estate and local vineyards that produce good fruit ensures Hascall doesn’t need to alter things much. “We don’t add anything to the wine except for the yeasts,” he said. “I try to let the wine do its thing as much as possible. I’m as hands-off as I can be while keeping a steady eye on the process and the progress.”
Enjoy the great outdoors
The outdoor scenery and sustainable landscaping make the patio and surrounding area at the Shale Oak tasting room a more secluded, intimate, Zen-like setting than one would expect to find at a winery. Pack a picnic lunch or nibble on a cheese platter while savoring sips from the wine tasting menu. Family and pet-friendly, the tranquility of the space is enhanced by a stunning water feature that adds to the relaxing environment. The winery will soon be adding Live Music Saturdays and Friday Barrel Tastings with the Winemaker.
“We have fabulous wines, but we also have a welcoming, inviting environment that’s geared exclusively toward customer service,” Hascall said. “Come on out and see us for some good fun and a great wine experience.”
The Shale Oak Winery tasting room, located at 3235 Oakdale Road in Paso Robles, is open Thursday through Monday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Tuesday and Wednesday by appointment only. For more information visit shaleoakwinery.com or call (805) 239-4800.
– By Meagan Friberg