There’s an energy in Paso Robles, a vibe that sets it apart from other wine regions. I’ve attended several wine and food events in the area, now, and they’ve all been quite memorable. The latest was the Earth Day Wine and Food Festival, held just up the road at the beautiful Santa Margrita Ranch. After a good deal of rain this year, thankfully, there was an abundance of sunshine, with just a subtle cooling breeze. Local vendors had an impressive assortment of cuisine to offer for all types of different tastes, ranging from spectacular brown butter cookies to ahi sliders or tri-tip topped with goat-cheese and pesto. Local wineries came with a variety of bottles, too. One could try anything from your everyday Cabernet, to a range of Rhone varietals, to the rather rare Blaufrankisch from Wild Horse Winery. A great soundtrack of classic rock, and, most importantly, plenty of spirit made for an all-around wonderful experience.

Brown Butter Cookies were to die for!

 Kris O’Conner, the “mother” of the event, is quite particular about her “baby.” She strives to do far more than simply paid homage to the earth with the festival’s name. There’s plenty of steps taken to ensure mother-nature gets the respect she deserves. Last year, they only had two bags of garbage with about 1,000 people in attendance. Doing away with plastic water bottles in favor of five gallon dispensers and using bio-degradable forks are just a couple of examples of the festival’s clever ideas. People are into the vibe, too. Kris attributes their four years of success to the community and how much the festival’s ideals “resonate” with them. They are quite careful about sorting their recyclables and garbage correctly, taking the time out from their fun to make sure the right items end up in the correct bins. Over 200 visitors also take advantage of the shuttle service, which saves the air from plenty of cars. Everyone is on board and ready to do their part.

The band (along with the wine) got people moving

 Of course, protecting and preserving the earth isn’t all about festivals. While they’re great for getting people in the right spirit, when it comes down to it, there’s real work that has to be done. To that end, Kris also serves as the Executive Director for the Central Coast Vineyard Team (CCVT). Their mission, since 1994, has been to promote sustainability in the region and encourage responsible farming practices. Their Sustainability In Practice (SIP) program and certification provides grape-growers with meaningful standards on how to be environmentally and socially conscious, as well as providing a way for consumers to buy wine which adheres to the guidelines by looking for the SIP mark on the bottles.




The following day, at Halter Ranch Winery in Paso Robles, I got to see what the SIP program looks like out in the field, literally. Mitch Wyss, tends to the vines at Halter Ranch, and it’s not an easy task with 250 acres of grapes that yields some 600 tons of fruit. But Mitch and the rest of the team at Halter Ranch are very devoted to the land, so though it might be a bit easier, they take no short-cuts that might harm the picturesque plot they’ve made home. Don’t worry, though. They have help. Their trusty chicken “swat team” wanders the fields each day seeking out bugs so the humans don’t have to. Plus, they help fertilize the soil and make sure there are plenty of fresh eggs to go around. They’ve also done extensive work with the CCVT, experimenting with cover crops like barley, peas, and other vegetables to protect and preserve the soil. All their hard work has improved the environment and, most importantly, of course, produced first-class wines.

Halter Ranch Vines and their cover-crops


While Earth Day may only fall officially once a year, it’s great to see that along the Central Coast, the environment comes first everyday. The spirit at the festival, along with the efforts of the CCVT and the hard work of growers like Mitch mean that the region has a bright future, and we’ll be able to enjoy the fine local wares for a long time to come.