Allegretto Vineyard Resort Is In a Class of its Own
by Andrew Chalk
Prior to the pandemic, I traveled a lot on business and invariably found myself confined for one or two nights in the type of accommodation that has come to be dubbed the ‘people warehouse’. Identikit, minimal accommodations, hotels that were cheap and (sometimes) cheerful and, usually, everything worked. In many of the locations that I went there was no distinctive place to stay. Undoubtedly, the time when I most wanted somewhere distinctive, somewhere unique, was traveling in wine country.
I just got back from a trip to the wine country of Paso Robles, courtesy of the producers in the Paso Robles CAB Collective, a growers and winemakers association to further Cabernet Sauvignon in the Paso Robles AVA. From Dallas/Fort Worth and several other metro areas the close in (30 minutes drive) San Luis Obispo airport offers the ease of nonstop flights. My impressions of the wines will appear elsewhere, but one of the lasting impressions I came away with was staying at Allegretto Vineyard Resort. It was the antithesis of the aforementioned accommodation. A spectacular modern creation of an Italian palazzo complete with vineyard, orchard, and even a chapel. A recreation of a hypothetical Medician estate with all the creature comforts of modern living like WiFi, full-service spa, all-season saline pool and cabanas.
The sense of anticipation starts on arrival at the gate from which a long driveway leads uphill to a spectacular fountain centering a roundabout in the road. It was later that I was to learn from Allegretto creator Douglas Ayres that this is a compass rose. It has four points and, as he wrote, “Anthropologists have witnessed that most human communities have four points of cardinal direction, as expressed through the ancient compass rose, while the well at its center symbolizes continual abundance. Orientation, taking stock of where one stands in life, and contemplating abundance is a wonderful way to start a stay at the Allegretto Vineyard Resort.”
That doesn’t sound like the usual property breakdown of the typical hotelier. Ayres is the perfect resort guide, which he enjoys doing, but for his numerous other commitments. He studied Religion and Music at the University of Southern California leading to a career in sound recording. He then joined the family hotel business and became closely involved in construction and design as the family built new properties in southern California.
Speak to him for five minutes and you realize that he is the rare combination of artist as hotelier. Even tasting his wines (made from grapes from his own vineyards) the discussion turns to his sensibility about the winemaking process. He argues his preference for single varietal wines as providing the best from the grape, but is intrigued and curious when I say that blending is the norm in the European regions where his beloved malbec and cabernet sauvignon originate. One of the finest examples says it is “constitué pour 52 % de Cabernet franc, 43 % de Merlot, et 5 % de Cabernet sauvignon”. Blending, the winemaker at Château Cheval Blanc would say, adds facets to the wine that single varieties do not have. It does not cancel facets of the individual grape. We taste Douglas’s Allegretto Vineyard Resort cabernet sauvignon, malbec, and a blend of the two named Heart of the Vine which the painted label subtitles Symphonic Red Wine. I would bet you your last dollar that the musical reference came from Ayres himself These are first-tier wines that could be on the list of any steak house. In the mold of California full-bodied reds they have those chewy tannins that perform the magic that makes them both palatable now and capable of improving with age. Some of the grapes come from vines I can see from my room, as half the perimeter of Allegretto is ringed with vineyards. From my window a hill rises from ground level to above the height of the resort (placing the resort in a kind of wind-sheltered bowl) with vines planted all the way up facing west into the afternoon sun. The rows are immaculately cordoned like an army on parade. The other source of grapes in the Allegretto estate wines is Willow Creek vineyard in the Willow Creek AVA. He liked it so much he bought it. His winemaker is Alan Kinne.
Drinking their wines this evening at Cello, the resort’s marquee restaurant I could pair any of them with the lamb chops (Double Cut Or Half Rack), the black Angus Cello burger, the Surf and Turf of course. Even the Organic Etto Trombe Pasta Carbonara, confident that the cream sauce could eviscerate the tannins. The restaurant wine list has a strong white wine section as well and a focus on the Paso Robles appellation. I chose the house wine blend of vibrant Paso viognier and marsanne and paired it with the Local Seafood Soup, a bouillabaisse style large bowl of seafood and fish in clear broth. For my entrée the Muscovy Duck Breast & Leg Confit paired splendidly with red wine. There was a new sommelier at Cello that night and I knew he was serious about his job from the fact that he looked as disappointed as me that he did not have a digestif of calvados to finish the meal. A 20-year tawny port sufficed.
I dined inside Cello but there is the option of choosing the large patio instead. It puts you right next to the vineyard and people find it very romantic and calming.
On the way to my room I was unaware that the plaster on the walls of the lobby was pulverized marble from Israel. All I knew was that it gave a distinguished feel to the walls and conveyed solid character. I have already mentioned the vineyard view from my room, but turning to the inside, let’s say it made a ‘good crib’ for my stay. The bed was so large it needed a map to navigate around (and the sheets and pillows all felt like new -- no threadbare fittings here), a bathroom where ‘little’, but important, things had been thought of. For example, a circular backlit movable mirror for shaving or makeup. The backlit wall mirror behind the vanity that exposed every pore of the skin (a prospect that people can take either way), and a shower large enough for two. If you value your large TV channel choice at home then you won’t feel deprived with the range on the large screen TV here. And the WiFi was strong, so I was able to stream recorded shows on Sling to my Chromebook. If you want to skip room service (as I did with sheet changes), or have some special request, that is easy to arrange as well.
The outdoor, all-season saline pool is long enough to do long laps. It is surrounded by cabana’s that proved popular in the afternoons when Paso Robles’ temperatures went into the 80s. Mornings were in the high 40s in late October and I leave swimming to the polar bears when it gets like that. I did not have a chance to try the Allegretto spa, but I did have a couple’s massage there a few years ago when I came with The Moll. Lots of space and highly recommended if you visit as a couple.
It is an emotional experience to just walk the corridors and pathways of Allegretto. In contrast to the usual hotel wall art, Allegretto is filled with artifacts and objets d’art that Douglas Aryes acquired over a long period of time on travels around the world. Ayres explains “People often enter ancient spaces and are in awe but they don’t know why exactly,” says Ayres. “There are reasons, but most people just feel a sense of peace and joy. That’s what we want for the Allegretto. We want guests to feel connected to their space, to the past, and to one another, whether they understand the mechanics of it or not.”