GAYS MILLS - Two weeks into my western trip I found myself at my old friend Mike’s house in Paso Robles, California. Mike and I have been friends “since before the Dead Sea got sick.”
Paso Robles (The pass of the oaks) is a small city on the Salinas River in San Luis Obispo County on the central coast, about half way between Los Angeles and San Francisco. And Paso Robles is somewhat of a boom town.
Previously known for dry farming (wheat and barley) and beef cattle, ‘Paso’ is now surrounded by thousands of acres of wine vineyards and has become a destination for wine lovers. It is in competition with the older and more established wine country of Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties north of San Francisco.
Mike is a retired high school agriculture teacher and spent most of his career at nearby Shandon. He has seen firsthand the area become transformed into wine country.
As Mike showed me around the area, he pointed out a small, old vineyard that he said was the very first one in the area, one that was planted before he started teaching. It looked like a garden plot compared to the scale of the current vast vineyards in the area. Two of Mike’s daughters-in-law are involved in the wine business and one of his sons manages a large vineyard.
We visited a place called Tin City, just outside of ‘Paso.’ This is a development of attractive metal buildings that serves as an evolving industrial makers market of wine, craft beer and spirits. It is a sort of a start-up incubator for people who want to be in the various beverage businesses at an entry level.
Mike’s daughter-in-law Riley, owner-operator of Hubba Wines at Tin City, buys grapes from area producers, and concentrates on making some great wine. Large established vineyard/wineries that are part of the ‘wine tasting trail’ typically grow their own grapes. A stop at Tin City enables one to try many different beverages, meet the people that made them, listen to live music and enjoy a very welcoming atmosphere.
Mike treated me like royalty during my brief stay. He’s got a very comfortable home and it was a great place to unwind and relax. Being retired teachers we shared stories and memories of teaching of course, and both agreed that we had enjoyed satisfying and rewarding careers working with young people.
“They kept me young,” Mike was quick to say.
Mike recently bought a new Jeep Wrangler and was as proud of it as a dog with two tails. He signs his e-mails now: -0)|||||(0-. I was very impressed with his new ride and, getting back in my 12-year-old car, made me start thinking of trading up….someday.
Mike introduced me to flat iron steaks. I’d never heard of them. This is a relatively new cut of meat developed by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association in their quest for a lower priced steak. It comes from the chuck or shoulder of a beef animal in an area where the top blade roast come from. I became an immediate fan of flat irons.
Searching for some flat irons once I got home, Jim Washburn, meat expert at the Marketplace in Gays Mills, pointed out what are called patio steaks, which he said is the same cut of meat only cut up differently. I bought some and enjoyed them. The very next day, Jim presented me with a flat iron prepared the way I had described with the gristly fascia membrane removed. Also very good.I said goodbye to Mike after three wonderful, sun-drenched days and told him it was his turn to visit me. I headed almost straight east toward Las Vegas to visit my sister Martha.