Paso Robles, Cayucos and San Luis Obispo – Unexpectedly Extraordinary Escape to the Central Coast

California Central Coast: View from CA46 and Cayucos Beach

In early May, TasteSpotting/The Delicious Life escaped to California’s Central Coast for a 3-day combination work/break. This post is an overview of what we are now officially calling a “retreat” (minus the team-building exercises). A series of posts will follow with more-detail-than-I-should-reveal about how we enjoyed each of the places we wined, dined, and reclined.

Somewhere along the 20-mile westbound drive from the gently rocking and rolling hills of Paso Robles to the misty coast town of Cayucos, you might start crying. It won’t be so much the red-faced, hiccuping, sniffling, sneezing, so you can rest madness. Rather, it will be a painfully cliché welling up of tears that starts when the mesmerizing view of perfectly parallel budding vines loosens into a softly lit, softly edged mountain fantasy. The tears will just barely teeter along the edge of your lower lashes all through the valleys, flirt with your mascara over the hills, and when an ever-so-slight swerve gives you a peek of the Pacific through a break in the clouds, you won’t be able to hold back from blinking your eyes into a tiny, briny spill.

Thank God my mascara is waterproof.

CA Highway 46 Between Paso Robles and Cayucos

Yes, somewhere between Paso Robles and Cayucos, I had been brought to tears, but I’d be a fool for trying to identify the exact reason why. It was such an uncharacteristic display of weepy, womanly femotion in the middle of a car ride, in the middle of a trip, in the middle of California. We had just come off our last wine tasting in Paso Robles and were heading west toward the practically unknown town of Cayucos for the second half of our Central Coast “retreat.” Every part of our drive is a little bit fuzzy for me, partially the the effect of a long, slow-acting wine buzz that was unraveling straight into the low, late afternoon sun directly ahead of us, but mostly the result of trying to process so much information – wines, grapes, names, faces – at once.

Central Coast: Paso Robles and Cayucos MapView TasteSpotting/The Delicious Escape to the Central Coast, May 2009

I’d be a bigger fool for trying to pinpoint exactly where we were along the hilly, winding stretch of westbound CA-46 when we found ourselves disregarding all traffic rules, pulling across the highway, and taking “a moment” in a turnout overlooking a valley that was so impossibly technicolor green that it looked like a Hollywood backdrop. I had no idea where we were; we could, in fact, have been on a movie set for all I knew. My smart phone has even smarter GPS, but when I had realized earlier on the drive that no signal weaker than the sound of music was going to clear the hills that were surrounding us on all sides, I had tossed the phone into the glovebox. Or maybe under the seat. Possibly shoved it into my purse.

Deer Seen from CA Highway 46 Between Paso Robles and Cayucos

Out there in the middle of everywhere, I couldn’t make a phone call, couldn’t send an email, couldn’t twitter to let people know in advance that I wouldn’t be twittering. Every digital tie that I had to My. Daily. Life had been severed by a stunning vista on my left and doe, a deer, in the five foot tall grass on my right.

A f**king deer.

That must have been “the moment” — not a particular point in time, not a single destination point on a map, but the perfect, utterly ambiguous “afternoon-ish, somewhere on the Central Coast” that was never planned, never added to an agenda, never scheduled into offline google calendar, never numbered into an outline-numbered outline, when I realized I was experiencing the exact opposite of my life.

I had to enjoy it right then and there, exactly for what it was because I couldn’t share it via email, or IM, or twitter or text with anyone else.

It took 200 miles, a couple of glasses of wine and Bambi, for goodness’ sake, but I had finally escaped.


Halter Ranch Vineyards View from Coast Live Oak Hilltop

Having spent four years at Cal and now regularly visiting northern California as a Bay Area “alum,” I’m no stranger to the popular masses’ fermented infatuation with Napa and Sonoma. Both have the same appeal as that of a movie star – fame, fortune, and flash – curiously appealing because those things are all a little out of reach. I’d be lying if I said I haven’t been seduced by the sprawling vineyards, stunning estates, and luxurious tasting rooms of some of the most well-known wineries along the CA-29, Napa’s own version of the Walk of Fame. I have gone, just another anonymous fangirl in a crowd of tourists, excited to see the place with the name that everyone else only gets to read on a label, cherishing a taste of a limited release Cab like an autographed picture.

But to the slick, sophisticated, somewhat superficial celebrity of Napa, there is the sometimes rebellious, sometimes rugged, but always very real, personality of El Paso de Robles.

Personality. I know what it means to have “personality,” believe me. My younger sisters are model-pretty, but I’m the one in the family with a great personality. In the case of Paso Robles though, personality has much less, in fact almost nothing, to do with making up for any sort of deficiencies in physical appearance. Personality has everything to do with the root of the word, “person.” Every winery (and restaurant and hotel) we visited in Paso Robles had attached to it, not a corporation somewhere far removed in the background, but a real person with a name, a face and his or her own individual charm.

We met the winemaker whose name is on the grapes that make his wine, chatted in a tasting room about retiring in Paso Robles, cruised through vineyards on a golf cart chauffeured by the grower, and met a dog whose owner’s name was on the label on the bottle that’s sitting empty on my desk right now. I will admit, it was a little jarring for a girl from LA who hides her “great personality (!)” behind a photoshopped avatar and clever handle to be face-to-face with real, live people, having real conversations, and really laughing out loud, not “LOL.” But when you are escaping your ordinary, anonymous life that is filled with things that are represented by nothing more than stock symbols and two-dimensional logos, real people are the best kind of fantasy.

It is not often that we get to do that – meet a person who is responsible (other than yourself, of course) for what you’re drinking – but that is precisely the point of Paso Robles.

Paso Robles comprises 26,000 acres of vineyards, 200 wineries, and 40 varietals. That is smaller than say, oh, France, (which is still not the largest wine producing country in the world) but the numbers are sizeable enough to make a thorough tour of the area impossible in less than a month, let alone three days. If you have “done Paso,” and have strong opinions about any of the wineries you visited, please share them in the comments to add to the 4 wineries we visited.


L'Aventure Winery 2008 Optimus Barrel

L’Aventure Winery was not only the first winery on our tasting tour, but they very first stop on our whole Central Coast itinerary. When we made the turn off the highway onto the long, narrow road that led up to L’Aventure, I felt a nervous giddiness take over. We were going to L’Aventure. Stephan Asseo‘s L’Aventure. It was the same feeling I had watching Duran Duran as a pre-teen: a combination of wanting to release a high-pitched, hyperventilative Hello Kitty squeal and wanting to throw up. The sight of horses along the road on the way up to L’Aventure’s driveway spurred conversation of unicorns. Now I know why.

I knew who Stephan was the minute we drove up and saw him walking across the patio. Stephan has the look of a winemaker, with crinkles at the corners of his blue eyes that could be from squinting from the sun, or smiling, or both. He sat down with us on the front patio and with a hypnotizing French accent, told us a love story – the one about how he came to the Central Coast, fell in love with Paso Robles, and started making wine the way he wanted. “Haute couture viticulture, ” he called it. I love them term.

Sarah’s Favorite Taste from L’Aventure:

Optimus 2006 (bought it!)

TasteSpotting Dev Team’s Favorite from L’Aventure:

Estate Cuvee 2007 (bought it!)


Adelaida Cellars Paso Robles CA
From the outside, Adelaida Cellars is the sort of pretty, quaintly picturesque winery that dominates our imagination – on a hilltop that overlooks vineyards, with a couple of picnic tables on a small lawn out front. When we first walked into the tasting room, I thought the smooth-talking silver haired gentleman behind the bar might to try to sell us something. If you’re a winery, Dominic is exactly the sort of person you want in your tasting room, chatting up customers, pouring tastes, and selling another wine club membership. But just that first pour of Vin Gris de Pinot Noir in and it was clear that the USC-supporting (I forgave him for that when we tasted the “fruit flavored Sharpie in a glass” 2006 Pinot Noir) was just being himself, reflecting a little bit of his previous life as a high-powered financial executive in LA. Escape to the Central Coast, it seems, is not just a travel theme, but one for life, too.

Sarah’s Favorite Taste from Adelaida:

Pinot Noir HMR Estate 2006

TasteSpotting Dev Team’s Favorite from Adelaida:

Cabernet Sauvignon Viking Estate Reserve 2005 (bought it!)


Edward Sellers Paso Robles CA Cognito

We missed the Edward, but when we finally made it over to Edwards Sellers‘ tasting room in the town of Paso Robles, we got to meet his blue-eyed Australian Shepherd. We also met Amy Butler, the winemaker, who poured us through the Summer Tasting that included grapes that were foreign to me. When I asked what mourvedre, counoise, cinsault and rousanne were, exposing my ignorance, I braced my cheeks for the blush, but it never came. Amy talks and jokes about wine in the same way that my favorite food writers write about food – just a pure passion without pretense.

Sarah’s Favorite Taste from Edward Sellers:

Grenache Rose 2007 (secret admirer sent TasteSpotting HQ a box?!)

TasteSpotting Dev Team’s Favorite from Edward Sellers:

Cuvee des Cinq 2005 (Cognito 2006 a close second)


Halter Ranch Vineyards - Victorian House
In the same way you find yourself the only couple on the dancefloor after the club has unplugged the speakers and turned on the ugly lights, we lingered at Halter Ranch a little longer than we had expected. We started the tasting with Solene Christophe, talked to Leslie Wyss, who runs the business side, and Bill Sheffer the winemaker, then zipped off in a golf cart for a tour of the vineyards with Mitch, the grape grower.

We saw Mitch’s “swat team” of chickens that chase away vineyard pests, the enormous Coast Live Oak at the top of a hill in the middle of the vineyard, a lake where guests can picnic, and of course the vines, from which Mitch pulled a small set of buds with the tenderness of daddy so we could see his babies. Seeing Mitch next to the vines with a pair of clippers attached to his belt, I was reminded that no matter how sophisticated, luxurious or ridiculously expensive the wine, all of it still starts in the hands of farmer.

Sarah’s Favorite Taste from Halter Ranch:

Sauvignon Blanc 2008

TasteSpotting Dev Team’s Favorite from Halter Ranch:

Sauvignon Blanc 2008 (a tie!)

DINING IN PASO ROBLES – I’m Just Here for the Food

Three meals between two restaurants had me asking myself if the food alone of Paso Robles – not the wine – could be the real reason to make a trip.

The reality is, you can’t ever have one without the other. I know I can’t.


Thomas Hill Organics Paso Robles CA
Debbie Thomas is from LA, an ex-marketing executive from a giantgiantgiant athletic brand. She now lives in Paso Robles with her husband, who grows organic produce at Thomas Hill. Their operation is small and very local, mostly producing CSA boxes for the people who live along the Central Coast. A few months ago, they took over a closing wine bar in the town of Paso Robles and serve food made from their own farm and other organic producers in the area. Lunch at Thomas Hill Organics was our first meal in Paso Robles and it was the perfect introduction to the food culture of the Central Coast. We sat on the back patio facing a huge sign that, if you weren’t already indulging, demanded “WINE.” The way we spent the early afternoon there is how I want to spend an entire afternoons for days at a time: trying cheese, drinking wine, and getting to know our hostess Debbie.

I might be Debbie Thomas one day.


Artisan Restaurant Paso Robles CA
When we sat down for dinner at a table right in front of Artisan‘s open kitchen, scanned the room filled with white tablecloths and, and started discussing the menu, it didn’t feel unlike sitting down at any number of restaurants back at home. Artisan Restaurant’s sleek, modern sophistication at first seems slightly out of place in a tiny town. But then you realize that the chef-owner, Chris Kobayashi is three feet behind you cooking your food, and his wife, Shandi is making sure you’re comfortable, chatting with you about family, and sharing your fear of horses. Artisan’s own urban-in-a-rural-setting personality itself is unique, fitting right in with the individuality that is characteristic of Paso Robles.

The restaurant doesn’t try to be something it’s not; it’s just a real reflection of place, Paso Robles, and people, the Kobayashis. Foods, sourced locally whenever possible, showcase the what Central Coast has to offer, like Cayucos Red Abalone in the “BLTA” with Green Tomatoes and Pancetta we had to start. The menu and preparation reflect Chris’s training and experience in the Bay area, but of course, are his own expression. Shandi, tall, thin, pretty and well-dressed, fits the atmosphere at Artisan, but there is a smart, sweetness to her that is difficult to explain but easy to understand when she flashes a grin after saying “the quiet Asian-y looking one back there in the kitchen is Chris. He belongs to me.”

SLEEPING IN PASO ROBLES – A Little Bit of Luxury


Hotel Cheval Paso Robles CA
I half-expected to stay in a “renovated” truckstop motel when preparing for this trip, but The Hotel Cheval is about the furthest thing from a Motel 6 possible. Hotel Cheval is luxury down to the details.

We were greeted in the lobby then escorted to one of Hotel Cheval’s 16 rooms. As we walked across the charming stone courtyard, I made a note to come back outside after dinner with one of the bottles we had picked up during wine tasting and relax in front of the fireplace. Everything about the room at Hotel Cheval plays right into the equestrian theme, down to the horseshoe shaped chocolate. There was bottled water in the room, welcome hydration after a day of wine tasting, and all the amenities of a big city luxury hotel. At the end of the evening, I wanted to go back out to the courtyard, but as soon as my body sunk into the bed, I fell asleep. The courtyard was going to have to wait for a future trip.

CAYUCOS – Hidden in a Silver Satin Mist


Cass House Inn and Restaurant Cayucos CA
Something about the tiny town’s position and placement on the Central Coast lets mother nature and king neptune keep Cayucos a secret – the land just to the north swings a protective arm out, a physical barrier that keeps a thick, silver fog over Cayucos. LA escapees who flee northward end up just shy of Cayucos in Morro Bay, a slightly larger, sunnier version of a “sleepy California beach town,” or overshoot to get to the spectacle that is Hearst Castle. Perhaps the tourists just never see Cayucos, hidden under that heavy blanket of mist. It is just as well. Cass House, the luxury inn where we stayed overnight, only has five rooms.

Grace and Jensen Lorenzen run the Cass House and it seems they have somehow captured in one setting both professional quality food and wine experiences and a charming intimacy you can only get when you’re a guest in a friend’s home.

If Paso Robles was an escape from my daily life, then Cayucos was an escape from my escape.

SAN LUIS OBISPO – Exactly the Way to Head Back to LA


Novo Restaurant, San Luis Obispo, CA
Chances are, there is a restaurant almost like Novo in your neighborhood – a family owned operation that just serves good food in a comfortable, California casual atmosphere. It may even have outdoor seating on a patio in the back like Novo.

But it won’t be Novo because Novo’s back patio overlooks a creek that, if you stop your conversation, or put down your cell phone, or just simply sit back in your chair, you can hear. Novo Restaurant in San Luis Obispo was the final stop on our Central Coast itinerary, and the sparkling wine, the Avocado Summer Roll the size of a burrito, and the Roasted Vegetable Sandwich were the perfect way to ease back toward LA.

If you take a long weekend to visit the Central Coast, or just a standard weekend to stay in Paso Somewhere along the westbound drive from the gently rocking and rolling hills of Paso Robles to the tiny coast town of Cayucos, you might start crying.

Or you might not. I don’t know how an escape to the Central Coast will affect you.

I just know that it will.

Where to Wine, Dine and Sleep in Paso Robles, Cayucos and San Luis Obispo


Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance

Adelaida Cellars
5805 Adelaida Road
Paso Robles, CA 93446

Edward Sellers
1220 Park Street
Paso Robles, CA 93446

Halter Ranch Vineyard
8910 Adelaida Road
Paso Robles, CA 93446

L’Aventure Winery
2815 Live Oak Road
Paso Robles, CA


Artisan Restaurant
1401 Park Street
Paso Robles, California 93446

Thomas Hill Organics
1305 Park Street
Paso Robles, CA 93446


The Hotel Cheval
1021 Pine Street
Paso Robles, CA 93446


Cass House Luxury Inn & Restaurant
222 North Ocean Avenue
Cayucos, CA 93430


Novo Restaurant
726 Higuera Street
San Luis Obispo, CA

Thanks also to Chris and Shandi Kobayashi of Artisan Restaurant, Debbie Thomas of Thomas Hill Organics, Stephan Asseo of L’Aventure Winery, Amy Butler & the rest of the Rhone Rangers at Edward Sellers, Bill, Mitch & Leslie at Halter Ranch, Grace & Jensen at Cass House Inn, and the guys at Novo. You all were an amazing group of hosts and hostesses and we’re hoping to see you again soon.

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  • Myraim @ Entertaining w/ Style

    Wow! What breathtaking photos and descriptions. I have a friend who has been telling me for years that I have to join her for her annual drive up the coast to Paso Robles. I think your post just convinced mt to finally take her up on her offer. Thanks so much for sharing!

    • Sarah J. Gim

      she’s been inviting you for *years* and you haven’t gone yet?! i think this your year :D

  • Simply

    What a great mini-vacation. It makes me want to go on a road trip up the coast too! But…no cell reception…I need me iPhone…I can feel myself going into withdrawl just thinking about not being able to use it ><

    • Sarah J. Gim

      there is actually *perfect* cell reception, and even random free wifi (at least around the hotels) so it was perfect for a late night websneak. the spotty cell coverage is through the mountains between wine country and the coast. but you know, it’s actually no worse than some spots along the 134 through the Valley ;)

  • Jim

    Yes, Paso Robles is an incredible wine region. It’s a mixture of hot days, cool nights and lots of limestone in the soil. The wines are rich and powerful and there’s a nice irreverent sense about the makers. I found lots of great wines that you don’t mention. I highly recommend anything from Four Vines and the Tempranillo from Arroyo Robles (whose tasting room is downtown). The view from the tasting room at Calcareous is astonishing (their Twisted Sister blend is great too) but the driveway is a challenge after you’ve been tasting wine for a while. As for dining, I went cheap: amazing loaf of bread with some triple-cream French cheese eaten in the park. For dinner, after driving around to vineyards, a chicken taco at a little dive. Both were wonderful.

    • Sarah J. Gim

      Jim! That is the perfect word I couldn’t find while writing this post: “irreverent.” Thank you! And I am adding your recommendations to our itinerary for our next Retreat (just calling them out so they’re easier to find when I come back to this post):

      • Four Vines
      • Arroyo Robles Tempranillo
      • Calcareous Twisted Sister blend
    • chris

      I was going to mention Calcareous, glad you did. Another on the list is Sculptura, the wine is fab and the  grounds are surrounded by beautiful “bigger than Life” sculptors. The tasting room has as much attention to detail, the hand carved beams and brackets that look like a piece of jewelry. You will want to take those beams home along with a great bottle of wine.
      Another great restaurant in Cayuos is Hoppe’s. I have eaten there at least a dozen times during our visits and I have yet to have a bad meal.
      There is nothing NOT TO LOVE about the area…but please don’t move there everyone. I pray the area remains quaint, grounded and unspoiled!!!! 

  • sjkang

    I went to school in SLO town. I took many trips up the coast along hwy 1 and throughout those valleys. Seeing those pictures really brings back some memories. I really need to go back, now that I can afford to go into more of those places.

    • Sarah J. Gim

      sjkang, yes, you really DO need to go back to the central coast! and the reality is, you can actually do it without making it a “luxury” getaway (though why anyone would *want* to do that is beyond me). wine tastings aren’t over the top expensive, and of course, as Jim said above, some of the best “meals” to end a day of tasting are the simple ones :)

  • Anonymous

    Glad to see you back on the blog

    • Sarah J. Gim

      it took a while, yes? but i’m here, and hoping to stay :)

  • Catherine

    You make me wish I was home right now. I’m from Fresno, CA, which is just a few hours drive away from Paso Robles, Cayucos, Morro Bay, Cambria, and SLO. That area has been a part of my family for generations. My great grandfather owned a ranch up there, my dad lived in Cayucos every summer as a kid, my mom’s family rented a beach house there for two weeks every summer (here is the crazy thing: the house my mom’s parents rented was just 5 houses down from my dad’s family’s home. It is entirely probable my parents met each other by chance before they ever met each other). My childhood summers are filled with memories of the 4th of July in Cayucos. It has had such a huge affect on my life that when I saw the featured ad on tastespotting for “We Escaped to the Central Coast” with a picture of a pier, I knew IMMEDIATELY that it was Cayucos’ pier. In any case, Whalebone is a great winery that just recently opened, and I recommend it. Wild Coyotoe is another, with a kistch pueblo theme – and an absolutely adorable dog. But Paso Robles is the kind of wine country you want to explore over time. I remember me driving through the winding, twisting roads, the “designated driver” to my parents’ wine tasting.

    Long comment, but I just wanted to say that I love you visited the Central Coast. It is a place that is always worth the trip.

  • Sarah J. Gim

    Catherine: please do not apologize for leaving a long comment – it’s such an awesome note, and as you guessed from the length of the post, i like lots of words ;)

    You’re the 3rd or 4th person who has mentioned Whalebone, so I am definitely going to visit when I go back to Paso Robles, which I will do again and again. Like you said, “Paso Robles is the kind of wine country you want to explore over time.”

  • muffin

    One word: Opolo.

    Vineyard, off of Highway 46 in Paso Robles.

  • Sarah J. Gim

    muffin: all nine words noted ;) and i LOVE how it sounds: “opolo.”

  • jay

    opolo is a good winery. but go a little farther and you would have reached in my opinion the best winery in paso-tobin james. believe me, its the best.

  • Sarah J. Gim

    jay: Tobin James added to itinerary for next trip!

  • My Amazing Weight Loss Story

    Thanks for posting, I truly enjoyed reading your most recent post. I think you should post more often, you obviously have talent for blogging!

  • Kaitlyn

    haha, its weird hearing about my hometown making someone cry, you missed out on los osos, baywood park and cambria though

    • Sarah J. Gim

      kaitlyn: at least it’s crying in a good way. my hometown totally makes people cry, too. i’m from detroit. ;)

  • J

    i love your post! and your pictures are beautiful – looks like you had a relaxing and enjoyable time. next time you go, can you take me? i would love to lose all cell reception, not only for a moment to catch sight of an effin’ deer, but for hours to catch up on “me time.” well done, sarbeanie… this has just hit my list of places to visit!

  • Sarah J. Gim

    j: next time i go, i am taking daisy and the little monster. :D

  • Lisa

    You have done a beautiful job describing the picturesque drive on Hwy. 46. Next tour you’ll need to turn right and head up to Cambria to visit Novo’s sister restaurant, Robin’s. Absolutely the best blended ethnic cuisine on the Central Coast.
    Another must is a wine tour of the Edna Valley of San Luis Obispo. Many of the chardonnays of this region are award winning and the Pinot Noir is fabulous. Tolosa has great wines and a fun tasting room staff. Edna Valley Winery has the most exquisite view from their tasting room; they have a terrific Viognier which is my personal fav. You must visit Talley Vineyards as well. Of course, Claiborne and Churchill is a fun place to taste because of their hay bale constructed building and yummy chardonnay!
    I could go on; I have lived here since 1984. I escaped LA for the SLO life way back then… glad you enjoyed your visit!

  • Pingback: Wine Journey: Paso Robles « SFwine: having fun with wine()

  • Edie

    Where to start? We bought a weekend house in the Paso/Templeton/Creston area last fall to escape from our crazy lives in the Bay Area. My husband is from Manhattan Beach so we decided to buy in the middle. The people in the area are so nice I didn’t realize how jaded and rude we had become in the Bay. The cows make your blood pressure reduce immediately and the vines are mesmerizing. All kinds of beauty surrounds you.
    In addition to great wineries and restaurants there are amazing bakeries, popsicle shops, cheese shops and awesome breakfast jaunts. Great little treasures. Best pops–Paleteria Y Niveria Linda Michuacana, 1912 Creston Road–be prepared to eat 3 or 4. Don’t miss the Two Little Birds Bakery, 822 13th street and coffee at Joebella Coffee Roasters, 1121 Rossi Road in Templeton. Fig Good Food, 5945 Traffic Way in Atascadero is great for picnic food and the 15 degrees C wine shop and bar also at 1121 Rossi Road has killer sandwiches and wine or beer tasting. There are lots of little B&Bs to stay in. If you stay at the Belvino on Peachy Canyon Road you will swear you were transported to Italy. I could go on forever but I won’t bore you. And when it gets too hot, you are half an hour from beaches that are wide open with few visitors and dogs are allowed to enjoy the vistas as well.

  • Flo Oy Wong

    Thanks for your wonderful blog, which I found while researching an end of October stay in Cayucos. I wanted to find a nice restaurant where my husband and I can celebrate my 72nd birthday. I will definitely look into your recommendations. Very inspiring to read to your blog.

  • Anna Kobayashi Lomes

    Love your post about this wonderful area-a treasure! The Artisian post especially charming-as I’m a Kobayashi as well-Chris is my cousin. Your pictures are beautiful!

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