Welcome to Santa Maria! Allegiant Airlines has new low budget flights from Vegas to Santa Maria! No frills but short. The flight was 48 minutes and then a 30 minute drive south to Los Olivos and the Santa Barbara Wine Country. Of course the selection for flights is slim. They fly on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. San Luis Obispo is just 30 minutes North and then another hour to Paso Robles. We flew out on a mid day flight leaving Vegas at 1:45 and we were pulling out of the parking lot with our rental car by 3! A short drive down the 101 and we were in Los Olivos for tastings! Of course even closer you can hit the Santa Maria Wineries and take the back roads south through Foxen Canyon, or head straight to the coast and taste in Lompac. We arrived at the small but nicely appointed airport and exited down the ramp to the tarmac to the sounds of an airshow! Bi planes doing death spirals greeted us. The drive was short and lovely. Exit at 146 onto Rt 254 and pass the Saarloos and Sons property on the left then continue to Los Olivos (o LEE vos who knows how long I had been pronouncing it incorrectly before someone filled me in) and take a right onto Grand Avenue with around 30 tasting rooms lining the street. During the weekends the town can be very busy in the summer. Our trip brought us out for the Carhartt Winemakers dinner on Saturday night. On our last trip we tasted at the tiny and adorable Carhartt tasting room where we fell in love with their style and wines.
One of the things I learned more about on this trip to Santa Barbara County was the location of different vineyards in the area. I had not put together that Happy Canyon was so close and the infamous Bien Nacido vineyard is just up the road from Foxen Canyon. Time to get out the maps! This area is much less about estate vineyards and more about sourced grapes from small specially tended vineyards. Sea Smoke is located in the Santa Rita Hills and this prime real estate they keep to themselves only selling grapes to Brewer-Clifton (their Chardonnay) and to Foxen (their Pinot Noir). Exclusive deals like this with winemakers, wineries and growers are typical in this area and the respect for the grapes, growers and the differences with the micro climates and soils show in the wines.
This tiny tasting room is in Los Olivos right next to Carhartt. It is the first winery from Happy Canyon to open a tasting room in Los Olivos. Our tasting began with some great approachable wines at $20 and under. They went straight to the distributors to get the 3CV (three creek vineyard) name out there. From there they began developing higher end wines under the Cimarone name. They are working with Bordeaux & Rhone varieties as well as a Sangiovese. All the wines were delicious and approachable. The tasting room is open Thursday – Sunday from 11-5.
Before heading to Santa Barbara I downloaded Steve Heimoff’s book to my Kindle and I looked up winemakers in Santa Babara. Richard Longoria has been making wine from the Santa Rita Hills since the 1970’s and has been making wines at Longoria since 1982. This winery turns out around 3500 cases per year in small lots from 50 to 700. They pull grapes from their Estate vineyard at Fe Ciega as well as from Bien Nacido and a blend of the 2 vineyards Pinot grapes which makes their Lovely Rita Pinot Noir which is simply delicious! We tasted the Pinot Grigio and the Chardonnay both of which are amazingly well balanced. They also had an Albarino this year which sold out very quickly. The tasting room is in one of the oldest buildings in Los Olivos and has charming metal siding. Inside the tasting room the pourer was full of great information on the vineyards and microclimates, the soils and the difference in weather from vintage to vintage. There is not a bad wine in the place. Joyful tasting.
Dinner was next! When we were last in town we had dinner at Matteis tavern where the Brothers were cooking at the time and had a fantastic dinner. They have since moved from the large tavern (which I hear there is rumor that it is being converted into a resort) and into the historic Sides Hardware and Shoes building on Alamo Pintado just off of Grand Avenue. The location is quaint with 4 to 6 tables out on the patio on the sidewalk and maybe 20 tables inside. We had an amazing dinner beginning with an ahi tuna appetizer. Then Michael enjoyed the Salmon and I had Lamb with goat cheese gnocchi. One of those meals where you close your eyes and savor each bite. We paired with the Au Bon Climat 2010 Pinot Noir as we were in a Pinot mood and it was delicious. For desert we had the special which was a corn ice cream with blueberry compote. All in all a wonderful evening and a spectacular start to our weekend!