Flash tour Central Coast Wine Country and Beyond – Day 1

6 days…where to go in wine country?

Well if you have a Prius and can get to California fairly easily, you don’t have to choose.  Join us on our journey through California’s Central Coast Wine Country and a little beyond.

Day 1 Las Vegas to Monterey

We left Vegas before dawn and drove to the coast. We skipped LA and hit the coast in Ventura County. Day 1 was mostly driving with a bit of sightseeing along the way, with the final goal being Monterey.

Santa Barbara – the city

We took a break in Santa Barbara by Sterns Wharf to soak up some of the ocean and the morning. Santa Barbara, the city, has plenty to do for an entire vacation and if you love wine, we can enjoy plenty here without leaving the city on the Urban Wine Trail. Sterns Wharf is home to The Conway Family’s Deep Sea Tasting Room; The Funk Zone (the hip area close to the beach) has lots of great laid back tasting rooms and the El Paseo further in the historical district has even more tasting rooms.

Los Olivos

On this trip however, we kept driving. We took the 154 into Santa Barbara Wine Country. We drove through Los Olivos, with the plan to return. This town houses multiple wine tasting rooms and some great restaurants. It is a great place to park and walk, taste and eat. You are highly likely to run into winemakers in the tasting rooms and restaurants.

Los Alamos

We drove onto the 101 from here, heading north past Los Alamos, which is another great spot to do weekend tastings. There is another Municipal Winemakers tasting room in town as well as Casa Dumetz Wines. Full of Life Flatbread is a great dinner spot and if you need beer, Babis Beer Emporium (same owner as Casa Dumetz) is a perfect spot to sit outside and enjoy some really great local brews. On the weekends there is often music and Casa Dumetz has a Friday night “Words to Live By” speaker series which covers a wide range of topics with an eclectic group of speakers! But yeah, we didn’t have time to stop here either….on we drove.

SLO – San Luis Obispo

Next to drive through is SLO (San Luis Obispo). You begin by passing Laetitia where they do Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and have an amazing sparkling wine program that is Méthode Champenoise (that’s the really good tiny bubbles). Further in you will find more wine trails and downtown SLO which has beautiful tree-lined streets, lots of art and great food.

Paso Robles

Paso Robles is up next and there are so many wineries here that I won’t even try right now. They recently divided into 11 AVAs (American Viticultural Areas). Before dividing, this one area was the Paso Robles AVA and covered about 614,000 acres. (for some perspective, Napa is only 1/3 of that size). This place deserves a bit of your time. Take all 6 days here. It’s close enough to the beach that you can spend a day tasting and a day on the coast and then back. We do stop here on our way back…we’ll get there on day 4.

Monterey

We kept driving to arrive in Monterey for the first evening and with limited time, we went to Cannery Row to enjoy the view, taste some wine and have a bite at A Taste of Monterey. You can taste at the bar or get a table and do a flight and order food. We found a great table with a view (and a seagull companion) and enjoyed a couple of flights along with some bacon wrapped dates and…pardon me I drool when I talk about these… Inzana Farms Almonds & Pistachios, which are roasted in olive oil, brown sugar, cayenne, thyme.

This is a flash trip so there are more areas to discover and explore that we passed by.  Yep, the Central Coast is full of great wine country.  In Santa Barbara County you can also visit, Buellton, Lompoc and it’s Wine Ghetto, Santa Ynez and then the many wineries all around the county.  For more information on the Santa Barbara Wineries visit Santa Barbara Vintners.  San Luis Obispo Country also has great tasting rooms out at Avila Beach.  While we didn’t visit those areas this time, you can find more about them here at Crushed Grape Chronicles, just do a search!

The Santa Barbara Vintners Celebration of Harvest is coming up September 29th to October 2, 2017 and it is a great time to visit.  You can attend the Taste of Santa Barbara Wine Country Event and enjoy wines from 50 of the different wineries in the region on September 29th in downtown Santa Barbara.  And there are event all over the region during the weekend where you will learn more about the wines, wineries and winemakers.

Day 2 takes us from Monterey to Napa and Sonoma!  Come back for more of the trip!

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Wine with friends – A California tasting & pairing

After our trip to the Central Coast, my friend RuBen asked if we wanted to do a wine & cheese party with him at his house.  Well of course!  RuBen is the hostess with the mostest and has a beautiful backyard.  He also knows wonderful people, who are always a joy to talk to.  So….RuBen planned the decor, the people and the over-all menu and I planned the wines and pairings.  I spent several days going through and picking wines from our cellar and then finding interesting facts about each and pairing ideas.  Here’s what I settled on…

Laetitia Brut Cuvee

We needed to start with something bubbly, so we pulled out a bottle of Laetitia Vineyard & Winery Brut Cuvee.  The winery is in the Arroyo Grande AVA which is just south of San Luis Obispo. We had recently done an Interview on their beautiful property  with Heather Muran of the SLO Wine Association.  Starting with bubbles is always a great celebratory way to start any event and it’s a great palate cleanser.  This wine is made in the Champenoise method and the winemaker says his favorite pairing with this is potato chips!  So…that’s what we paired it with.  It was fun to talk to people about this wine and have people share with me their knowledge of sparkling wines.

Tablas Creek 2014 Vermentino

Next we moved onto a white wine, but I didn’t want to do a typical Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc.  Instead we did a Vermentino from Tablas Creek Vineyards in Paso Robles.  This winery is known for their Rhone Varieties, and while Vermentino is a little out of the Rhone (although it is grown there under the name Rolle) it is a variety of grape that thrives in the soils and climates you find at Tablas Creek.  It is bright and minerally and we put a jar of wet stones next to it for people to smell.  It was amazing to see people dip their nose into the glass then into the jar and watch the look of realization and surprise come across their faces.  People always think that tasting notes sound so snooty with the wild things sommeliers say they can smell in a wine.  Having it right there and smelling it opened their noses to trying to smell other things in the wines!  Vermentino pairs great with many things, but unlike so many other wines, it is great with green vegetables, so we paired this with a pesto.

Margerum 2014 Riviera Rosé

Onward now to a Rosé.  Rosés are coming back into vogue and you find them popping up everywhere.  While you can find rosés made from Pinot, Zinfandel,  and even Merlot…I love a Rhone or Grenache Rosé best, with a little watermelon and strawberry on the nose, but dry.  That is what we got with the Margerum Wine Company 2014 Riviera Rosé. This Rosé is Grenache with a little Counoise and Cinsault.  The Grenache for the most part is done in the saignee method, then a bit of Counoise and Cinsault are added as well as a little barrel aged Grenache.  As Rosés notoriously go well with anything pink, we paired it with a prosciutto.

Carhartt 2012 Pinot Noir

It was time now to go a little darker.  We pulled out a 2012 Pinot Noir from Carhartt in Santa Barbara. The Carhartt’s are the same Carhartt’s you think of with work clothes. The family owned a ranch in Santa Barbara where they raised cattle for years.  Mike Carhartt and his wife Brooke planted grapes on the land and now it is a family affair with son Chase studying wine making and assisting in the process. This particular wine is not grown on their estate but comes from Riverbench Vineyard up in the Santa Maria Valley where they grow some amazing Pinot Noir.  We paired this with cheeses; goat cheese, gouda and baked brie!

Carhartt 2012 Sangiovese

We continued with a little more robust red with a Carhartt Sangiovese.  This wine was estate grown and smells of cherry, fig, cola, all spice, sweet oak and rose petal.  I had a fresh burrata from the Downtown Summerlin Farmers Market that paired perfectly with this!

Tobin James 2009 Fat Boy Zin

I must admit that we don’t drink alot of big reds these days.  Most are just a bit too big to pair with a meal.  At one time we were members of the Tobin James wine club and we have a bunch of great big fat Zins from them, that I have not yet opened.  So…here was an opportunity to open one and see how it was.  Did it mellow with age or would it have gone flat and passed it’s peak?  We opened a 2009 Tobin James Fat Boy Zin.  It is an over the top Zin that Tobin says is “like the best friend you had as a kid; big brash and maybe slightly obnoxious, but always loved!”.  This is definitely big with the alcohol level sitting at 15.8%.  But indeed, this big boy was loved by many at the party.  We paired this with Smoked Gouda, but truly this big Jammy Zin would go best with bold bold BBQ.

Carol Shelton 2008 Black Magic

We ended the eveningstepping a little further north, with a late harvest Zin by Carol Shelton her 2008 Black Magic from Sonoma County.  Late harvest wines are those that are left on the vine to let their sugars develop and often they will leave them to raisin on the vine concentrating the sugars even further.  This dessert wine screams for chocolate and indeed we paired it with that, but also with a lovely Stilton. The sweet wine and the savory cheese are a perfect combination for finishing an evening.

This was an amazing evening with around 20 people just mingling talking about the wines and whatever else came up and meandering around RuBen’s beautiful backyard with little seating areas tucked here and there.  We enjoyed the wine, the company and conversation as the sun set and the stars came out.  Yep, wine with friends…what could be better?

Wine Party with Friends

Wine Party with Friends

Santa Barbara’s Wine Collection of El Paseo

El Paseo of Santa Barbara Central Coast Wine Country

Downtown Santa Barbara is picturesque with the Spanish Colonial Architecture and the trailing bougainvillea. In the heart of the Presidio Neighborhood lies the Paseo de la Guerra or El Paseo. This beautiful complex with it’s interior courtyards and passageways is the restored home of Jose de la Guerra y Noriega, the Commandante of the Presidio.

This historic property was purchased in the 1920’s and through several owners was designed into the paseo that it is today. In addition to the Casa de la Guerra Museum housed within the property, there are Shops, Wine tasting rooms and restaurants. It is a beautiful place to step back a little in time and slow your pace. The tasting rooms have gathered as the Wine Collection of El Paseo. We strolled into the center of the interior courtyard entering from the State Street side and began our tasting at…

Jamie Slone Wines

23 E. De La Guerra Street

Santa Barbara CA 93101

(805)560-6555

Open Daily 12-6

If you are a racing fan, you might know the name “Jamie Slone”. Jamie until recently, was a Formula Race Car Driver. When he would race in Indy Car weekend in Sonoma, the guys would always look to head out for a beer when there was time off. Jamie preferred to head into Sonoma and explore the wines. His fascination with wine led to the opening of Jamie Slone Wines. He works closely with his winemaker Doug Margerum, tasting blends and making suggestions, sometimes suggestions that are a little out of the norm..he has released a Cabernet Sauvignon & Syrah blend and feels as if blends might be his new direction in the market.

When we walked into the beautiful tasting room we were greeted first by Sophie, their dog and then by Jamie himself. He is passionate and energetic and loves to share the experience of his wines. The tasting room he describes as an American Riviera Experience and it is both stunning and warm. His wife Kym joined us toward the end of our tasting in time for a photo.

The wines have depth and nuance. Jamie pulled out a bit of his 2013 Sauvignon Blanc for us to taste which is all but gone. We also tasted the 2011 BoRific Red blend. It is a blend of Merlot & Cab Franc and is named “BoRific” after Jamie’s nickname for Kym. We left with a bottle of the beautiful, 2013 Aloysius Chardonnay, named after Kym’s late father which is a balanced and elegant wine. He also has a lovely Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir and his 2012 Super Tuscan which is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese and just a hint of Malbec.

After a wonderful tasting, Jamie was kind enough to walk us down and introduce us at the MWC32 Tasting room.

Marjoram Wine Company

32 El Paseo (in the center courtyard)

Santa Barbara, CA 93101
805-845-8435

Open Daily 12-6

Jamie introduced us to the Tasting Room manager Rani at the MWC32 Tasting Room.  This tasting room is the Margerum Reserve tasting room. It is tucked inside the El Paseo as opposed to the flagship Margerum Tasting room on Anacapa Street. Rani set us up for a tasting and filled us in on much of the background of wine maker Doug Margerum.

Doug came from the restaurant industry and as such has a great love for wine and food. His parents originally purchased the Wine Cask restaurant which expanded to include a bistro and wine store. He sold the restaurant in 2007 to devote all his time to Margerum Wine, and then reopened it in 2009 with new partners. In addition to his own wines, he also makes wines for 2 other wineries in The Wine Collection of El Paseo, both Jamie Slone and Happy Canyon Vineyards.

We tasted the 2014 Riviera Rose, the 2013 Klickitat Pinot Gris (from the Margerum Ranch & Dampier Vineyards in Klickitat Washington), the 2011 Purisima Mountain Vineyard Syrah (this is one of those wonderful Ballard Canyon Syrahs), the Black Oak Vineyard Syrah (from the Eastern side of the Los Alamos Valley), the M5 which is a Rhone Blend in the Chateauneuf-du-Pape style of Syrah, Grenach, Mourvedre, Counties and Consult.  Mid tasting Hugh, Doug’s brother, who in addition to dealing with the website and wine club is also an accomplished artist, stopped by with a Riesling for us to taste.  This came from the Kick-On Vineyard on the Western end of the Los Alamos Valley.

All the wines were beautiful and I am still dreaming about the Amaro which Doug started making 9 years ago, fortifying the wine with brandy and 40 different botanicals, roots, herbs, barks and orange peel…..this is amazing digestif, with many layers from the botanicals.

Grassini Family Vineyards

813 Anacapa Street, #6

Santa Barbara, CA 93101

(805) 897-3366

Open Daily 12-6

Lastly we revisted Grassini. The last time we were at the El Paseo, Katie Grassini had stopped by to greet us and we had a wonderful chat. The tasting room is done in deep dark woods.  The tasting bar is made of refurbished wood from old Fir trees and there are big comfy leather arm chairs. Their 2012 Sauvignon Blanc was just given a top score by Jancis Robinson. While their vineyards & winery are not open to the public, they are located out in Happy Canyon where they grow Bordeaux varieties.

There are multiple tasting room experiences here, including the Estate Tasting Flight of their Sauvignon Blanc, the Equipo Red Blend, the Articondo Bordeaux Blend (named for Katie’s great grandfather), and the Estate Cabernet Sauvignon.  They also do a reserve tasting of their library wines, a new Sauvignon Blanc flight and a wine and truffle pairing.

The estate vineyard in the warmer Happy Canyon AVA is primarily Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc with bits of Merlot, Petite Verdot and Cabernet Franc.  I was told that one of the two small blocks of Cabernet Franc is on a hill so steep that they put up a net at the bottom during harvest.  “To catch the grapes” I asked? “No, to catch the people”.

Their Equipo Red Wine is made by their team, “equip” being the spanish word for team.  The team has full control over a portion of the vineyard and a portion of the profits from this wine goes right back to the team.

Au Bon Climat

813 Anacapa Street

Santa Barbara, CA 93101

(805)963-7999

Open Daily 12-6

While we did not have time to stop by the Au Bon Climat Tasting room on this trip, we did stop in on a previous trip. Jim Clendenen is a legend in these parts. He has several labels including Au Bon Climat, Clendenen Family Vineyard, Ici/La-Bas, Barham Mendelsohn and Vita Note and you can taste many of these labels daily in his tasting room. There is a comfy couch and chairs, but I’m much more likely to be at the bar asking multiple questions of the knowledgeable people pouring the wine. You will find maps of the area vineyards laid out on tables in the tasting room which you can pour over to find each of the sourced vineyards. If you are familiar with the area, the names will be familiar beginning with the famed Bien Nacido Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley, which is their primary vineyard source. In addition there is the Le Bon Climat Vineyard, tucked back into an valley in the upper part of the Santa Maria Valley. Twice annually they have an Open House here at the Winery, (it’s coming up this weekend!) If you are in the area, you should plan to go. Jim will be cooking! There is also the beautiful Rancho La Cuna vineyard in the Los Alamos Valley and the list goes on from their with famous names like Nielson, Sierra Madre, Talley, Sanford & Benedict and Los Alamos Vineyard.

This is the grand-daddy of them all.

Don’t miss this tasting room!

In addition you will find the main Margerum Tasting room next to Au Bon Climat on Anacapa Street as well as Happy Canyon Vineyards in the interior courtyard.

Margerum Shops Street View

Margerum Tasting Room

And of course the amazing Wine Cask Restaurant is also here with the newer Intermezzo Wine Bar that has small plates and wines on Tap.

If you find yourself in Santa Barbara, you can make a day of it just exploring the El Paseo with history, wine and great food all within steps of each other.

You will also be able to find all of these wineries at the Santa Barbara Vintners Spring Grand Tasting in Buellton this weekend on Saturday April 25th. Visit the Santa Barbara Vintners site for more details on all the wineries in the area.