We are winding up our Flash Tour of the Central Coast and Beyond in Santa Barbara County. This was our final day of fun, before we made the drive home to Vegas. This final day allowed us a little less driving.
Day 5 Solvang, Santa Barbara County and Los Olivos
Day 5 started with a stroll of the charming city of Solvang in the morning. The sun was out, the temperature was just right and it was the perfect way to start the day. Nestled in the middle of Santa Barbara County, Solvang feels like you have stepped into another world. This historic Danish Village in the middle of California was founded by Danish-Americans in 1911. Solvang translates to “sunny field” in Danish. The town has embraced the Danish Architecture and the town is dotted with windmills. The streets are enchanting and you can find aebleskivers (a Danish dessert that is like a donut hole) at many restaurants. If you enjoy shopping or window shopping, you will be in heaven. There is a store for everything here. Walking the town you will find courtyards and corners to explore. Or you can rent a bicycle or a 4-wheeled surrey! They have an outdoor theatre, the Solvang Festival Theatre that runs productions throughout the summer. Every Wednesday there is a Farmers Market in Solvang Park in the afternoons. There are great restaurants, wine tasting rooms and really, something for everyone.
Even on a Monday Morning Paula’s Pancake House in Solvang has a line of people waiting for tables for breakfast!
The Charming Hamlet Inn in Solvang.
The Solvang Brewing Company and it’s windmill
The Solvang Festival Theatre entertains all summer with productions by the Pacific Conservatory Theatre.
Beautiful trees and sculptures in Solvang Park
This beautiful carved wooden entry and the ivy on the bricks capture my attention as we strolled the streets.
This charming Gazebo in Solvang Park often houses bands for events in the park.
Four-wheeled Surreys are a great way to see Solvang. They can be rented by Solvang Park and seat 4 or 6.
Foxen Canyon to the Santa Maria Bench
We finished our walk and got in the car again to head up into Foxen Canyon. With over 200 wineries, 6 AVAs, and over 21,000 acres of vineyards Santa Barbara County has quite a bit of area to explore. We had limited time so we headed north from Solvang. We took Ballard Canyon Road though the Ballard Canyon AVA which is known for it’s Syrah, and noticed that Larner Vineyard had netted for birds. As the fruit starts to sweeten the birds like to feast so the green netting helps to keep them out and save the fruit. At the top of the Canyon we stopped for another gorgeous view from above Saarloos & Sons beautiful Windmill Ranch Vineyard.
Veraison is happening and the vines are netted at Larner Vineyard in Ballard Canyon to keep the birds from eating the fruit
The top of Ballard Canyon overlooking Saarloos & Sons Windmill Ranch Vineyard is always one of the greatest views in the area.
Foxen Canyon Road is a beautiful drive with the San Rafael Mountains on the right and views of Firestone, Curtis (where Andrew Murray has his winery) and Koehler Vineyards as you round the curve to meet with Zaca Station Road. This is a perfect drive to get a sense of the sweeping area that Santa Barbara County covers.
The San Rafael Mountains through a Coastal Oak on Foxen Canyon road.
Firestone, Curtis and Koehler Vineyards on Zaca Mesa Station Road viewed from Foxen Canyon Road.
A view of the San Rafael Mountains as we drive up Foxen Canyon Road
We had some vines to visit at Riverbench to see how they were growing. Back in 2014 we watched as they planted a new front block. Still in Santa Barbara County, this does take you into the Santa Maria AVA. You can see below how much these vines have grown since we saw them as babies in 2014.
The front block at Riverbench all grown up (they just turned 3)
Riverbench new vines Waiting to be planted
Riverbench planting new Vines
We continued into the Santa Maria AVA to see how Bien Nacido Vineyard was doing after the Alamo fire. The Whittier fire pulled much of the fire department away and vineyard staff worked very hard to keep the vines at Bien Nacido safe. This is a revered vineyard and you will find it’s name on some of the best labels. We met Chris Hammell their vineyard manager at a Syrah Seminar. While they are known for their Pinot Noir, they are also growing some amazing Syrah. You can hear Chris talk about it here.
Bien Nacido Vineyard Safe from the Alamo Fire
The Beautiful Bien Nacido Vineyards in the Santa Maria Valley
From here we headed back to Los Olivos where you can find the largest selection of Santa Barbara County Tasting rooms within walking distance of each other. After a walk about town we headed to Crawford Family Wines for a tasting. We had met Mark Horvath, owner and winemaker a while ago at a Syrah Seminar at the Spring Vintners Festival and had wanted to get by to taste his wines. His wife Wendy was manning the tasting room and we had a great conversation and tasting with her.
The Tasting Room at Crawford Family Wines
Crawford Family Wines Los Olivos
Tin Roof and all at the Crawford Family Wines Tasting Room in Los Olivos
We stopped at Larner for a tasting and to have lunch out front on the patio in front of the Los Olivos General Store. This sits on the corner of Grand Avenue and Alamo Pintado Avenue by the flagpole in the center of town. You get the view of Andrew Murray’s Tasting Room across the street among others.
The view from lunch with a tasting at Larner Vineyards Tasting Room in Los Olivos
We then finished out the day at the best place to finish your day in Los Olivos, Carhartt’s. It’s just down the block on Grand Ave. They stay open a little later than the other tasting rooms and get pretty busy at the end of the day. They have the tiniest tasting room (you can squish 5 people in if you try really hard, but the back patio here has a bit more space and is heaven. Joe, as always, took great care of us.
Carhartt’s, the “World’s smallest tasting Room”.
The view from the Adirondack Chair in the Carhartt Vineyards patio at the Tasting room.
Sauvignon Blanc on the Carhartt back patio in Los Olivos
As you can see, we had to gloss over most areas. You could easily spend 2 to 3 days or more in each area. We put almost 2000 miles on the Prius, but we tasted a variety of wines and saw an amazing portion of the beautiful state of California. Day 6 was the drive back to Vegas. We soaked in as much of the coast as we could on the drive. But this was just the quick version of the trip. Check back here as we delve into the details on each of the places we visited.
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.
2014 was a big year for Crushed Grape Chronicles. We honed our blogging and filming skills and got an in depth look at one of the most exciting wine regions in California, Santa Barbara County.
Our late 2013 trip to Santa Barbara got us hooked. After visit with John and Christine at Hilliard Bruce and an exceptional morning harvesting pinot noir at Clos Pepe Estate for a sparkling project, we did a tasting with Wes Hagen and got a real look at the fantastic diversity and depth this area has. Oh…and they have quite a few varieties of grapes too.
We returned in April 2014 for the Vintners Spring Weekend. We kicked off the weekend with dinner at Industrial Eats with the Sta. Rita Hills Winegrowers Association. Sta. Rita Hills is known for it’s Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and for it’s exceptional winemakers. If you have not been to Santa Barbara, you may have a vision of this event in your mind of fancy people in suits at some fancy restaurant. This is the glory of Santa Barbara. Industrial Eats is a great restaurant in an Industrial area of Buellton, the city best known for it’s pea soup. Here they source locally, so the menu changes depending on what is fresh and seasonal. We did have uni and oysters…so the food was fancy, but you got to see and speak to the people who were making it. The place is filled with community tables and it’s not very big. The winemakers spoke about their wines in such humble tones. This area is a community and they are happy to welcome you in.
Industrial Eats in Buellton CA
Sta. Rita Hills AVA Dinner
We enjoyed a vineyard walk with Steve Beckman at the Purism Mountain Vineyard in Ballard Canyon. I worked hard to keep up with Steve so I could ask some questions about this beautiful vineyard. We have some great video’s posted as Steve talks about the soil at Purisma Mountain and gives us a little seminar on shoot thinning.
Hiking up Purisima Mountain
A little wine in the vineyard
Beckmen Vineyard Tasting room
At the Grand Tasting we had the opportunity to speak one on one with so many of the amazing winemakers in Santa Barbara.
Spring Vintners Weekend Grand Tasting
Richard Sanford of Alma Rosa at a Grand Tasting on Vintners Spring Weekend
Kathy Joesph, Fiddlehead
Mikael Sigouin, Kaena Winery
Doug Margerum, Margerum Winery
Rick Longoria, Longoria Winery
We had wonderful conversations with Michael Larner of Larner Vineyards and Winery, Christine Bruce of Hilliard Bruce, Kathy Joseph of Fiddlehead, Sonja Magdevski of Casa Dumetz, Richard Sanford of Alma Rosa and Mikael Sigouin of Kaena. Again you are surrounded by some of the most fantastic winemakers in California, but this is all about sharing and community there is no stuffiness here.
Our 4th day had us doing a round about trip around the northern part of Santa Barbara County. We started the day in the Santa Maria valley at Au Bon Climat and Qupe at their twice annual open house, where Jim Clendenen can be seen cooking barbecue. We then drove around the north end of the valley to the Lompoc Wine Ghetto for a barrel tasting at Clos Pepe’s Winery (which is not at the vineyard) and finished our tastings at Fiddlehead being entertained and fed sliders by the fabulous Kathy Joseph. We then took the long way back driving up past the new Evening Star vineyard that Rajat Parr and Sashi Moorman have started on the outside edge of the Sta. Rita Hills and then up to enjoy the view of Fiddlestix vineyard. Dinner found us a Matteis Tavern enjoying a stunning dinner at this historic location.
On our final day we made our way to Presqu’ile up in the Santa Maria Valley. This beautiful winery produces some exceptional wines and blends clean beautiful modern architecture with a warm air of southern hospitality. When we got home we tried a recipe for strawberry, citrus and avocado salad inspired by Ryan in their tasting room to pair with their rose.
Strawberry Avocado Citrus Salad
Presqu’ile Rosé of Pinot Noir
In June of 2014 we were invited back to Santa Barbara for the first ever Key to Wine Country Weekend. This is a weekend filled with special events at many of the wineries designed to give you an inside look at this amazing region.
We were lucky to be able to schedule an interview and vineyard walk with Michael Larner of Larner Vineyards and Winery at his Ballard Canyon Vineyard. We had a great conversation with Michael which can be seen in a series of videos on our site. Michael’s background is in geology so it was fascinating to hear his perspective on the Ballard Canyon soils.
Larner Vineyard Sunset
Michael Larner speaking about the vineyard
Larner Vineyard Syrah
Michael Larner speaking on Syrah.
The General Store on the Larner Property
The Larner Tasting Room in Los Olivos
We began events of the weekend with a vineyard walk at Riverbench Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley, with their vineyard manager Rawley Hermreck. We walked the vineyard, saw the new vines that were about to go in, waxed the top of a bottle of pinot and had a lovely lunch with Rawley and his dog Sadie.
Riverbench Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley shares a little of their history as you enter their tasting room
Hand dipping Pinot Bottle in wax
9000 plus plants
Picnic and Tasting
That evening we attended the 1st annual Larner Winemaker Dinner held at the Ballard Inn and Restaurant. Chef Budi Kazali created beautiful dishes to pair with the Rhone style wines of Larner Vineyards and Michael Larner spoke on each of the wines before each course. It was an amazing evening filled with good food, good wines and great company!
Ballard Inn, Ballard CA
Budi Kazali Chef and Owner of the Ballard Inn
Michael Larner pouring some Rose
Michael Larner speaking on the wines
Larner Wine Dinner Appetizer
Larner Dinner Menu
Saturday morning brought us back to Presqu’ile Vineyards for an Taste through the vineyard event with 4 different winemakers all of whom were sourcing grapes from Presqu’ile. This eclectic group of winemakers from Storm, Luceant Luminesce, Labyrinth and Presqu’ile spoke on their wines and their methods and we were in wine geek heaven. The setting was stunning also on the crush pad of the gravity flow winery at Presqu’ile. There is a 4 part series on this conversation if you want to geek out also!
The Beautiful Presqu’ile Vineyards
Stunning architecture at Presqu’ile
Presqu’ile Wine panel Discussion
Ernst Storm Speaking at Presqu’ile
Presquille Vineyard Tasting Room
Then it was on to Cold Heaven for a Rhone-scent-ual experience. Jars filled with white flours, olives, grapefruit, herbs, chocolate…and then some filled the tables, along with sheets for notes and aroma wheels. Attendees were like kids in a candy store passing jars back and forth and making new scent memories, while tasting some amazing wines.
The Cold Heaven Tasting Room
Rhone Scent-ual Tasting at Cold Heaven
The day wrapped up at Imagine Wines in Santa Ynez, where they pair wine and art. With beautiful sculptures, paintings and photos, live music, great wine, home cooked food and the ever entertaining winemaker Ross Rankin this made for a lovely evening.
Ross Rankin, Imagine Wine Maker
Jim Campbell singing at Imagine Wines
While I had to head back to work, Michael was able to stay for a final event. Buttonwood Farm Winery & Vineyard did a vineyard hike and farm to table lunch. The hike was led by winemaker Karen Steinwachs and lunch followed a salad demonstration by Chef Pascale Beale with recipes from her cookbook “Salade”. All the items used were picked fresh from the gardens at Buttonwood which is a working farm.
Buttonwood Farm inthe Santa Ynez Valley
Buttonwood Farm Winery & Vineyard
Karen Steinwach pouring Zingy
Pascale adding Fruit and Salt
July 2014 found us in Santa Barbara again, this time for WBC14 (Wine Bloggers Conference). This gave us another opportunity to see the area and talk with winemakers here as well as meet other wine bloggers. We had a fantastic evening on a planned Friday night excursion planned by the Santa Barbara Vintners. Various vehicles and buss’s rolled up to the Conference hotel and Bloggers piled in. Then the vehicles set off for mystery locations. Our bus headed out to Sunstone Vineyard and Winery, where Michael Larner greeted us followed shortly by Bion Rice, the wineries President and CEO, in a t-shirt and jeans. Bion gave us a tour of the stunning Villa at Sunstone, which is built from reclaimed materials from villages in Marseille and Provence. We then gathered in the garden to sample wines and speak with winemakers from Larner, Core, Transcendence, Big Tar, and Sunstone. Dinner family style followed and then a question and answer session with the winemakers refereed by non other than Keith Saarloos of Saarloos and Sons. The blog post on this fantastic evening is still to come so keep watching!
Sunstone Winery Viognier
Sunstone Winery Villa
Wine Makers Talk at Sunstone
Wine Dinner Sunstone
We also made a trip to see Bridlewood Winery just outside Happy Canyon where we enjoyed a stroll through the gardens, lunch by the creek and then a panel discussion with a sustainable theme. Moderated by Richard Martin from Food Republic with Bridlewood winemaker Mark Williams, Chris and Johanna Finley of Finley Farms Organic, Stephanie Mutz of Sea Stephanie Fish, Jake O’Francis of Valley Piggery, Jeff Olsson of Industrial Eats. This was an incredible discussion by the people who grow, raise or harvest our foods on their thoughts on sustainability and how they do what they do. There were no easy answers here, but a heartfelt and honest discussion which was interesting and refreshing in such a large corporate winery (Bridlewood is owned by Gallo).
The pond at Bridlewood
The panel discussion at Bridlewood
Bridlewood Concrete Egg
2014 the overview
So all in all, 2014 was a pretty amazing year! I expect that 2015 will see us back in Santa Barbara (there is so much to explore there and more winemakers we would love to have an opportunity to talk with!) as well as exploring some other California regions, so expect more blog posts and videos on wineries and winemakers.
We will also continue our adventure in pairing wines and foods. I am finding that the typical rules for pairing varieties is only the tip of the iceberg. Wines are individual and change as they age, so a pairing is only for the moment and we look forward to more of those. You will see more cooking videos here and on our sister site 4Farm2Mrkt and suggestions on pairings.
We also will probably dabble a little into things other than wine. There is a post coming soon that is about chili and beer pairings. As winemaker will tell you, it takes a lot of good beer to make wine.
And…if you have suggestions, on wineries or regions, restaurants or pairings…let us know!
Santa Maria Valley is the northernmost appellation in Santa Barbara County. The average temperature here is 64 degrees. The area is bounded on the north by the San Rafael Mountains and on the south by the Solomon Hills. They get early bud break here and then a long ripening season with an average of 125 days from bloom to harvest. The maritime fog keeps things cool here from sunset until about 10 am. This AVA boasts Nielson Vineyard, the oldest commercial vineyard in Santa Barbara County that was planted in 1964.
The View from Zaca Mesa when the morning fog clears
The Santa Maria AVA was the 3rd established AVA in the United States. We think of this Santa Barbara region as being so new. But truly AVA’s are new. The Santa Maria Valley AVA was established in September of 1981. To give a little perspective here, the first US AVA was established in June of 1980. (And crazily enough that 1st AVA was in Augusta, Missouri!) If you are like me, you won’t be able to read any further until you know where the 2nd US AVA hailed from…so….I did the research and it is the Napa Valley AVA which was established in February of 1981, just a scant 7 months (or actually 6 and a quarter months) before the Santa Maria Valley AVA. Are you still curious…you can find this info at The Wine Institute (http://www.iwineinstitute.com/avabydate.asp). Feel free to search for AVA establishment dates to your hearts content.
There has been a massive replanting of the Santa Maria vineyards in recent years to varieties that are more suited to the climate and soil. You will find lots of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay here due to the climate, but you will find many vineyards expanding into cool climate Syrah as well as other Rhone varieties.
The Santa Maria AVA encompasses some incredible vineyards like Bien Nacido, Solomon Hills, Julia’s Vineyard and Foxen Estate Vineyard. As to Wineries… here you will find Cambria, Kenneth Volk, Riverbench and Tres Hermanas. Fine wineries such at Alta Maria, Au Bon Climat, Bien Nacido, Byron, Qupe, Solomon Hills and others feature wines from Santa Maria.
Windmill on Saarloos & Son’s Windmill Ranch Vineyard
To fully experience this area I suggest that you start at the Saarloos and Sons Windmill Ranch Vineyard. (Update…okay I made an assumption, because of the windmill, but clearly if you read the sign on the windmill, you will see that this is actually the El Camino Real Vineyard) You can’t miss the landmark windmill if you are driving on the 101. This is just their vineyard, you will have to head back into Los Olivos to do a tasting with them. From here take Zaca Station Road out into the vineyards. First on your drive you will pass Firestone (yes from the tire company). They have a vineyard, winery and a brewing company.
Fess Parker Winery & Vineyard
Further ahead is Fess Parker (yes, Daniel Boone from the TV series) Their winery is out here, but they also have a tasting room and Inn in downtown Los Olivos. A little further on is Zaca Mesa.
The Patio at Zaca Mesa
This place really got things going out here. Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat and Bob Linquist of Qupe both started out working here. The property is lovely especially if you get there early and can watch the marine layer roll through from Vandenberg AFB, and then stay long enough to enjoy the views that it was hiding once it burns off. The wines….I love their Rhones. And on weekends they often have lunch available on the patio. This place is really welcoming and….they have great trees.
Foxen 7600 – the Pinot House
A little further on you will come to Foxen. Now you can go into the Pinot House at 7600. It’s shiny and pretty and nice. But I prefer stopping a little past there at “The Shack” . This is their original tasting room and it is rustic and fabulous. You look out the door onto the hills as you are tasting and often the girls in the tasting room will point out the resident mountain lion who hunts on the ridge. The Shack pours their Bordeaux & Cal-Ital-style wines. at 7600 you will find Pinots, Chardonnays and Rhone Blends.
Riverbench’s tasting room a 1920’s Craftsman style house
Continue north and you will come to the cluster of River Bench, Cambria and Kenneth Volk. I will give a shout out here to Kenneth Volk. I have not been to this tasting room, but did taste at the tasting room with Lone Madrone in Paso Robles.
Kenneth Volk’s old Paso tasting room
He is another wine legend. He was the winemaker at Wild Horse and now has his own winery where he gets to play. He does Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from Santa Maria and Bordeaux varieties from Paso Robles and then… he does Heirloom Wines. This are rare varieties like Malvasia, Trousseau, Negrette, Touriga Nacional, Blaufrankish, Verdelho and Albarino. This is a great place to go and explore varieties you may not have tried before.
Closer to Santa Maria you will find Cottonwood and Presqu’ile. I have tasted at the old Presqu’ile tasting room in Los Olivos and look forward to an opportunity to see their beautiful winery!
Presqu’ile old Los Olivos tasting room
And I know that I have skipped a few in here. What can I say, I have more exploring to do myself. This is a beautiful drive. Start early and revel in the fog!
If you are heading up for the Santa Barbara Vintners Spring Weekend April 10-13 you can stop by Zaca Mesa on Saturday the 12th for a Hike with your Dog & Picnic with their winemaker! In addition Chef John will be offering BBQ Steak Sandwiches all day, so if you are hunger before or after the Grand Tasting…. Also on Saturday night Foxen will hold their Spring Dinner at the Alisal Guest Ranch and Cottonwood Canyon will have a Cook Your Own event. They have the venue the music and the wine, you just bring something to grill and a side to share!
Early morning fog in Foxen Canyon
On Sunday Au Bon Climat & Qupe will have their Semi-Annual Spring Open House with a myriad of wines from Au Bon Climat, Clendenen Family Wines, Qupe, Verdad, Ici La-Bas….and more and a luncheon prepared by Jim Clendenen. Now how can you pass that up! Of course you will need to squeeze this in around the Farm-to-Table Picnic and Concert with Jamestown Revival at the Fess Parker Winery. So much to do….so little time.
Salmon is a glorious fish that can pair with either red or white wine. So tonight we did a taste test and pulled out 2 stunning bottles of wine from Santa Barbara County.
This was also another incredibly quick meal to make! I did an Israeli Cous Cous, an herb green salad and then baked a big fillet of salmon. I searched the web for how to best cook my salmon and found a basic method that I got to add the finishing touches to. First…take your salmon out of the refrigerator 20 minutes before you plan to prepare it, so that it gets closer to room temperature. Next, preheat the oven to 475. Get your baking dish set with a couple tablespoons of butter and a little olive oil and stick it in the oven to preheat. Meanwhile get your herbs ready. I had thyme, lemon thyme and parsley that I coated the salmon with on the non-skin side. Once the butter has melted and the pan is hot, pull it out of the oven and put the fish in skin side up (so herbed side down) and stick it in the oven for about 5 minutes. Then pull it out and peel the skin off. The skin should come off easily, if it doesn’t stick it back in for a minute or two. Once the skin is off, season with salt and pepper and flip it over. Then season your herbed side also and throw it back in for another 3 or 4 minutes. I admit, I saved the skin and toasted it up the rest of the way later and it accompanied the rest of the salmon for lunch today.
Here’s what it looked like right out of the oven.
Now for the wines. I pulled out two wines that I have been wanting to get into. The Chardonnay is a 2010 from Hilliard Bruce. We had the great pleasure to visit them on our last trip to Santa Barbara. This Chardonnay is stunning. It is crisp with great acid, but still has that wonderful yeast on the nose. You get a bit of oakiness in the mouth, but the acid beautifully balances it out. It is aged in 100% French Oak, 30% of which is new and Christine does barrel fermentation with Montrachet yeast with full malolactic fermentation. It is aged on the lees for 16 months.
Hilliard Bruce 2010 Chardonnay
The second wine, our Pinot Noir comes to us from Carhartt Vineyards another of our favorite places in Santa Barbara County. The Carhartt 2012 Pinot Noir is from Riverbench Vineyards in Santa Maria Valley. This is a young bold Pinot Noir and it was suggested to go with grilled planked salmon. Lots of smoke and baking spice on the nose and very savory with lots of depth.
Carhartt 2012 Pinot Noir
So, which paired better? Both were good, but the Chardonnay really knocked it out of the park.. Keep in mind, Carhartt suggested a grilled planked salmon which would have had lots of smoke flavor. Had we prepared the salmon that way I think it would have been the winner. But, as it was the herbs paired beautifully with the Chardonnay, the acid cut through the fat in the salmon and it was amazing bite after bite.
Herb Crusted Salmon, Israeli Cous Cous, Salad, a Chardonnay and a Pinot Noir.