I never really seem to have the time to do casual weekend trips around the Los Angeles area. This past weekend, a friend and I packed up for a trip up the 101 to Santa Barbara/Santa Ynez Valley wine country. It’s like Napa, but not as well known, and everything is much more spread out. The first stop was Lompoc, CA. A dusty little town, with a quiet main street. There was a winery by the airport, Pali. My friend recognized the name from labels he had seen before. Interestingly, the grapes they used came from all over. Instead of being a purely regional affair, they blended grapes from all up and down the coast in to unique pinot noir and syrah blends. Palmina’s tasting room was the next stop. Apparently many of the wineries have selected to cluster their tasting rooms in an industrial complex near Route 246 and Route 1. It’s locally referred to, lovingly, as “The Wine Ghetto”. Palmina was the only one we stepped in to though. The tasting room was dressed up like a stereotypical “Old World” Italian restaurant. The wines they produce are all Italian varietals that they grow in Santa Barbara County. They were all rather unique tasting –more than Californian grown French varietals. The last winery for the day was Melville, on Route 246, on the way from Lompoc to Solvang. I have tasted Melville’s pinot noir in the past, and really enjoyed it, so I was excited to see what the other varietals were like. Oddly enough, I ended up enjoying their viognier the most. Soft, but still dry, and very floral. The pictures started in Melville (Lompoc really isn’t that scenic).
Then it was on to Solvang. Solvang is a Danish-styled town that was really developed as a tourist attraction after World War II. The area is charming, but kitschy. Windmills, and fake building facades abound. It is pleasant enough to walk through, and I got to have my very first abelskiver with raspberry sauce and powdered sugar. The local high-end restaurant, Root 246, by Chef Bradley Ogden is also a real treat and the staff couldn’t be nicer.
Sunday was the last day of the trip, and the stop was Los Olivos. I was really expecting a tiny, dusty town –much like Lompoc– but I was very blown away by the charm of Los Olivos. It’s the smallest town, but hands down the best cared for town. The center of town is peppered with cafes and wine tasting rooms –and of course, olive oil tasting rooms. I eschewed the in town tastings and opted to go for vineyard trips. The first was Fess Parker on Foxen Canyon Road. Fess Parker’s grounds are beautiful, and the tasting room is very modern, but I really didn’t enjoy their wine as much as I had expected. It felt very similar to my trip to Mondavi in Napa Valley. Both have very pleasant staff, and both are beautiful facilities, but the wine… it just wasn’t quite up to what I felt they were charging for it. Wine Advocate rates Fess Parker’s wines very highly, but my friend and I both agreed that we preferred the other vineyards’ offerings, particularly Melville.
Brander was the last stop. I’ve had their sauvingon blanc before, but never tasted their other offerings. Their other whites are quite good, but the only red I cared for was Bouchet, their Bordeaux-style red (50% cabernet sauvingon, 40% cabernet franc, 10% syrah).
The last stop was at the beach in Santa Barbara, it was very windy. The wind actually helped me track the sea gulls because they were moving very slowly against the wind.