Tag Archives: Santa Barbara

Path of Oaks

This past weekend I took another trip to explore this friggin’ huge state. A friend did the drive up, so I was free to shoot from the window. It was 90 percent garbage, predictably, but there were some nice coastal shots, and views of the rolling hills inland. Carpenteria/Montecito/Santa Barbara were very pretty on the drive up, and the sky was clear (last few trips have been foggy or overcast) so you could see the channel islands and the offshore oil rigs. Hooray for oil rigs.
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When we arrived in Paso Robles it was too late to go to any vineyards, but we checked in to the hotel and then wandered around the streets downtown. Dinner was at Il Cortile –a well reviewed Italian restaurant in the downtown area. The food was outstanding. I think I’ve only had wild boar once or twice, but this wild boar ragu is now my favorite way to eat wild boar, ever. No pictures, because I’m not some hapless twit on Yelp.

The next day was Eberle, which was near the hotel. They really like boars at Eberle, and had not one, but two metal sculptures featuring boars. Their wines were pretty astounding considering the price, and several were done in the Rhone style, or featuring Rhone varietals like syrah, grenache, mourvedre, etc. There’s an interesting site on the Rhone/Paso connection here: http://www.rhonerangers.org/

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The next stop was Robert Hall, which had some pretty stunning grounds, even with the barren vines. I’ve had Robert Hall before, the cabernet sauvingon is pretty ubiquitous in stores, but this was the first time I tried their Rhone blends, and their viognier (bought a bottle of crisp, dry viognier).
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After lunch, the next stop was really, really, really, far –Tablas Creek. The tour of the vineyard was also painfully boring, and the middle-aged couple on the trip were very irritating. Each question launched the guide in to a rambling, meandering telling of some trivial bit of info that could have been expressed in a sentence or two. The upside was that I got to see how they graft American root stock on to the Vineferea clones from France.
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Three wine tastings is usually my limit because you just can’t taste the differences in the wine afterward. My friend wanted to go to one more though, Villa Creek. Which make wines that are completely not my style. Those are high alcohol, high fruit wines that really beat you over the head. They lacked any of the refinement or subtlety of the other wines.
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Dinner that night was at Artisan. The place was more New-American and the menu had some really intriguing options. The gouda and porter fondue with andouille, broccolini, and crostini was a great appetizer that I split. Then, for whatever reason, I had pasta for the second evening in a row, but this time with some very tender rabbit, and a rabbit sausage. The food in this town does not disappoint.

The next day was J. Lohr, which is conveniently located on Airport Rd. just a short drive from the Paso Robles Juvenielle Hall and the ancient municipal airport. It was so scenic I didn’t want to ruin it with a picture… J. Lohr’s 08 Petite Sirah was great, but their 07 wasn’t nearly as good. The 07 had cabernet in the mix, while the 08 used grenache in the mix. The grenache really rounded out the wine, while the cabernet didn’t seem to help at all.

Lone Madrone had a quirky tasting room on the 46 in a psuedo-folksy-farmhouse style. It even had two goats, three chickens, a rabbit, and two small dogs. The lady in the tasting room informed us that Tablas Creek and Lone Madrone shared the same winemaker. Tablas Creek was where the winemaker worked to satisfy his bosses seeking truly French-style wine, and Lone Madrone was his private vineyard that left him free to experiment. Having tasted at both wineries, it seemed that the wines at Lone Madrone offered a freer expression. Mixing and matching all kinds of things –like “Barfendel” a mix of Barbera and Zinfandel grapes. The personality of these wines was more New World/Californian, but without any of the negatives of Villa Creek. When oak was used, it was used sparingly, and it was neutral (new oak gives CA chardonnay it’s uhh… distinct… flavor. As the oak is used more and more, it becomes neutral and has a subtle effect on the wine.)

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Continuing on 46, we stopped at Linne Calodo. Which was well reviewed, but ended up being a little disappointing. The wines were more like Villa Creek, with that inky, strong fuit and alcohol combination. The tasting room was nice though. Then it was back on 46.
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The sleepy, seaside town of Cambria would be the final stop, for lunch.
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The rest of the photos are in this Flickr set.

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Santa Barbara Weekend

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.

The full Flickr set is here.