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California Winery Tours


AlliK
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I was wondering if any of the experts here have suggestions for wineries to visit while in the Santa Ynez valley area? We have visited a couple times before (pre-Sideways fame) but tended to choose the wineries based on whoever had the free tasting coupons in the tourist bureau maps :lol: If anyone has any standout winery recommendations, I'll be glad to report back!

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There are a lot of wonderful choices, particularly if you make some appointments. For a start, just walk down Grand Avenue in Los Olivos. Among others, visit Andrew Murray and Epiphany, but definitely stop by the retail shops which pour a lot of the smaller local producers' products. Los Olivos Wine & Spirits Emporium, at the end of town, is the best.

If you like Rhones, stop by Beckmen.

A drive across Hwy. 101 into the Santa Rita Hills area is also worthwhile. It's open countryside, so things are more spread out, but stop by Sanford, Lafond, Melville and Babcock. I think Fiddlehead has opened a tasting room since my last visit, also, but that may be by appointment only.

Except for possibly Fiddlehead, those are all open regular hours. In Santa Rita Hills, see if you can make an appointment at Clos Pepe. There are also a lot of small producers in the Lompoc Wine Ghetto that will probably welcome you with an appointment, although with limited production a lot of what you'll taste there will be barrel samples.

Have a great trip!

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Zaca Mesa is a wonderful place to visit, very beautiful. It's on Foxen Canyon near Los Olivos (very near Fess Parker, too). The Los Olivos Tasting Room is a must-see, those are very nice folks who own and run the place.

I've heard beautiful things about San Luis Obispo (not too far away) but alas, I've not been there. I'd like to visit.

The Los Padres National Forest is gorgeous to drive through, going north from Los Angeles.

Have fun!

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The Los Padres National Forest is gorgeous to drive through, going north from Los Angeles.

I used to drive from the Bay Area to L.A. on I-5 as a rule, and in 2003 had not driven that stretch of Highway 101 in ten years--it used to be all rolling golden hills dotted with green live oak trees--and I was flabbergasted by how much the landscape had been transformed by mile after mile of vineyards. Good wine is a good thing, but it was a little sad that the natural landscape of wilderness had been so diminished.

The coast at San Luis Obispo is beautiful, as is the stretch of coastline along US 1 above it--we used to like to stay just north of SLO at Moonstone Beach in Cambria, which is near San Simeon, where the grotesquely amazing Hearst Castle is located. And then further up US 1, of course are Big Sur, Carmel and Monterey, among the most spectacular places in North America.

Between Santa Ynez and SLO is one of the kitchiest destinations in America, The Madonna Inn, where every room is decorated in a different theme or historical period--including paleolithic cave. A tour of the area could include it all--the bizarre, the breathtakingly beautiful, and plenty of vino.

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Zora, I've got to do that someday.

I drove from Los Olivos to Monterey along PCH and it was truly gorgeous. I wish I'd budgeted the time to visit San Simeon, but I did see it from the road, of course. Can you imagine what it must have looked like around there when Hearst was actually living there? How difficult must it have been to even GET there from L.A. or anywhere else for that matter back then?

I want to say that the drive took me almost 4 and a half hours. It was tough getting behind slow moving campers, that's for sure.

I have got to visit Monterey and Carmel when I can spend more time there. I put the Highlands Inn, in Monterey Highlands, on my short-list of honeymoon destinations. Simply stunning.

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Melville is great, as is the tasting room with Tensley wines in the Los Olivos area. I've also tasted with Wes Hagen at Clos Pepe, and he is a gentleman as he is a passionate grower/winemaker.

I had a great weekend around there, but couldn't overwhelm my wife with wine-related things, if you know what I mean. :lol:

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Los Olivos Wine & Spirits Emporium, at the end of town, is the best.

Unfortunately, Bob Senn, the owner of Los Olivos Wine & Spirits Emporium, passed away last year and it is closed. My parents, who lived in New Jersey, made a stop at the Emporium for at least once a year and were pretty friendly with Bob. It was, I think, the first commercial place that I ever went wine tasting. It was also at a special dinner there that I learned that I didn't really hate mushrooms. In any case, there are still a bunch of great tasting rooms you can check out just walking down the main st. of Los Olivos, but the Emporium and Bob will be missed.

Los Olivos Wine & Spirits Emporium

Wes, from Clos Pepe, is a great guy and their Pinots are excellent.

Edited by Cooter
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I was wondering if any of the experts here have suggestions for wineries to visit while in the Santa Ynez valley area?  We have visited a couple times before (pre-Sideways fame) but tended to choose the wineries based on whoever had the free tasting coupons in the tourist bureau maps :lol:   If anyone has any standout winery recommendations, I'll be glad to report back!

You could try Longoria, Andrew Murray or Gainey. If you want to go south to SB I recommend Jaffurs and Margerum. If you might go north I highly recommend Hunt Cellars in Paso Robles-T.

Edited by tfinigan
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Thank you everyone for the great tips. I remember having been to Gainey before and liking it a lot (both the wine and the beautiful setting), Buttonwood, and Firestone and maybe Zaca Mesa. We have a lot of new ones here to choose from!

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I wish I'd budgeted the time to visit San Simeon, but I did see it from the road, of course.  Can you imagine what it must have looked like around there when Hearst was actually living there?  How difficult must it have been to even GET there from L.A. or anywhere else for that matter back then?

Hearst had a rail line built to transport visitors from Hollywood up for the weekend.

I have got to visit Monterey and Carmel when I can spend more time there.  I put the Highlands Inn, in Monterey Highlands, on my short-list of honeymoon destinations.  Simply stunning.

Put The Ventana Inn in Big Sur on your short-list, too.

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Joe Riley, jpbloom and jamietown have all made great suggestions. Depending on why you want to stop at a winery, there are a couple of others I'd suggest. If you are looking for a chance to taste some great wines, but that are very hard to get and have expensive price tags, I'd suggest Alban, which is by appt. only, Domaine Alfred, Justin, and maybe Brewer-Clifton, also by appt. only.

There are literally dozens and dozens of wineries in that area (Wine Spectator lists 185) so there are lots of places to try. I'd definitely stop by the retail shops which pour a lot of the smaller local producers' products, like jpbloom suggested and maybe try to visit one of the ones that you really liked.

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Between Santa Ynez and SLO is one of the kitchiest destinations in America, The Madonna Inn, where every room is decorated in a different theme or historical period--including paleolithic cave.

The mens' room in the lobby is also nothing to shake a stick at.

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A trip to San Simeon, to break up the winery tour, is just the ticket IMHO. It was there when there were few wineries in the area and is such a unique (if somewhat grotesque) place, that you really shouldn't miss it. Only then will you be able to join in the discussion of whether it should continue to be preserved or not.

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A trip to San Simeon, to break up the winery tour, is just the ticket IMHO.  It was there when there were few wineries in the area and is such a unique (if somewhat grotesque) place, that you really shouldn't miss it.  Only then will you be able to join in the discussion of whether it should continue to be preserved or not.

I used to live in Santa Barbara and can recommend the following five, no-appointment-necessary wineries without reservation:

Melville (for chardonnay and pinot noir);

Blackjack Ranch (often overlooked, but they make some of the very best wines in the area);

Andrew Murray (syrah);

Curtis (next to Firestone; great cost-to-quality ratio); and

Jaffurs (fantastic syrah; in downtown SB).

Beckman has also been turning out some nice Rhone varietals, including their grenache. Longoria makes a good cabernet franc. And Consilience has an excellent petite sirah (though its syrahs are way over the top, IMHO). And I happen to like Sunstone, simply because it was the first winery I ever went to -- and because it's really beautiful. Also, it's right next to Kalyra, which makes some decent dessert wines.

I'd skip Gainey, Firestone (although, if you do go to Curtis, you'll be able to use your tasting glass there, but only head over if you have lots of extra time), and Epiphany.

Some good wine shops in Santa Barbara are Lazy Acres (on the Mesa in SB), East Beach Wine, and the Wine Cask (which has tastings of Doug Margerum's very decent wines, including M5).

Have a great time!

Michael

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I was there in October, and I have to echo all the calls for Melville and Babcock. Hopefully Babcock has its Fathom available since it's fantastic (as was a small batch they called 'naughty little hillsides'), and the stainless-stell Chardonnay from Melville was great.

I also really enjoyed Lafond, both for their pourers and their wine. Foxen was really good too, as was Curtis. Grab lunch in Solvang and eat it over your tasting at Rusack on Ballard Cyn Road, it has a beautiful spot.

Be sure to stop in to the Arthur Earl tasting room in Los Olivos. Great wines, good vibe, and only available at that location.

Places to avoid: Mosby, Fess Parker, and Firestone. The latter two are overly commercial, and Mosby just wasn't good: it had a bad tasting area and a surly pourer who wouldn't open the grappa. Boo!

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Thank you all for the input on this. We only spent one day in the area, so didn't get to too many wineries - but did enjoy visiting Brander, Rusack, and Stolpman. Full disclosure: I'm not a wine expert by any means (hopefully not as flaky as some of the people they get in the WP tasting panels, but definitely not as wine-educated as most of you on this board).

I think Brander gets my gold sticker for tastiest tasting. Their much lauded Sauvignon Blanc was nice (could easily pair with lots of foods), but I actually preferred the Cuvee Natalie which was more of an alsace style (fruitier nose, but still dry). We ended up buying a merlot here though. It was fun to drink something made with grapes that were literally grown about 10 ft from where we were standing...definitely drinking "local." Tasting room staff was very friendly and made recommendations for visiting other places. One that he mentioned that we did not visit was Alma Rosa, a newer place in Buellton - he seemed to think they were "up and coming."

Rusack is a very pretty setting with a porch, outdoor seating, views of the grapes/hills - good place for a picnic As a group, the tasting wasn't quite as interesting to me here as Brander's (probably only partially due to the wine and partially due to a less outgoing pourer), though we did enjoy and purchase a sauv. blanc.

We had Stolpman's tasting room in Solvang to ourselves, and really enjoyed talking with the friendly tasting room/sales manager who had good stories about the valley wine community there, impact of their relatively high Robert Parker ratings (for syrahs I believe), etc. Purchased a syrah here.

I would say that all 3 are worth a visit. The other highlight of our stay was going to the Hitching Post restaurant (featured in Sideways, written up in many other publications). We had driven by on previous trips but decided we needed to check it out, and boy, those were the best steaks we've ever had! The restaurant is funny in that 70s/early80s non-updated sort of way (think, relish tray on the table when you sit down), and the salad that comes with the meal was nothing special. But the grilled artichoke and top sirloin cooked over a wood fire were excellent.

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Amador, El Dorado, etc... Going to be passing through there in June. I've had a few wines from there-- zins and barberas from Boeger and Renwood (Bell's carries quite a few wines from this region)--, but was looking for some good wineries to stop at whose wines I wouldn't be able to get retail. Anyone know much about this region?

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Amador, El Dorado, etc...  Going to be passing through there in June.  I've had a few wines from there-- zins and barberas from Boeger and Renwood (Bell's carries quite a few wines from this region)--, but was looking for some good wineries to stop at whose wines I wouldn't be able to get retail.  Anyone know much about this region?

I was through there 13 years ago. I'd recommend Sierra Vista. I'm sure I'll think of some others, but many that I can think of are available in our market. Drop me an email or give me a call and I'll see what I can come up with.

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I've been there a number of times, most recently about 1 1/2 years ago. I'm not sure why you want to avoid places whose wines you can get locally, though, since they have low production wines you won't be able to find here. In that category, I would definitely recommend Domaine de la Terre Rouge and Karly, near Plymouth. The Steiner Road loop there has several excellent wineries. For something not distributed here, visit Dillian (just across the road from Renwood, which I personally wouldn't bother with - too big and commercial).

Up near Placerville, near Boeger, I would visit Lava Cap and Madrona in addition to Sierra Vista. Enjoy!

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I'm celebrating my graduation from law school with a trip to San Francisco, Napa and Sonoma next week. I've got some great meals plotted out, but haven't had a chance to focus in on which wineries to visit. Please help!

If you were spending one day in Napa Valley and another in Sonoma, and you had never been to either before, what wineries would you visit?

Thanks!

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I'm celebrating my graduation from law school with a trip to San Francisco, Napa and Sonoma next week. I've got some great meals plotted out, but haven't had a chance to focus in on which wineries to visit. Please help!

If you were spending one day in Napa Valley and another in Sonoma, and you had never been to either before, what wineries would you visit?

Thanks!

This thread on Napa has some recommendations.

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