Napa and Sonoma get all the glory, but Santa Barbara and the Central Coast provide a quieter, more intimate luxury wine country experience.
Central Coast wines made a big splash thanks to the movie Sideways. While Pinot Noir put this area on the oenophile map, many other varietals grow well here.
My first afternoon in the area I decide to spend the afternoon on the Santa Ynez Wine Trail starting at Sunstone, a property that looks like a bit of Tuscany, but the limestone that built it actually came from a small village in France and the wooden beams and roof tiles came from a lavender factory once owned by Queen Victoria. The wines are made from organic grapes and I’m surprised at some of my favorites like the 2013 Grenache Blanc and the Rose.
From a Tuscan villa built with French stone to a French looking country home owned by a Swede, Brander wines is my other favorite in the area. The label is known for its Sauvignon Blanc and the first we taste, sourced from Brander’s estate vineyard in Los Olivos, is the first time I have sniffed “cat pee”, er I mean, “gooseberry” in a Sauvignon Blanc. I say that to my friends who couldn’t believe I came up with that until I Google it and show them how common a smell it is. Nose withstanding, the wine tastes good and the 2014 is the 38th consecutive vintage for this wine, so clearly lots of people like, ahem, gooseberry. Being a red wine girl, I like the F/Red, a smooth blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Shiraz.
The nearby town of Los Olivos is so charming one almost feels like it’s a movie set. There are plenty of tasting rooms here including Saarloos & Sons, which does a wine and cupcake paring. Red velvet and Pinot anyone? Continue walking down Grand Street and you can imbibe at Carhartt Vineyards, Quoe Tasting Room and Artiste Winery and Alta Maria Vineyards. The town also has plenty of art galleries and boutiques to break up the drinking.
But I’m here for lunch with a girlfriend who works in town and she expertly guides us to the Zagat-rated Petros in the rustically luxurious Fess Parker Wine Country Inn & Spa. The weather was cool enough to sit by the roaring fire and enjoy a big bowl of Avgolemono soup and great conversation.
Speaking of towns out of a movie, the nearby Solvang is even more so. Settled by a group of Danes looking to escape cold Midwest winters (smart Danes), Solvang literally means, “sunny field”. Over 100 years later the town still screams Denmark from the architecture, from Danish pastry shops to a copy of the famous Little Mermaid statue. Naturally there is a windmill on the main drag. As I wander around poking into places like the independent Book Loft and Hans Christen Anderson Museum, I’m stunned by the amount of Asian tourists. My girlfriend tells me that Solvang is especially popular in China and that the town is a major tourist attraction. She wasn’t kidding; a quick check proved that it gets over one million tourists a year, making it a major attraction in the state. One can even buy lederhosen if one is so inclined.
I’m more inclined to try more wine and there are many tasting rooms in town to do it at, from the reds at Dascomb Cellars to whites at Presido Winery. Each winery seems to try and pair its wines with aebleskiver, a traditional apple filled popover. Personally, I think the pairing is champagne. But then again can one ever go wrong with bubbles?
Make sure to buy a few bottles of your favorites to enjoy back at your rental house at the Santa Barbara Beach Club. The property’s walk-in wine cellar is the perfect place to store it while you’re enjoying the beautiful Central California coast.
About The Author: Dena Roché is the creator of The Travel Diet, a wellness plan that uses travel to whittle your waist, nourish your spirit and feed your mind.