Ballard Canyon, near Solvang, is a bucollic wine country drive. photos by Michael Cervin.
Santa Barbara Wine Country:
Move Over Napa and Sonoma!
Below is an excerpt from Michael Cervin’s Moon travel guide, Santa
Barbara & The Central Coast, available nationwide. Michael’s second
national travel book also published by Moon, California Wine Country will be released in May, 2011.
The heart of Santa Barbara’s wine country is comprised of the towns of
Santa Ynez, Los Olivos, Solvang and Santa Maria, though these small
farming communities. But underneath the small farming community town
charm is a big equestrian history, rustic Western lifestyle, and even
prohibition-era ideals and temperance movements, ironic for the now
thriving wine industry.
Though Solvang started in 1911 as a Danish retreat from its native
homeland, it’s still ripe with its Scandinavian heritage and a new
modern sensibility. Solvang decided to seal its fate by keeping a
focus on Danish architecture, food, and style, which still holds an
allure 50 years after its conception. An easily walkable town, Solvang
is home to Mission Santa Ines, bakeries, miles of rolling paved roads
for casual and hardcore cyclists, and about 12 wine tasting rooms.
Presidio Winery (1306 Copenhagen Dr., 805/693-8585, www.presidiowinery.com
) is certified as a biodynamic winery: a step
beyond organic, and employs a closed-loop farm system. Farming is done
to insure non-intrusive outside elements don’t interfere with the
land. Doug Braun’s wines are quite good and his style of winemaking is
restrained. Chardonnay, pinot noir, syrah and late harvest wines are
what you’ll find here.
Hadsten House Restaurant (1450 Mission Dr., 805/688-3210, www.hadstenhouse.com
) entered the dining scene just a few years ago
but immediately elevated the local culinary perspective. Dark and
moody inside, a central fireplace creates a hip urban environment,
more metropolitan than rural. The short ribs have a demi-glaze that
will set your mind reeling and the warm spinach salad is perfectly
balanced. Or go for the Hadsten burger which is piled with everything
on it including an egg.
The bottles, boards and beaches of Santa Barbara wine country.
Santa Ynez is a small town, very small. There are only two hotels, not
including the Chumash Casino resort which is technically in Solvang.
One of the reasons people stay in Santa Ynez is that it makes a good
base from which to explore and it’s ultra quiet.
If you don’t want
lots of people around you in the mornings or at night, it’s ideal. You
can walk the length of the town in about 10 minutes.
Santa Ynez Wine:
Imagine Wines (3563 Numancia St.,
, tasting fee $10) is the only tasting room to
still reside within town and is manned solely by the owners. The light
wood toned interior has a classic Victorian feel and the room is
spacious with lots of light. You’ll get six tasting samples to ponder
including viognier and chardonnay on the white side, and syrah,
zinfandel, pinot noir and merlot on the red side. They are an easy
walk from anywhere in town and the space doubles as an art gallery.
Santa Ynez Food:
The Vineyard House (3631 Sagunto, 805/688-2886,www.thevineyardhouse.com
) is a 1907 residence converted to a
restaurant. Creative flavorful food comes out of this kitchen on a
regular basis. The baked brie is always a treat, as is the crispy
buttermilk chicken and a hearty, thick venison verde chili. They make
their own soups and salad dressings as well as desserts like the
eternally decadent and gooey molton chocolate cake. The interior is
homey and intimate but the prime seating on nice days is the deck
overlooking town where the pepper trees hang languidly over your
Los Olivos has always been a laid back farming community, unaffected
by time. The central flagpole, sitting boldly on Grand Avenue, is the
de facto rallying point for wine tasters, since there are still no
stoplights. Within a two block radius of the flagpole, there are over
a dozen tasting rooms, half a dozen excellent restaurants and art
galleries. Unpretentious and simple, it’s a perfect one-day getaway.
Los Olivos Wine: Beckmen Vineyards (2670 Ontiveros Rd., 805/688-8664) You’ll need to
drive to the winery as it’s in the middle of private residences. The
tasting room is small, but there are picnic areas overlooking their
pond. Their wines are biodynamically farmed and include sauvignon
blanc, cabernet sauvignon, marsanne, a killer grenache and a variety
of syrahs. They also make an excellent rosé.
Los Olivos Food: The Ballard Inn (2436 Baseline, 805/688-7770) There are only a dozen
tables in this intimate space and on busy nights and most any weekend,
it can get loud. The menu rotates often due to the freshness of the
ingredients that owner Budi Kazali can find. The vegetables come from
local farms, the seafood from Santa Barbara. On any given night you
might find crispy barramundi, truffled cauliflower soup or a beef
dish. Whatever is presented on the small menu however will be artfully
prepared and exceptionally good.
Santa Maria is the workhorse of the agricultural area within Santa
Barbara County and you’ll see fields and vineyards on both sides of
the freeway. But Santa Maria also has a strong Western history, not to
mention the now famous Santa Maria tri-tip barbeque.
Solstice Parade in Santa Barbara
Though built up
with housing, there are plenty of wineries to visit not to mention
Vandenberg Air Force Base where you can watch missiles and rockets
and the single best mission on the Central Coast, Mission La Purisima.
Santa Maria Wine: Kenneth Volk Vineyards (5230 Tepusquet Rd., 805/938-7896, www.volkwines.com). In 1981 Ken established Wild Horse Winery &
Vineyard in Templeton. Over the next two decades, production soared
from 600 to 150,000 cases.
In 2003, he sold Wild Horse and in 2004 he
formed Kenneth Volk Vineyards in Santa Maria. In addition to the
standard offerings, Ken makes roussanne, viognier, pinot grigio,
chardonnay and many other wines that are called heirloom varieties,
funky, wonderful oddball wines like cabernet pfeffer, negrette and
Santa Maria Food: Far Western Tavern (899 Guadalupe St., Guadalupe, 805/343-2211,
www.farwesterntavern.com) on the outskirts of Santa Maria is one of
those places where it hasn’t changed since it was built as the Palace
Hotel in 1912. Modern restaurants can only try and emulate the
authenticity of this very cool place. Old leather booths, animal heads
on the walls including a massive bull moose, red velvet wall paper,
and animal hides acting as drapes, this is classic old school steak
dining. They grill their meats over red oak, which lends a beautiful
smokiness to them. Best known for a 14 ounce bull’s eyes steak, this
is a great throwback to a Western dining feel.
Santa Barbara Wine Country – The Back Story
The first documented viticulture in California dates from 1779 at
Mission San Gabriel in Southern California. The Mission Santa Barbara
padres established a vineyard and winery sometime between 1824 and
1834 and the day to day tasks of harvesting the grapes, and producing
the wine fell to Chumash Indians.
By 1845, the vineyard contained more
than 2,200 vines and there was a 100 tree fruit orchard. But wine
production was not limited to the missions. About 1820 San Antonio
winery was built in what is now Goleta, just north of the City of
Santa Barbara. Another commercial winery, Packard Winery was built in
1865, and in the late 1890s about 200 acres of grapes were being
turned into wine on Santa Cruz Island.
When the first commercial grapevine plantings were made in Santa
Barbara in the 1960s grape growers planted anything and everything.
Currently there are 64 different varieties of grapes planted
throughout the county on 21,000 acres. Pinot noir and chardonnay are
the most widely planted varieties. There are warmer pockets, like
Happy Canyon, which can produce cabernet sauvignon and sauvignon
There are cool growing regions like the Santa Rita Hills which
benefit from proximity to the coast, and both cool and warm climate
plantings of syrah and chardonnay. Every winery is doing something
different and it is this attitude of trying everything that is part of
its success. It also doesn’t hurt that the valley is a beautiful place
to spend time in.
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