I just love wine – I love learning about and especially drinking wine! So when our good friend Cheryl moved out to California to work in a winery, of course we were going to go visit her! Duh!
We decided to break the trip up into two parts – Santa Ynez and Edna Valley for four nights, and Paso Robles for four nights. In this post I will just discuss the Santa Ynez and Edna Valley wineries we visited.
I didn’t really know very much about Santa Barbara County Wine Country before going on this trip. Where should we stay? What wineries should we visit? Luckily I found a great blog post by Carpe Travel that helped a lot! We pretty much followed their itinerary for visiting wineries and picking up picnic lunches, and it worked out really well!
So where to stay? I really had no idea, but we had free nights at Marriott properties to use, so we chose the Santa Ynez Valley Marriott in Buellton. Fun Fact – Buellton is the setting for one of my favorite wine movies – Sideways! I had not seen the movie for years, and so of course we watched it again before embarking on our trip.
One thing we did a couple of weeks prior to our trip was sit down and make an itinerary of where we wanted to visit – I would suggest 2 to 3 wineries per day. Then I went online and made reservations, planning out how long it would take us to get from one winery to another, and giving us at least one to one and a half hours for a tasting. We also researched what places allow you to bring in your own food.
We flew in to San Luis Obispo and then drove south about an hour and a half to Buellton. It was a really nice drive, and we stopped at Woody’s Butcher Block in Santa Maria for a sandwich – highly recommend! Very friendly service and delicious food.
Before our trip we were consulting with Cheryl and her co-workers in Paso Robles where we should go in the Santa Ynez Valley. They had a few suggestions, and in fact a wine maker from Buellton had just stopped by their winery in Paso Robles that week. She knew nothing about him or his wine, but suggested we stop in since it was located in Buellton. And that is how we made it to Imagine Wines – our first stop on our wine country vacation.
We met Ross at the tasting room for Imagine Wines, which is located in what looks like an industrial area of Buellton, but there were other tasting rooms and restaurants in the area. Ross is the owner and winemaker for Imagine Wines, and he had recently visited Paso Robles because his daughter had purchased some land up there and was going to start growing grapes. We had fun talking to Ross – he has lots of stories! A young lady named Camille visiting from the Los Angeles joined us later – she was attending a Sideways-themed bachelorette party. The four of us chatted and drank some of Ross’s wine. Ross purchases the grapes for his wines, and my understanding is that he takes more of a “winemaker influence” approach to his wines. This makes sense to me since he is not actually growing the grapes. I would recommend going here if you are going to be in Buellton, especially if it is your first stop. We had fun! But the visit really helped me to understand what an important role the quality of the grapes and how they are grown is to the winemaking process. I always understood, but now I had an experience that was fresh in my mind.
We ate at Industrial Eats for dinner – basically across the street from Imagine Wines. It was delicious!
On to our first full day of wine! We picked up our picnic lunch at New Frontiers Natural Marketplace located in Solvang. This place was awesome!! All you have to do is place your order online the night before. The we drove up to Foxen Vineyard and Winery, which had been recommended by Cheryl and her co-workers. Such a contrast to Imagine Wines! They really want the grapes to be the star of the wine, with very little winemaker influence. Their wines are delicious, and we really enjoyed our time there.
After lunch we had an appointment at Pence Vineyards and Winery. I am so glad we decided to come here! This winery ended up being one of my favorite stops on our whole trip. Josh was our host, and he did a great job explaining the farming methods they use at Pence. Again, they let they grapes shine. Their Chardonnays are some of the best I have ever had! Another favorite was the PTG – PasseToutGrains – which is a blend of Gamay and Pinot Noir. After our tasting Tim and I walked around the property, and it is just beautiful. I highly recommend visiting Pence – you will not be sorry!
Dinner that night was at The Hitching Post II, which is featured prominently in the movie Sideways. It was good! The bar looks exactly the same as it did in the movie.
The next day, which was a Saturday, we decided to head up to Edna Valley, which is about an hour north, close to San Luis Obispo. We picked up lunch again at New Frontiers Natural Marketplace and then headed up to Chamisal Vineyards. I had heard of Chamisal Vineyards before, and our favorite wine store carried their Chardonnay for a long time. It was a beautiful day but extremely windy. They used little magnets to keep the menus from flying away, and the wind was so strong it lifted the menu and the magnet, which went flying and slapped Tim in the head!
The wine here was delicious! I would have probably joined their wine club, but didn’t for two reasons: (1) some of their wines are available at retail outlets (2) we were running out of time since our host Will (who was probably the most knowledgable person there) kept being pulled away by one of Chamisal’s new wine club members who was sitting at the table next to ours. That person also had a “tasting room host”, but he wanted to talk to ours. And we found out that person belonged to 23 wine clubs – who does that?? 😀 We were there close to two hours and had another appointment that luckily was very close to Chamisal.
On to Kynsi Winery – I think it was only 10 minutes away maybe? Nevertheless I hate to be late anywhere. This was a really cute, pet-friendly winery. The wines were very good, and we ate our picnic lunch here. Luckily we were a sheltered from the wind, and we had a very enjoyable visit.
The last winery we visited was called Center of Effort. It is located literally across the road from Kynsi Winery, but in look and feel they are miles apart. Where Kynsi was cute and quaint, Center of Effort is opulent and sophisticated. They both make wonderful wines, and it is really up to each person what kind of vibe they prefer. I liked them both!
The next day (Sunday) we visited wineries closer to our hotel in Buellton. Our first stop was at Brave & Maiden Estate, and I am so glad we decided to come here! We arrived a little early, and waited for our tasting room host to greet us outside. The experience was amazing! The location is beautiful, and their tasting room reminded me of a friend’s home (if they were really rich and had impeccable taste). We were seated in a very comfortable room, and the wines were all ready poured and ready to be discussed and tasted. Our tasting room host was Chris, and he was very friendly and knowledgable. Many vineyards in the area took out their Merlot vines due to the movie Sideways. Lucky for us Brave & Maiden did not. We had a delicious Merlot there, as well as their Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet. I loved it so much we joined their wine club! Their wines are only available at the estate, and possibly a few lucky restaurants in California.
Our next stop was to pick up lunch at The Lucky Hen Larder in Santa Ynez. Yum!
Just a few miles down the road is Gainey Vineyards, our next stop. We decided to share a tasting here. It is a completely different experience from Brave & Maiden Estates. It is a much more casual atmosphere, and the tasting room host brings your wine in small carafes. I honestly can’t remember the number of wines we tasted – probably five or six? It was hard to keep track because they bring them all at once, and also talk about each of them, then leave you to do the tasting. It reminds a little bit of a “fast-casual” restaurant experience. I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy the wines, but I would have probably enjoyed them more if I had a personalized experience. That all being said, they are able to accommodate a lot more people than Brave & Maiden.
We left Gainey and then headed to Sunstone Winery. This place is really cute! We sat outside and enjoyed the beautiful weather and wines. Our host was Andre, and we found out later he is also the cellar master at Flying Goat Cellars, and pours at Sunstone on the weekends. He was very knowledgable (of course!) and really took us through some great wines. He brought us a couple of “off the tasting menu” wines to taste as well. It was an excellent afternoon, and a great place to have a picnic lunch.
The next morning we took off for Morro Bay to see Cheryl – stay tuned! Cheers!