BUELLTON, CA. – Day one of exploring Santa Barbara wine country was more than satisfying. I’m here for my first Wine Blogger’s Conference, the biggest annual gathering of wine writers in the country.
Nearly 300 participants are registered to hear speakers and swill a whole lot of fermented grape juice – a lot!
So here is a quick overview about this little part of California after just one full day.
This little town is clearly the gateway to wine country after you come off Hwy 101 along the Pacific from Santa Barbara. The town is not quite 5,000 people and mostly known for Anderson’s Pea Soup restaurant and as the location for the movie Sideways.
Beyond that, it seems to be a collection of small motels built in the 1950s which now apparently house much of the latino work force – at least based on an early morning walk/jog.
The surrounding small towns of Lompoc, Solvang, and Los Olivos – among several others – bring the tourists in to taste, taste, and taste.
If Buellton has an active attraction, it’s the Hitching Post Restaurant on the side of town – made famous, again, by the movie. By some odd stroke of coincidence, a Hoosier friend is in the vicinity and we’re working on doing dinner there Saturday night.
So arriving early Wednesday gave me a chance to explore Thursday. After considerable consultation, I headed to Los Olivos via Solvang. $3
Solvang was fun – if not overwhelmingly – touristy. The entire village appears to have been plopped down along the Central Coast and now features plenty of Danish bakeries, gift shops, restaurants and lots of lots of not-so-Danish tasting rooms.
I made the obligatory Danish purchase, and walked around a bit watching tourists take selfies in front of several windmills. I had a couple of recommended wine stops but being a bit too independent, I decided to stop right along main street and sample Roblar wines.
The two delightful tasting room ladies were great. The $40 Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir was very light on the palate, a nice finish but not quite enough fruit for my palate. The biggest seller from the downtown tasting room is a Santa Ynez $35 bottle of Syrah – certainly in a lighter style but tasty.
My favorite glass was the 2011 Grassetto blend of 50-50 Cab and Sangiovese. The $35 wine had a great spicy finish, pair well with food, or even work as a sipper for those who like a little bit bigger wines.
If Solvang was for the family and touristy as Disney, Los Olivos is touristy for wine geeks. This little town – in the heart of Sideways country – has nearly 40 tasting rooms, a few restaurants and not much else.
Through the magic of social media, I connected with the owner/winemaker of Tercero wines who invited me stop by his tasting spot. James, the very affable tasting room manager, was charming, funny, and knowledable.
I really liked the 2012, $25 Grenache Blanc, 2013, $20, Mourvedre Rose, and $30 Verbiage – a Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre blend – but just don’t call it a GSM. (That’s the words of James who said ‘that’s just lazy!”)
But the big winner for me was the (unlisted on the tasting sheet) Rousanne. I’ve tasted a; few California Rousanne wines and several from its native French Rhone regions. I’ve never tasted a better Rousanne for its understated richness and balance. This $25 bottle of wine was my best taste of the day.
James insisted I visit Alta Maria Vineyards before I leave town, so who was I to argue after that dynamite line up.
I had several recommendations for the same lunch spot – Sides Hardware and Shoes. And with a name like that, it HAS to be good! (… with apologies to Smuckers, of course).
I had the Hammered Pig Salad – a fried pork tenderloin with arugula, pecans, strawberries, parmesan, and lemon garlic dressing. I cleaned my plate like a good boy with an accompanying glass of Beckman Rose’ of Grenache.
That final stop was Alta Maria Vineyards, with Stephanie! The $28 Santa Maria Valley Chardonnay was really delightful. I credited the 20 percent neutral oak for the Chalbis-like characteristics though the malolactic fermentation is always a bit much for my palate.
A new blogger friend from L.A. and I tasted through all of the five Pinot Noirs and thought most were excellent to outstanding. A highlight was the 2012 Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot for $52. The vines from one of California’s most famous vineyards date back to 1973.
These were all outstanding Pinots which would only get better with age. They all needed sometime down before consumption, but were outstanding.
Before we left, our new friend Stephanie pulled out a bottle of stunning Rose’ of Pinot. Only a few cases remain and I could see why.
The Rose was quite simply the best domestic Rose’ I’ve ever tasted. At $25, it kicked many of my favorite Provence wine’s butt!
Not a bad way to start a week and a half of great wine.