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Feb 22, 2010 07:23 AM

Central Coast Winery Advice

This next weekend I will be heading to the Santa Ynez Valley for a short wine vacation. I will be staying in Los Olivos the for two nights, then renting a vacation home about 15 minutes out of Los Olivos for another three nights, then off to Solvang for a day before heading back.

I have scoured the boards for winery and restaurant recommendations, and I just wanted to post my tentative itinerary to see if there are any red flags or must-see places I have missed.

Here are my tentative day trips:

(Sat) Los Olivos tasting rooms: Andrew Murray, Daniel Gehrs, Stolpman, Carhartt (other suggestions??)
(Sun) Rusack, Rideau, Blackjack and Beckmen (possibly LinCourt).
(Mon) Alma Rosa, Lafond then to Lompoc Ghetto (Fiddlehead) and Babcock, Melville, and Foley on way back. (maybe too much for one day)
(Tue) Outside Los Olivos: Foxen, Zaca Mesa and Rancho Sisquoc (possibly Curtis and Koehler)
(Wed) May go North towards SLO and hit (Claiborne & Churchill, Talley and Wolf)
(Thur) Around Solvang: Kalyra and Trio (any other recommendations in this area??)

Thanks in advance for any tips.


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  1. Your Monday may indeed be a bit ambitious. I think you'd be lucky to make it to one of the wineries on your way back from the Ghetto, especially if you want to try to hit Palmina (near Fiddlehead) or Ampelos/Dragonette (down the street in another industrial ghetto in Lompoc).

    You may want to consider the Cold Heaven tasting room in Buellton (great Viognier) as well as the Ken Brown tasting room at the Terravant Wine facility, also in Buellton. They might be a nice addition to your Solvang day. But I believe you will need to call for appointments. There is also a fairly new tapas wine bar called Avant that opened up last year at Terravant, which could be a nice way to wrap up the day.

    In Los Olivos you have a bunch of options on the main drag, as well as the Bench around the corner near Patrick's. That can take you pretty much the whole day, or you can start at at one of the Foxen Canyon wineries not too far out and end up in Los Olivos, which will give you a little more variety. The Bridlewood property is nice, as is Fess Parker.

    It's a ways out there and the road is pretty nerve wracking, but Demetria has some wonderful wines. They hold the tastings in the kitchen of the facility, it's very intimate. It is on the property where Andrew Murray used to be located.

    If you want a memorable meal in an out of the way spot, try Cold Spring Tavern off the San Marcos Pass. Brothers at Mattei's Tavern, Trattoria Grappolo, Root 246, Hitching Post and Ballard Store are other good options. If you are out towards Santa Maria you might want to try Chef Rick's. I've sampled their food at the wine festivals but have yet to try the restaurant. It is well reviewed, though.

    You have a great itinerary, I'm sure you will have a wonderful vacation. Just remember to pace yourself and be super careful if you are driving. The cops are all over the place.

    7 Replies
    1. re: Juji

      Thanks for the reply. I thought that the loop was a bit too ambitious for that day, and the restaurant recs are also appreciated. Wine first, food second.

      Demetria intrigues me now, so I think I will look into that.


      1. re: smkit

        Hi! We loved our meal at the Los Olivos Cafe, the Lamb Shank is excellent there, pair it with a glass of Bernat Syrah, the owner makes it himself. The "chocolate scream" for dessert is great. There is a wall of wines there that is cool to look at while you wait for your food to arrive. We enjoyed our tasting experiences at Gainey Vineyards, Arthur Earl and Andrew Muray in this area. The Syrah is amazing in this area, enjoy your trip! :)

        1. re: syrahgirl

          I love lamb, so I will definitely try out the lamb shank at the Los Olivos Cafe.

          I just found out that the rental we are staying at is right in the middle of three vineyards: Roblar, Bridlewood, and Brander.

          Does anyone have experience with any of these? Apparently, they are minutes away.

          1. re: smkit

            Brander is a great place to have a picnic. They have some of the best Sav Blanc in the area, very good Merlot and decent Cab.

            Bridlewood has a nice Syrah- it is a former breeding farm- used to be called Mandysland- for the family dog. Another great picnic spot.

            Roblar has a beauftiful building- and weak wine. In what has to be the strangest winemaking decision EVER- they have a large supply of barrels stacked outside their barrel room- in full sun. My bet is they are full of wine. Busy on the weekends.

            These are all within minutes of eachother- be careful on the backroads, and very mindful when crossing the hiway. Yes- the police are alot more present in the area- neighbors are fed up.

            My day would include no more than 3 wineries a day- or it will be a blur. Slow down and linger- see what you came to see! Enjoy!

            1. re: JalamaMama

              Thanks for the advice. We have three people tasting and one person is DD each day. I hope we don't aggravate the locals.

              I love Sauvignon Blanc, so I think I will definitely try to make it to Brander, and due to the proximity I think a visit to Bridlewood is also in order. I seem to recall that winery mentioned in some other Chowhound threads.

              Is there a good grocery in the area to stock up on food?

              1. re: smkit

                Grocery stores- El Rancho has a fantastic deli case- hot food counter- huge cheese selection!! great sanwiches, sushi bar and coffee shop with gelato. This place has it all, and you will pay for the privilage. On 246 /Refugio rd in Santa Ynez.

                Nielsens market has deli counter, hot food and great wine selection- remember that wines at the winery are usually more $$- it might be worth your time to check out the market prices first....On 246/Alamo Pintado Solvang.

                Buellton has Albertsons.

                Los Olivos Grocery in on the 154- great deli and wines, breakfast and lunch service. Great bbq on the weekends- though if it is a rain weekend, that will cancel. Expensive- but great cheese!

                Locals love- Mandarin Touch in Solvang for cocktails and yummy food. ARU sushi in Buellton, Ballard Inn for the best meal in town, Matteis for cocktails and steak & potato type food- GREAT BAR at Matteis, Red Barn in Santa Ynez great steaks and local flavor. Root 246 is great- expensive but great!

                Nojoqui Falls park is a must- 7 miles south of Solvang on Alisal road.

                My fav wineries- Melville, Tensley, Brander, Beckman and Foxen.

                It is very spread out here- hence the 3 wineries a day rec. The police comment is brought up due to the first poster, and his posting it- the Valley has changed in the last 5 years- a doubling of wineries- meaning more imbibbing drivers/less country atmosphere. It is still rather rural here- and each winery having a wedding/ barn raising/ celebration each weekend it seems...well it is hard to not hold them a bit responsible. I don't know of one person who isn't proud of our vinticultural prowess- but the other side sometimes isn't so fun- I also live between Brander/Bridlewood/Roblar- and the related noise is getting OLD. Trucks, deliveries, botling, harvest, tourists, weddings, wine club all adds up. Each winery is allowed 10-18 events a year- with 3 nearby, thats over 30-40 noisy weekends a year for us..

                Have a wonderful visit- please post what turned out great for your party and what you found fun! Hoping for great weather for you!

                1. re: JalamaMama

                  Thanks everyone for your input. I'll definitely report back after my tastings.

    2. Well, I am back from Central Coast and had an absolutely great time. The wine is fabulous, and I definitely want to go back to hit some wineries that I didn't get a chance to visit this time around.

      Before giving my comments though, I will caveat my feedback a bit by saying that I felt some wineries were between releases. If I had visited more into March and April, new vintages would have been available and interesting to try. One case in point was Rancho Sisquoc. I am sure I could buy good bottles from them if I had time to research their wine more (and wanted to pay for it), but what they had on offer to taste was solid but not fabulous.

      So here it goes. Also, I have broken my recommendations down into categories to try capture the whole experience better.

      For tasting rooms:

      Tensley, Stolpman (both in Los Olivos), Palmino (Lompoc Ghetto), and D'alfonso-Curran (Solvang) were very good, but Stolpman and Tensley were clear standouts. If you were to try only two tasting rooms in Los Olivos, these would be my choice. Tensley is only open Fri-Sun, so plan accordingly. Andrew Murray (Los Olivos) and Flying Goat (Lompoc Ghetto) were also good and worth it.

      IMHO I wasn't impressed with Daniel Gehrs, Epiphany, Alexander & Wayne, or Sort This Out Cellers (Solvang).

      For vineyard tasting rooms:

      Rideau, Zaca Mesa, Kalyra, Beckmen, Foxen, and Melville were all very good, with Rideau, Zaca, Kalyra, and Beckmen being my favorites. For whites, I really liked Gainey and Brander. I also recommend highly Dierberg-Starlane. I chose it over Foley and Babcock for my last visit and was glad I did so (but it was a hard choice).

      The only two I wasn't really impressed with was Rancho Sisquoc (see above) and Blackjack.

      Appointment Vineyard Tastings:

      These places offer a personal tasting experience and require advance appointments, but were so worth it. Try to make at least one of these stops during a visit to the area, but plan ahead as they usually take longer and might not fit your schedule.

      Demetria under winemaker Michael Roth had very good, interesting wines and the drive to the tasting room (after entering the gate) was astounding. It is worth it for the drive alone. They are a biodynamic producer and you will learn a lot about this process. I won't spoil it, but ask about the cow horn. Make this a stop after Zaca Mesa and plan ahead as you might not have cell phone coverage on Foxen Canyon Road.

      Prodigal Winery under winemaker Steve Russell was probably my favorite visit. The wines were extremely good. We got to taste a mini-vertical of pinot noir and tasted wines directly from the barrel and stainless steel tanks. I couldn't recommend this stop more. You will have fun and remember it for a long time.

      Arcadian under winemaker Joe Davis was an eduction and had fabulous wine. It will be great for anyone who likes old-world European-style (French) wines. If you wan't fruit-forward, higher alcohol wines or don't care for a bit more acidy wines, this is probably not a great stop for you. Arcadian wines also are a bit more expensive and do better with aging, so you need patience if you buy some bottles. With that said, the Syrah I tried there was the best wine I had all week, and it was simply a great tasting experience: fun and educational. The winemaker tends to cluster tastings on the weekends, but definitely call if you are serious about age-worthy old-world types of wines.

      Note: These last two places are located in the same wine warehouse on Santa Rosa Road (along with Bruno D'Alfonso though he doesn't do tasting at the warehouse). You will need directions as there are no signs. Try do Prodigal and Arcadian at the same time and plan for 3-4 hours for tasting. This tasting pair was the best experience of the whole week.

      Other thoughts:

      You will get a lot of Pinot Noir and Syrah -- I mean a lot. It was nice to break it up with Gainey and Brander's whites and some Italian/Spanish varietals at Palmina and D'Alfonso-Curran.

      Places I wish I could have stopped at: Foley, Russack, Curtis and Babcock. And these places I really regret not hitting: Sea Smoke, Fiddlehead, and Alma Rosa.

      I would highly recommend the Lompoc Ghetto. Most are open on the weekend and their wines were IMO stronger than most of the Los Olivos tasting rooms. Don't rule it out, and eat at Sissy's on Ocean and I St. in between tastings.

      The Foxen Canyon visit was well worth it, but Rancho Sisquoc is really out there so plan ahead. Also, Foxen (since August) has two tasting rooms that each pour different wines so budget more time yet. They have the quaint tiny room from Sideways and a fancy new big one down the road. Drive out to Sisquoc and work back to Los Olivos and really try to fit Demetria in. You will not be disappointed.

      If you are in the food/beverage/wine industry, don't forget to ask for industry discounts: free tastings and good case discounts abound.

      I know this information is based upon my wine 'taste', but I hope it is helpful.


      4 Replies
      1. re: smkit

        Great report- glad you like Joey Tensleys wines!!!

        How was staying in the house vs hotel? What did you think of our markets?

        Thanks for reinforcing the view that less is more when driving around- there is so much to see and take in, its a shame when folks speed from one winery to the next, without seeing the beauty and feeling the country....just my opinion!

        You didn't mention Roblar, what did you think there?

        1. re: JalamaMama

          Unfortunately, I never got to Roblar even though I drove by it daily. The timing just didn't work out, just as it didn't for Russack, Foley, and Alma Rosa. It is almost painful to drive by places knowing that you have an appointment somewhere else or won't make it by closing time.

          The day I was in the Roblar area tasting was when the US-Canada hockey game was on, so I had to cut things short and get back to the Los Olivos Cafe to watch the game. We northerners love the hockey.

          As for grocery stores, I only used Los Olivos Grocery, which was very good and met all my needs. it was the most convenient and had good selection. It was also nice to double check some wine prices. I remember in Sonoma paying 20-30% more for bottles at wineries over grocery stores, but the prices in SB county seemed pretty stable.

          In the end, the restaurants were just too hard to keep away from, and one of the rental houses had pretty bad kitchen supplies. I just couldn't bring myself to use stainless steel on non-stick pans. Even though it wasn't my pan, it still didn't seem right.

          I think I ate at Mattei's three times. They had a Kobe beef burger on special that was fabulous, great risotto, and lamb. I also ate at Patrick's, the Los Olivos Cafe, Hitching Post, and Grappolo. All of them were very good. And just as Pinot Noir and Syrah are everywhere, beef is also the dominant menu item in many places. If you love beef, this is the a great place to eat. It seems as if a cow is grazing near every road, so I guess it makes sense. I had prime rib a couple times and really liked Patrick's open-faced prime rib sandwich.

          As for vacation rentals, I thought they were an excellent option. The one in Los Olivos was very nice and only a half block from everything. The other one was perched atop a hill near Roblar, Brander and Bridlewood and was amazing. I think I will go back to this place in the future with a bigger group.

          The hotel in Solvang was convenient and right in town. It was good for the last day so I didn't have to worry about cleaning up anything at a home rental before heading to the airport.

          If you have a larger group or can book far enough ahead to ensure one place for the whole time, a home rental is good. I booked later and had to move once, and the check in (late) and out (early) times can be a bit awkward, especially when you have to clean up a bit before you leave.

          It was a good time.

          1. re: smkit

            Worked the World Of Pinot special event last night at Au Bon Climat- and going back today to work a benefit for our local Family School- with the Hitching Post doing the catering- should be a blast. They only open ABC winery for a few small events each year- and it is a privilage to be asked to work- at least it is to me!

            Again- so glad you had a great visit and were able to enjoy all there is here- and we look forward to hearing your report on your SECOND visit!

            1. re: smkit

              I appreciate your detailed notes. We are headed there for a family gathering later this month and I will pass these notes to the birthday girl. Looks like we will be renting a house in Los Olivos although we have some family in Arroyo Grande that might do day drives. But we will have a service shuttle us around if we are going out tasting or drinking. I have been having very bad vertigo on windy roads lately, so I'm not completely thrilled with the driving.