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Paso Robles vs Santa Ynez for wine tasting

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ManInTransit Aug 5, 2010 02:15 PM

Hi All,
I've seen some great winery recommendations on here for all the various wine areas in California but at the moment I'm torn as to where to spend 2-4 days including my birthday in early September. I'm coming over from Britain and have a keen interest in wine but know comparatively little about California so apologies in advance for any errors. There seem to be a lot of wine buffs on this forum so I hope you don't mind if I have a few questions about wine country.

1) It looks to me as though the wineries in Paso Robles are of a slightly higher calibre than those in Santa Ynez. It's a totally subjective judgment but reading around it sounds as though Villa Creek, Jada, Turley, Tablas Creek and Linne Calodo are slightly better than Linford, Kalyra, Foxen, Sanford and Gainey - or is this just plain wrong?

2) Reading all the other threads on wineries in both areas one question always jumps out at me: how the hell do people get around without drink-driving? There will only be two of us and neither are keen to be the designated driver. Does this limit us to tasting rooms in towns or is there another way to get around?

3) Given the above, which towns in the various areas are better for tasting rooms in the town centres? It looks as though Edward Sellers will have moved out of downtown Paso Robles by the time we get there and while I like the idea of going to Paso Robles I'm slightly concerned that there won't be enough tasting rooms in town for 2/3 days of tasting without having to take the car out and use the spitoons. Buellton and Solvang on the other hand seem to have plenty of tasting rooms so you could get away with a quick visit to a vineyard or two at lunchtime then spend the rest of the day in the tasting rooms.

4) Final question, I'm really keen to find at least 1 or 2 small boutique wineries in either area, somewhere that doesn't necessarily have a dedicated tasting room and where you have to make an appointment to get in thus avoiding the tour buses and really being able to talk to the winemaker. I had Herman Story in mind but that's the other side of Los Olivos. Any recommendations in either area (we haven't ruled out spending 2 days in each) would be much appreciated.

Thanks very much in advance.

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Villa Creek Restaurant
1144 Pine St., Paso Robles, CA 93446

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  1. c
    chickendud RE: ManInTransit Aug 6, 2010 10:21 AM

    1. I think you will find equally amazing wine in both locations. I live about a 45 minute drive from Santa Ynez and Paso Robles, so my wife and i will sometimes head north and sometimes head south... its always an enjoyable experience in either direction.

    2. My wife and I will share a tasting and usually only go to one or 2 wineries in a day. If we want to hit up a bunch of places we find a DD.

    3. The town of Los Olivos is overflowing with tasting rooms, with some of the best local wineries represented, all in 2 city blocks (along with great dining at los olivios cafe). I have tasted at Byron, Consilience Qupe, Carhartt, Epiphany and Blair Fox and find them all to have excellent wines. The town, obviously is becoming more and more wine tourism oriented, so its not as beautiful as driving through the vineyards in paso, but its a lots safer if you dont have a DD, and will let you taste a bunch of great wine in a day.

    4. On the right day, many of the winires i listed, you will find the wine maker pouring, and get that intimate experience. I HIGHLY recommend Blair Fox Winery for this reason. Blair Fox is the wine maker for both Fess Parker and Epiphany, and Blair Fox is a "side project" of his. When my wife and I visited, he was the one pouring the wine with his wife and daughter hanging out in the tasting room. It was a very charming and intimate experience, like you are looking for.

    Also Ampelos cellars in lompoc is by appointment only except for a few hours on saturday (with the wine being poured by the wine maker)... and i think they have some distant tie to sea smoke, which is a nice bonus.

    1 Reply
    1. re: chickendud
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      ManInTransit RE: chickendud Aug 9, 2010 03:04 PM

      Oh and Chickendud - thanks very much for this, very helpful. I think I'm going to get a cottage I've found near Los Olivos and taste my way up and down the high street! Blair Fox is a great recommendation.

    2. PolarBear RE: ManInTransit Aug 6, 2010 03:29 PM

      Here's a link for downtown Paso Robles.
      http://www.sanluisobispo.winecountry....

      Directly across the park from Vinoteca is a new place that has 8-9 wineries pouring, plus they do small plates of food.

      Meritage Lounge
      810 11th St.

      -----
      Meritage Restaurant
      165 West Napa St, Sonoma, CA 95476

      1 Reply
      1. re: PolarBear
        PolarBear RE: PolarBear Apr 29, 2012 04:22 PM

        Stopped by yesterday, Meritage is no more and the building is vacant. Sign on door mentioned a move out to Vinyard Dr., iirc, don't know if it's multiple vintners or what.

      2. toodie jane RE: ManInTransit Aug 7, 2010 10:32 AM

        as for driving, their are several companies who have small vans that will take you to the wineries of your choice.

        google: Paso Robles wine tours
        or Santa Ynez wine tours

        1 Reply
        1. re: toodie jane
          m
          ManInTransit RE: toodie jane Aug 9, 2010 01:46 PM

          Thanks to all three of you for your help, much appreciated.

          It sounds as though you can't go too far wrong and there will be top wineries in both areas so I'm still quite torn. Maybe I'll try and squeeze in a couple of nights in both.

        2. l
          littlestevie RE: ManInTransit Aug 9, 2010 03:23 PM

          You may also want to consider the Santa Rita Hills and Lompoc area to taste. That area is to the west of Santa Ynez and is cooler than Santa Ynez or Paso and so the wines styles are a bit different. Alma Rosa, Dierberg and Fiddlehead are a few of my recommendations in that area.

          1. p
            pr howard RE: ManInTransit Aug 10, 2010 10:23 AM

            Off of Hyw 46 East in Paso Robles, are some great wines and Winery's......Pear Valley, Bianchi, J Lor, Sylvester, Ranchita Canyon and especially Eberle with their 16,000 sq. ft. of caves.

            14 Replies
            1. re: pr howard
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              ManInTransit RE: pr howard Aug 10, 2010 04:51 PM

              Thanks again everyone. My plan is to visit Ken Brown, Alma Rosa, Dierberg and Cold Heaven around Buellton on day one then head to Los Olivos and do Blair Fox and Carhartt and then whatever else takes our fancy on the day. I'd heard that the Los Olivos Tasting Room has been known to have the mythical Sea Smoke or is that out of date now?

              We're passing through Paso Robles as well so are very keen to give Turley and Eberle a try.

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              Sea Smoke
              San Clemente, CA, San Clemente, CA

              1. re: ManInTransit
                OldJalamaMama RE: ManInTransit Aug 10, 2010 10:33 PM

                good choices!

                In Solvang- hit the VINHUS before you venture out- great cheese/crackers/condiments for the day.
                In Buellton- Mother Hubbards for breakfast is great- so is Ellens Pancake House. Pea Soup Andersens is a great stop- some hate it- but as a local- we hit it for Cobb Salad- great sandwiches- shakes and burgers! The soup is great too- you can order a "side plate" that has chopped ham/green onion/croutons etc for your soup! Taco Roco has great fish tacos and menudo too!
                Enjoy your wine trip and be safe on the roads, lots of bicyclists!
                Sea Smoke is hard to come by- good luck- I think it has a winery in the Ghetto in Lompoc (20 minute drive West of Buellton)- check out the 'net.

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                Mother Hubbard's Restaurant
                373 Avenue of the Flags Ste A, Buellton, CA 93427

                Pea Soup Andersen's
                376 Avenue of the Flags, Buellton, CA 93427

                1. re: ManInTransit
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                  chickendud RE: ManInTransit Aug 11, 2010 06:31 AM

                  About a month ago, Tastes of the Valleys Wine Bar had Sea Smoke on their list. I think you could even taste it for $30...or something like that. There staff was very knowledgeable and friendly, and the owner is crazy about Pino Noir, which is reflected in the selections on their wine list.

                  http://www.tastesofthevalleys.com/

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                  Sea Smoke
                  San Clemente, CA, San Clemente, CA

                  Tastes of the Valleys
                  1672 Mission Dr, Solvang, CA

                  1. re: chickendud
                    m
                    ManInTransit RE: chickendud Aug 11, 2010 09:27 AM

                    Thanks Chickendud, tastesofthevalleys does look good and they seem to stock a lot of Au Bon Climat as well which I'd like to try. You just cannot get any of these wines in the UK so I'm looking to stock up on tastings. Just re-reading the thread would just like to say quite how envious I am of you living 45 minutes from each valley, what a place to live.

                    @Mrs OJM: Thanks for the tips, can I ask you as a local - is the Days Inn as bad as the reviews suggest? Is staying at Pea Soup Anderson's worth the extra $35 or so a night?
                    And does the Hitching Post still come recommended post Sideways?
                    Also, our main day in the valley is going to be the Sunday when the transit bus doesn't work, will nabbing a taxi or other transport from Buellton to Los Olivos be relatively straightfoward. We're just going to want to head there around midday then back late afternoon rather than go on a full tour. Do you know roughly what the cost might be?

                    1. re: ManInTransit
                      OldJalamaMama RE: ManInTransit Aug 11, 2010 11:14 AM

                      Days Inn- it is right on the Freeway and it is run down....if you are just using it for sleeping- why not stay there? If it was me- I'd buy earplugs and use the $35.00 you save not staying at Pea Soup! It will cost you at least $20.00 in taxi fare to get to Los Olivos- there is no other transportation available- one of the only drawbacks about this wonderful place- growing up here was tough- we would dream of a bus that would take us to the beach! But- back to the point- if you have the extra $$ to spend- Pea Soup is a better hotel. They are located almost across the street from another- Mother Hubbards, Taco Roco, Ellens are within walking distance- easily.
                      Hitching Post is fantastic- and within walking distance to Days Inn...do not go in expecting a Sideways experience- go in thinking a good glass of wine (or two!)- a great steak and sides, and you will leave happy. The bbq'd artichoke, chantrelle mushroom appetizers are great! AJ Spurs had its fans, but we are not on that list.
                      Any winery on the outside of "town" will be tough to get to, unless you have a vehicle. You might consider a tour/scheduled charter (100 dollars usually) and they will take you around to 4 wineries and you pay no fees (as they cover them in the price)- Cloud Jumpers is an open air jeep ride- StageCoach is Cadillac Escalade chaffured ride...look on the net for some cheaper deals...that is how I would do it. Use the $$ you save on your room to purchase this option!
                      It should be nice warm weather- but pack like it will be breezey and you'll be fine!

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                      Hitching Post
                      3325 Point Sal Rd, Casmalia, CA 93429

                      Mother Hubbard's Restaurant
                      373 Avenue of the Flags Ste A, Buellton, CA 93427

                  2. re: ManInTransit
                    Shannon RE: ManInTransit Aug 13, 2010 06:55 PM

                    There is a new place in the Lompoc wine ghetto that has a bunch of Sea Smoke. Not sure how much they are being tasted, but you for sure can buy a lot of vintages there. I would write to them and ask what's up. If you are going out to Alma Rosa and Dierburg, it is not too much farther to get to Lompoc.

                    Taste of Santa Rita Hills
                    www.tasteofstaritahills.com

                    I see that you are thinking about public transportation - do you mean the whole time? I am not sure that is such a good idea.. what you could do is, rent a car and visit two wineries but then end up back in a town with a hotel where you can walk everywhere or take cabs for the rest of the day. In Solvang, there are lots of hotel options and there are many tasting rooms and bars plus a couple of decent restaurants. In Lompoc even, you could end up at the Wine Ghetto and do a lot of tasting, then walk or cab home to one of the hotels there (there is a Best Western not too far away. And a new wine bar in downtown Lompoc, called D'Vine - I think they might even have Sea Smoke there.)

                    Same in Paso Robles - you can taste at a couple of places during the day, then stay downtown and walk after that. The new place mentioned above, Meritage, has quite a few wineries in it and that could keep you going for awhile. :)

                    1. re: Shannon
                      m
                      ManInTransit RE: Shannon Aug 15, 2010 10:12 AM

                      Thanks to both of you, it certainly sounds as though you can't go too far wrong and that we will have a good time wherever.
                      We will have a car but we don't want to use it at all while tasting apart from maybe spitting the first tasting of each day.
                      I am quite tempted by Lompoc and will certainly give the bars with Sea Smoke a call while we're there.

                      I was currently looking at staying in Buellton as there are a few tasting rooms there we can go to and it seems as though it's a slightly nicer town than Solvang or does Solvang being a bigger town mean it would be better to stay there?

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                      Sea Smoke
                      San Clemente, CA, San Clemente, CA

                      1. re: ManInTransit
                        OldJalamaMama RE: ManInTransit Aug 15, 2010 10:31 AM

                        Solvang is a walking town- and there are tasting rooms galore- for instance Tastes of the Valley- it pours for alot of the smaller/no tasting room wineries. I'd say there are at least 20 tasting rooms in Solvang vs 3 in Buellton. Solvang has alot of choices for hotels- but are probably priceier than Buellton. If it were me- I'd stay in Solvang. Solvang is a tourist town- cute buildings, lots of shops and pastry shops!!

                        I tell folks to plan out the day - if they are driving- go to the farthest one you want to go to first, then make your way back to your hotel- take plenty of water and food (VINHUS in Solvang!) and that will help keep you in tip top shape vs getting all sloppy and being stranded out in the hills hoping to sober up...Almost all the wineries have picnic areas, so relax and take your time. 4 wineries in one day maximum- then come back to Solvang and hit a few rooms- and walk back to your room!

                        Where do you go after your Solvang visit?

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                        Tastes of the Valleys
                        1672 Mission Dr, Solvang, CA

                        1. re: OldJalamaMama
                          Shannon RE: OldJalamaMama Aug 15, 2010 10:54 AM

                          I agree with JalamaMama - stay in Solvang. There are a LOT of places to stay there in all price ranges. If you can stay midweek you can get a better rate.

                          1. re: Shannon
                            m
                            ManInTransit RE: Shannon Aug 15, 2010 05:15 PM

                            Thanks both of you, it seems Solvang is the best idea as just having more tasting rooms in walking distance will make our life easier. We're actually going to be there over Labor Day weekend so we've accepted that we're going to be paying relatively high prices wherever we stay.
                            We have two or three days to spend in the valley and then another three days to make our way up to San Francisco so time isn't an issue. It's just about getting a balance between tasting really interesting and unique wines (for me) and just having fun, spending some nice time in some nice places and quaffing some decent wine (my girlfriend!)

                            Vinhus is in the notebook don't worry! I've go an appointment with Mr Ken Brown himself in Buellton which I'm obviously very keen to keep but it seems as though a combination of sensible early-day driving and taxis will see us through.

                            Thanks again to everyone in the thread for their help though, has definitely gone beyond the call of chowhound duty with hotel and other recommendations. I'll provide a full report upon return.

                            1. re: ManInTransit
                              Shannon RE: ManInTransit Aug 15, 2010 07:21 PM

                              Labor Day... krikey. Yep it will be crowded. I spend a lot of time up there and have a ton of experience with hotels all up and down the central coast... but this is chowhound so if you want info on hotels, write to me (my email is on the blog in my profile.)

                              You will like staying in Solvang.. there is Wandering Dog Wine Bar and Taste of the Valleys, and they also have a nice wine by the glass list at Root 246 (Bradley Ogden's place). You can walk to them all if you stay in Solvang.

                              If, for some reason you do decide on Buellton here is one place that has not been mentioned that is pretty cool - Avant Tapas and Wines. I have not eaten too much here... just had wine.. they have a long bar at a huge picture window with a really great view.

                              http://avantwines.com

                              No matter what you end up doing, I am sure you will have a blast.

                              -----
                              Root 246
                              420 Alisal Road, Solvang, CA 93463

                              1. re: ManInTransit
                                OldJalamaMama RE: ManInTransit Aug 15, 2010 08:13 PM

                                Have a great trip- I look forward to reading your report! Labor Day is busy here...but what the hell- you only live once- keep a smile on and you'll get many in return! SAFE TRAVELS!

                                1. re: OldJalamaMama
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                                  jdmercer RE: OldJalamaMama Aug 16, 2010 04:15 PM

                                  Hey. Just want to throw in my two cents.

                                  Husband and I just got back from a Southern California road trip. We spent two nights in Solvang. Stayed at The Hadsten Inn ... LOVED, LOVED, LOVED it. Got a mid-week rate of $109 ... the rooms are very nicely done ... we had room #35 I think ... top floor, end of the hall ... very quiet. There is a restaurant on site that is actually very good ... kinda dark inside but aside from that really quite good. They have an afternoon happy hour from 4:00 until 5:00 ... my husband thought he'd died and gone to heaven as they had Firestone draft on tap that was ICE cold. Breakfast is a buffet style with eggs, bacon, sausage, biscuits, gravy, fresh fruit, danishes ...

                                  My husband was very nice and was my designated driver ... we probably went to 6 wineries on the one day. Foxen, Fess Parker, Zaca Mesa ... and sadly I forget the others.

                                  On our arrival day we walked from the Hadsten Inn into Solvang and did two tasting rooms there (Lucas and Lewellen and their sister winery Mandolina) (Hadsten House gave us a pass and we didn't have to pay a tasting fee).

                                  We have been to Paso Robles probably 4 times and enjoyed it very much also. I somehow thought it was more picturesque in Paso than the Santa Ynez area but both are lovely.

                                  We ate at Root 246 in Solvang ... VERY good ... heirloom tomato salad was to die for ...

                                  -----
                                  Root 246
                                  420 Alisal Road, Solvang, CA 93463

                                  1. re: jdmercer
                                    m
                                    ManInTransit RE: jdmercer Sep 13, 2010 11:08 AM

                                    Just a quick note to say that we had a wonderful time in wine country and ended up spending three days in Buellton and one in Paso Robles.

                                    Thanks to everyone who contributed and also to JDMercer (sorry I didn't notice your message before we left)

                                    We tasted so so many wines and went into dangerous excess baggage territory on the flight home.
                                    We took a lot of the advice on here and other threads, tasting Carhartt, Qupe, Blair Fox (with the man himself), Ken Brown (with the man himself - a tasting I highly recommend), Andrew Murray, Alma Rosa and Lafond at the tasting rooms. We even found a bottle of Sea Smoke which was quite amusing as the lady clearly wanted to ID us but was in a quandry about it.
                                    We had some good wines in Avant so thanks for that too as we walked there from the motel and I thought Tastes of the Valley was great with their tasting flights and Wandering Dog was very friendly too.
                                    In Paso Robles I thought Denner, Turley and Lone Madrone were lovely wines.

                                    We ate at the Hitching Post, Mother Hubbard's and Pea Soup Andersons which were all very decent fare so thanks for those recommendations too.

                                    Quick note on public transport - the Santa Ynez Valley Transit bus was basically our private taxi for the weekend, it doesn't run Sundays but otherwise it's $1.50 and gets you around brilliantly and it meant we saved a fortune by staying in Buellton and getting the bus to Los Olivos.

                                    All in all it was actually the absolute highlight of our trip to California so genuine thank you to everyone who contributed on here as we took your advice and it went brilliantly!

                                    -----
                                    Hitching Post
                                    3325 Point Sal Rd, Casmalia, CA 93429

                                    Sea Smoke
                                    San Clemente, CA, San Clemente, CA

                                    Tastes of the Valleys
                                    1672 Mission Dr, Solvang, CA

                                    Mother Hubbard's Restaurant
                                    373 Avenue of the Flags Ste A, Buellton, CA 93427

                  3. s
                    steve753 RE: ManInTransit May 6, 2012 10:20 AM

                    The Santa Ynez area has some really good wineries. For one, I love Zaca Mesa. One the other hand, Paso Robles has a lot more wineries to choose from. SOme of the more outstanding wineries there are Turley, Alta Colina, Denner, and Shale Oak.

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