Explore: Santa Ynez Valley

Just over the hill from the coast, the Santa Ynez Valley is the center of Santa Barbara's wine country, its agricultural heart.  From the sun-baked one-horse town of Santa Ynez, to the foggy, windy city of Lompoc, there's a lot to discover.  Leaving Santa Barbara, the old stagecoach route, now Highway 154, climbs over San Marcos Pass.  Old California is just off the highway at Cold Spring Tavern.  Above, the picturesque span of Cold Spring Bridge used to be in nearly every car commercial.  Now, it's ugly and sad, because of the anti-suicide fence clinging to its spine like a necrophiliac caterpillar.  Further on your descent, you'll see the once empty, but now rapidly-filling Lake Cachuma; source of most of the valley's water.


The poppies carpet the hill for a brief, but glorious time every spring and the views are fantastic.

There are two main tourist towns in the valley- Solvang and Los Olivos.  I really can't recommend the semi-Danish town of Solvang for its charm, but it does have some decent places to stay and eat.  Beware of tourist buses full of octogenarians wearing ugly white sneakers and baggy jeans.  Los Olivos seems to be all tasting rooms, but it can be a convenient spot to slake your thirst.  From Los Olivos, you can head up Figueroa Mt. Road, past Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch, and up toward the peak.  The poppies carpet the hill for a brief, but glorious time every spring and the views are fantastic. I like the tiny town of Santa Ynez more; it's quaint and quiet with excellent places to eat.  Los Alamos is a throwback Western town, just add tumbleweeds.  The service towns of Buellton and Lompoc have a lot of wineries nearby and tasting rooms galore.  If you have a bike, the ride from Los Olivos to Buellton on Ballard Canyon Rd. is recommended; pretty and not heavily trafficked.  Another comely country road is Foxen Canyon which will eventually lead you all the way to Santa Maria, which looks like every other crappy, sprawling, suburbanized horror in the US.  They have great strawberries, though!  Whether a hipster or a cowpoke, you will find what you're looking for in The Valley. 

EXPLORE

Figueroa Mt.- Fields of poppies and wildflowers, views of the whole valley.

Gaviota Peak- Nice view of the Channel Islands from the top of a fire road hike.

Gaviota Wind Caves- Caves scoured into the sandstone.  Imagine banditos.

Surf Beach- You can take Amtrak to this windy outlet of the Santa Ynez River.

Jalama Beach- Windswept and isolated campsite and surf spot. People like the burger stand.

Happy Cyn. Rd.- Twisty country road passes vineyards and horse ranches.  Can loop this all the way back to Figueroa Mt. Road.

Foxen Cyn. Rd.- Nice drive with plenty of wineries to visit.  See remnants of the old oil fields and the abandoned town of Sisquoc.

Ballard Cyn. Rd.- Great bike route in the heart of the valley, leads from Los Olivos to Buellton.

Jedlicka's Saddlery- Get yourself a Stetson here when you're tired of tasting wine.

 

Stay

A weekend at Hamlet Inn was our little birthday treat last year with baby in tow.

A weekend at Hamlet Inn was our little birthday treat last year with baby in tow.

Hamlet Inn- Updated motel in Solvang; very nice design and tidy.

Alamo Inn- Another retro turned modern motel.  Municipal Winemakers has a cool tasting "cabin" on the property.

Skyview Motel- On top of a small hill, the views of the surrounding vineyards are nice at this spot. 

 

Lunch and some Demetria rosé at Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe.

Lunch and some Demetria rosé at Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe.

Thirsty

Firestone Walker Barrel House- Try the inventive barrel-aged beers of this larger brewery in Buellton.

Babi's Beer Emporium- Nice selection of bottled beers in LA (Los Alamos.)

1880 Union Hotel- Drinks and free shuffleboard in the saloon of this old hotel.

Casa Dumetz- Sonja is the nicest host and winemaker you'll meet.  Lovely Grenache.

Taste of Sta. Rita Hills- Ask Antonio if he has some Weatherborne to pour!

Transcendence- Sara and Joey will take care of you; nice Grenache and Sangiovese; new pizza place opening next door soon.

Lutum- Gavin Chanin makes great wines, crisp Chardonnay and spicy Pinots; appointment only.

Presqu'ile Winery- If you get up to Santa Maria, you won't want to miss this pretty winery with nice views and great wines; nice Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and zippy Syrah.

A delicious catered lunch by Bell Street Farms including their ever-popular rotisserie chicken.

A delicious catered lunch by Bell Street Farms including their ever-popular rotisserie chicken.

Hungry

Cold Spring Tavern- A rustic breakfast spot; they make a nice tri-tip sandwich on the weekends, too.

Trattoria Grappolo- Tasty pastas and warm atmosphere.

SY Kitchen- Delicious pizzas and inventive Italian at this tasteful spot.

Dos Carlitos- Wonderful chiles rellenos en brodo and good margaritas.

Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe- Nice seasonal menu and a great local wine list, including Weatherborne.

Panino- They make nice sandwiches here; good for a quick bite.

Olsen's Danish Bakery- Best bakery in Solvang with Danish specialties.

Succulent Cafe- Nice brunch and lunch spot with outdoor seating.

Cecco Ristorante- Good pizzas.

Industrial Eats- Caterers turned brick and mortar.  Handmade salumi, good sandwiches, pizzas and fresh salads in a lively spot.  You can listen to winemakers talking shop.

Bell Street Farm- Jamie knows everyone in the valley, and their cold case and soups are fantastic.

Full of Life Flatbread- Super popular locals' spot with good pizzas. (Oh, and they catered our wedding!)

Pico- New place in Los Alamos with a creative menu.

Bob's Well Bread- Nice pastries and hearty breads in a homey setting.

Los Gorrudos- The best Mexican spot in Lompoc.

Jocko's- Legendary tri-tip done in the traditional oak-grilled Santa Maria style.  Huge portions and a good value.

Stemware: Spend Your Money on Good Wine, Not Crystal

The wine industry is ridiculous. There are thousands of articles out there about how wine should be less intimidating and more open to enthusiastic beginners. Then the same people who write this tell you why you should be drinking Pinot out of a Burgundy glass, never a Bordeaux glass. Don’t put your Champagne in a flute, it should be in a white wine glass! Well, you know what? It’s all so silly and annoying, that it makes you want to just drink straight from the bottle. All these “traditions” need to be re-evaluated and then let’s get rid of the dumb ones.  Life is complicated enough, let’s make it so you can enjoy what’s in your glass, not just the glass.

 

Life is complicated enough, let’s make it so you can enjoy what’s in your glass, not just the glass.

 

I won’t delve too deeply into the sensory science of why certain bowl shapes are better for different varieties or styles.  Riedel from Austria believes you should have a different glass for each wine you drink.  Well, they clearly have a profit motive to sell you more wine glasses!  Don’t trust them.  Pick a glass or two that you like, and relax.  After all, this whole wine thing is supposed to be about enjoyment, right?

 

The only rule I have: don’t wash your wine glasses at the end of the night.

 

Broken down into your budget level, here are a few suggestions.  Oh, and the only rule I have, is don’t wash your wine glasses at the end of the night.  I promise you, you’ll break far fewer if you wash them the next morning.  Just pour a little water in the bowl and sleep tight.  Trust me on this.

 

Here are a few suggestions:


 

Still paying off my college loans…

Ok, honestly, your best bet is to go to the thrift store.  You will find tons of wine glasses, “Hey here’s one from the Catalina Wine Mixer!” but rarely two alike.  Who cares?  This way you won’t feel bad when you break them, and your friend won’t keep taking your glass by mistake.  Another great option, if you're close to a wine country, is collecting glasses from tasting rooms.

If you’re a little more Type A, or just like matching sets of things, take a look at these:

Ikea’s Hederlig, or the Ivrig if you like to BBQ or camp.  No stems means less wine spilled.  If you’re going for durability, check out these stainless ones.

A nice set of all-around glasses are the Crate and Barrel Nattie series.  I like the red wine ones most.

If you like to have parties, consider getting some small bistro-style glasses like the Marta from CB2.  They will work for big groups, wash up easily and are cheap.  You don’t get quite the aromatics out of them, but they’re nice and thin which feels nice, though they are more fragile.

How am I ever going to pay for my kids’ college…

So, you now realize the plumber gets paid better than you.  I often wish I had just become a plumber, then I could have had a really cool Mercedes Sprinter van, and…  Anyway, back to stemware.  The above glasses will do you just fine, but maybe you drink more Cava these days?  Or, you know you like having a smaller glass for white wine.  Cool, check below for some options.

I like drinking Champagne or any bubbly from coupes.  No, the bubbles don’t last as long as they do in flutes.  But, sometimes a little style is nice.  Plus, when you get into making cocktails, you already have the perfect glass for that Sidecar.

These from CB2 are a nice white wine glass, but work great for reds as well.  If you love Pinot noir, like me, I recommend a nice big glass for those delicate wines.  By no means necessary, but a nice treat. These Burgundy glasses from Schott Zwiesel are strong and reasonably priced.

I fully contribute to my Roth IRA every year…

Maybe you have some old wines that need to decanted off the dregs?  Remember your poor grades in chemistry class with this Erlenmeyer flask.  Bistro style carafe.  Or, if you want something a bit classier, this one might be for you.  Decanters are great for your youngest wines too!  The aeration really helps open them up.

Hope that wasn’t information overload.  Basically, drink out of a glass you like- be it vintage from the charity shop, or a brand new Zalto, if that’s your thing.  

Introducing Grenache

Weatherborne's first slogan was "One man, one wine." Well, that phrase is a bit redundant, as we now have a lovely Grenache to add to our lineup! I've always been intrigued by Grenache's "pinot-ness" as it can be bold, or delicate, dark or light in color. Grenache (noir) is originally known as Garnacha in its native eastern Spain, likely originating in the province of Aragon. It was spread throughout the Mediterranean and is a popular wine in Spain and France, most notably, but common in Corsica and Sardinia too. The regions of Campo de Borja, Carinena and Roussillon use Grenache extensively. In Chateauneuf de Pape, it plays a leading role. 

Grenache has perhaps been maligned as a workhorse wine or "blender," but it can be exceptional in its own right, arguably making the best rose wines in the world, in the Tavel region. Viticulturally it develops a huge trunk and sturdy canopy; it can handle drought well, and survives windy conditions. The wine can be a bit light in color, and they can oxidize easily, thus why it's so often blended with darker colored grapes such as Syrah and Mourvedre. There are currently 5,300 acres grown in California, most of it in the Central Valley, used as a base for jug wines at ridiculously high yields. California's cheaper wines would be much better if more Grenache was planted, replacing the Cabernet and Pinot grown in too hot of a climate. In coastal regions, while a lighter texture may develop, the aromatics benefit from the longer hang-time and slower ripening.

For 2015, we sourced our Grenache from the John Sebastiano vineyard in the Sta. Rita Hills (also the main vineyard used in the 2014 Pinot) from blocks just outside of the AVA, hence the Santa Barbara County designation. While this wine is still a baby, and the tannins need some more time to resolve, hopefully it gives a preview of how delicious it will be with some waiting.

Fennel, red currants and rhubarb on the nose. Lithe and delicate in the mouth, there are substantial tannins ready to reward short-term cellaring. 85 cases produced.

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The American Riviera

CITY GUIDE: Santa Barbara

 

Ahhh, Santa Barbara, my birthplace, my frequent home; it is truly the American Riviera. A great climate and gorgeous vistas make it pretty, and the relaxed pace of a small city make it enjoyable.  The Santa Ynez Mountains rise to 4000' behind town, framing this city of 100,000, and providing great hiking and mountain biking.  The Channel Islands, home to awesome cold-water diving, lie offshore with the Santa Barbara Channel in between.  The ocean is fertile here with lots of upwelling, and the fish, dolphins and whales that follow.  If you like it wet, the surfing is good at Rincon Point and Leadbetter Beach, closer to town.

They used to say, "Santa Barbara is a great place to visit, but I wouldn't want to eat there."  Well, things have changed.  There are great drinking establishments on State Street, the main drag, and in the Funk Zone.  The Funk Zone used to be the hub of the local fish industry, and then became slightly grimy light industrial. It still retains its authentic feel, but there are tasting rooms galore, and good beer and food options.  My second job in the wine industry was as a cellar hand at Santa Barbara Winery, working for the legendary Bruce McGuire.  It's still a fun place to visit.  Be sure to check out one of the awesome views on the Eastside of town, or stretch the legs for a good hike into the Los Padres National Forest.  Your choice, but regardless, you'll finish with a smile.

EXPLORE:

State Street- SB's main shopping street.
Stearns Wharf- Touristy spot, but nice to smell the sea.  Good views of the coastline.
Funk Zone- The heart of new SB.
Courthouse Tower view- Go to the top for a 360 view.  Check out the murals too.
Courthouse Sunken Gardens- Shady place to read a book.
De la Guerra Plaza- Quiet spot in downtown.
Mission Rose Garden- Great spot to picnic.
Eucalyptus Hill viewpoint
Coronada Circle view
Franceschi Park view

La Arcada Courtyard - Spanish-style courtyard with a creepy bronze statue of an old man with a balloon.
Butterfly Beach- Nice beach.
East Beach- Nice, quiet place to start a seaside walk along Cabrillo Blvd.
Cold Springs Trailhead- Nice hike to the top of Montecito Peak.
Romero Canyon Trailhead- Park here for a loop hike to the Romero Saddle.
Lotusland- Appointment-only old estate gardens.
Presidio- Oldest part of SB.
Hendry's Beach- Good place to take the dog for a walk.
El Capitan Canyon- Stay in a canvas tent or wooden cabin at our favorite glamping spot.
Santa Barbara Bowl- Great outdoor concert venue, not too big, but great sound.
Zodo's- Bowling alley and craft beer bar.
Channel Islands Surfboards- Beautiful sticks, some designed by legend Al Merrick.
Rincon Point- World famous surfing spot.

HUNGRY:

Los Agaves Restaurant- Great burritos, seafood and salsas.
Los Arroyos Montecito- The best chile relleno burrito around, and delicious margaritas.
La Super-Rica Taqueria- The first authentic taqueria in SB.  Very popular, but the tamales with epazote cream are delicious.
C'est Cheese- Great spot for lunch- soups, sandwiches and salads.
Lucky Penny- Good pizzas, al fresco.
Sama Sama Kitchen- Tasty Indonesian-ish small plates and cocktails. 
SB Farmer's Market- Every Saturday 0830-1300.
Tri-County Produce Co- Good spot for fresh veggies and fruit.  Some wine too.
Whole Foods Market- Great place to pick up stuff for a gourmet picnic.
Mesa Verde Restaurant- Great vegan/vegetarian option.

THIRSTY:

Handlebar Coffee Roasters- Best coffee in town.
The Mill- Slake your thirst at Third Window Brewing or Potek Winery.
Topa Topa taproom- Opening soon- Ventura's best brewery is opening a Santa Barbara location.
Lama Dog Taproom + Bottle Shop
Santa Barbara Winery- 
Hey, I used to work here!  Old school wine tasting spot.
Grassini Family Vineyards- Quaint tasting room with nice wines from Happy Canyon in the Santa Ynez Valley.
Les Marchands Wine Bar & Merchant
Margerum Wine Company- 
A nice, bright spot for wine tasting.
Three Pickles- The Pickle Room is a great spot for an unfussy cocktail.
Honor Bar- Nice martinis and good artichoke dip.  Great service.
Joe's Cafe- The strongest drinks in town.  Hell, strongest drinks I've had at a bar.  Great spot to pre-party.  Old school vibe.
The Good Lion- Nice cocktail spot before dinner at Sama Sama or a show at the Granada Theater.
Harry's Plaza Cafe- Old school place with stiff martinis.

Leaving Los Angeles

CITY GUIDE: Eastside L.A.

So, after four years in the belly of the beast, we have left Echo Park and Eastside LA.  It was so much better than I expected, and just as horrible as I feared.  I won’t miss planning my day around traffic patterns or parking hassles, but there are some awesome things that I will miss- the variety of cultures and foods, hidden watering holes and grand urban vistas.  If you’ve only ever seen Los Angeles from the freeway, know that it isn’t all flat and each neighborhood has its own character and history.  LA is an amazing, vibrant place and the only post-modern metropolis in the world.  So, while things are still fresh in my memory, I've written down a few of our favorite things.  When you visit, be sure to check out these places, but remember, as Blue Bland said, “There ain’t no love in the heart of the city.”

Views:

Victor Heights- We lived on Marview Ave, home to the best views of downtown LA in the city.
Radio Hill- Cool place to walk and see sunset over downtown and Chinatown.
Bridge Over the 110- Many, many car commercials show this view of the urban core.

Fun:

Dodger Stadium- Still pretty after all these years.  Park on Marview and walk over.
Echo Park Lake- Nice place for a walk and check out the lily pads. Chinatown scene shot here.
Angeleno Heights- Old Victorian homes overlooking downtown.
Stair Walks- All over Silver Lake and Echo Park are hidden stairs to old hilltop neighborhoods.
Chinatown- Cool courtyards and alleyways, quite sleepy off the main streets.
Baxter St.- The steepest street I’ve ever been on.  Driving it is surreal.
Old Red Car Line- Hike this abandoned tram-line.
Silver Lake Meadow- Fly a kite, picnic, whatever you want.  Neutra house across the street.
LA River Bike Path- See herons and eagles as you zip through Elysian Valley.
Grand Park- Chill out below LA’s iconic City Hall building.
The Broad Museum- New architectural highlight in downtown.
Columbia Eastern- Prettiest building in all of Los Angeles.  Art-deco icon.
Bradbury Building- Blade Runner was shot in the interior, go in.

Drink:

Little Joy- My favorite bar in Echo Park.
Sunset Beer Co.- Pick up beer here before hitting BYOB Guisado’s for tacos.
Ace Hotel Rooftop Bar- Go for lunch and it’s surprisingly chill.
Arts District Brewing- Newish craft brewer with games for the family.

Eat:

Guisado’s- Delicious tacos, get some habanero salsa on the side.  BYOB
Pok Pok LA- Sister restaurant to Portland’s Pok Pok.  Khao soi every time.
Grand Central Market- Food stalls and other delights.
Zinc Café- Nice patio and after-hour cocktail bar.
Dune- Best falafel in LA.
Al & Bea’s- Boyle Hts. legend, serving awesome bean burritos- red or green, your choice.
La Azteca- Classic East LA spot with gooey chile relleno burritos.
Lassen’s- Organic grocer.  Great to pick up some salads before a picnic at Echo Park Lake.
Whole Foods- Right downtown and stocked with good drinks and prepared foods.