Friday, January 26, 2007

A Santa Barbara Wine Country Christmas

I know this post is late and some of you are gonna cringe at the sight of another Christmas gift post. I know I know. I'm sorry. D and I were eager to get out our Guatemala and HK posts and somewhere in the mix I totally forgot about our Christmas dinner.

Anyways, I noticed as I grow older, there are less and less things that I really want, if not need. Or was it the other way around? You know what I mean. I don't need anything and I don't really want anything. So when D asked what I wanted for Christmas, I gave him a blank stare and kept the poor guy asking for several weeks. Just days before leaving for Central America, D exhaled one last time, "Jeni...what do you want????"

Ok ok. Can we just go to Santa Barbara for the day?

The next day, on a very cold Saturday December morning, D and I headed out to Santa Barbara County. With high chances of rain, both of us were quite worried that the weather was going to dampen our day of wine. Instead, the cold weather along with Southern Californians' fear of rain was a blessing for a quiet day in Santa Barbara. Hallelujah!

The Foxen Canyon Road is one of the most beautiful drives in California. Rolling vineyards, simplistic tranquility, and views of the sun beaming on the valley hills are reasons that bring me back several times a year.

Our first stop began at Curtis Winery. Their Syrah's are notable, but the reason I always return to Curtis is for their Chuck Carlson Pinot Noir. Chuck Carlson, Curtis' winemaker has been making consistently great Pinots year after year. *Secret...after your Curtis tasting..whisper, "Do you have any Carlson's we can taste???" D loved his Carlson tasting and I ended up buying another bottle to add to my Carlson collection.

Carlson 2004 Pinot Noir "The Wedge" Talley Vineyards - True fruit. Stable tannins and great Pinot structure.
Carlson 2004 Pinot Noir Le Bon Climat Vineyard - Smooth-medium Pinot body. Smoky, earthy, cherry and stawberry. Pleasant light finish. Another consistent Carlson Pinot.

After Curtis we headed straight to Rancho Sisquoc. Rancho Sisquoc, the "gathering place" for wine lovers, is a ways down on Foxen Canyon Road. If you feel like you're lost, you're probably going the right way. Off the beaten Foxen Road path, pass the cows and calves and leave the complexities of the 21th century behind. Rancho Sisquoc's old-school California, a family-owned farmer kind of winery is an experience that is now forgotten in places like Napa. It's the perfect place for picnics and hanging out with wine friends. The next time we're up, this will be our first stop and we'll make sure to stay an hour or so to truly inhale one of Santa Maria's true wine gems.

2003 Cellar Select Meritage - Rancho Sisquoc has it's Meritage down to a science. Full black cherry and chocolate mouth, the Meritage is a big wine for such a small vineyard.
2004 Syrah - Though still young and slightly tannic, this Syrah is full and firm has a lot of potential in the next couple of years.

It was almost 5pm and most wineries were closed. Zaca Mesa was closed. Andrew Murray Tasting Room in Los Olivos was too far away. So the ladies at Rancho Sisquoc told us that if we rushed to Cambria, we'd make in time for an awesome Santa Maria sunset. Cambria, sits on top of a hill and it's views of the Santa Maria mountains are stunning.

Cambria 2005 Julia's Vineyard Pinot Noir - Open up to raspberry and strawberry scents with a lean but silky finish. A bit of unstable finish that makes you squint your eyes at the initial sip. Latter sips improve.

With chilling temperatures, a pitch black dark night, bumpy roads, and a belly full of wine, I wasn't feeling well at all. D must have pulled over 5 times within 10 minutes of driving for me to have some intimate time with Santa Barbara's side roads. Mom, I was carsick, I promise.

I knocked out after those 5 stops and I didn't wake up until D shook me, "Jeni, we're at Hitching Post, come on, I got us a spot at the bar." I guess somewhere while I was knocked out, D went and waited for a spot at the coveted Hitching Post bar. Wiping my eyes, D dragged my wine butt in and plopped me on a bar stool.

Trying to sober up, umm, I mean, get over my carsickness, I started feeling better after talking to patrons next to me. The atmosphere at Hitching Post is really cool. The locals are incredibly friendly. (I'd be bitterly upset if my local hangout turned into one of the most popular stops for Sideway junkies.) Instead, they welcomed us with open arms. Clinging glasses of Pinot to a Merry Christmas, it was some good times.

I was starstruck chatting with Frank Ostini, owner and winemaker at the Hitching Post. He's a really humble guy.

D and I ordered some grilled artichokes which we devoured in seconds. We also shared a grilled Angus Rib Chop which was awesome. This bone-in rib steak cut off the roast and cooked slow over oak and was the best prime rib I've ever had. Their secret seasoning and perfected cooking methods produced nothing but a hearty and tender piece of cow beauty. D enjoyed more Hitching Post Pinots while I looked at him in disgust. "I hate wine!" is what I usually say when I've had a little too much.

Angus Rib Chop at the bar. Hitching Post Pinot Noirs are a must.

I love Santa Maria and Los Olivos, by far it's always been my favorite place for wine tasting. Boutique wines, friendly locals, and Santa Barbara's non-pretentious wine attitude is what I love most. If you haven't been to Santa Barbara county to taste, I truly recommend making a trip. For your first time, visit the wineries and several wine cellars for the most intimate tastings.

Wine Cask 2007 Futures - March 10th and April 28th are the set dates for this year's Wine Cask Futures. This event is a tasting of over 100 locally grown and/or produced wines from soon-to-be-released vintages.
Santa Barbara County Vitner's Festival - April 21st at River Park near Lompoc. Over 100 Santa Barbara County wineries and vineyards come together to celebrate wine. Tickets start at $75.
Au Bon Climat Open House - On April 22nd, meet Jim Clendenen, the winemaker, and sample wines and Au Bon Climat's twice a year Open House. Au Bon Climat produces incredible Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays and does not open it's doors for regular tastings.

Curtis Winery
5249 Foxen Canyon Road
Los Olivos, Ca 93441
(805) 686-8999

Rancho Sisquoc Winery
6600 Foxen Canyon Road
Santa Maria, CA 93454
(805) 934-4332

Cambria Winery
5475 Chardonnay Lane
Santa Maria, CA 93454
(888) 339-9463

Hitching Post
406 East Highway 246
Buellton, CA 93427
(805) 688-0676
Open Table reservations


eatdrinknbmerry said...

J, this proved to be a great way to celebrate x'mas. Well not as fun as shooting photos together at a Sears with their fake christmas backdrops. I want that steak again!

Mark said...

Great notes, Jeni. Sounds like sooo much fun!!

Dang, you popped a Le Bon Climat! Awesome =). I'm sitting on mine. The LBC juice is the one to have if you're looking to hold, btw. The Santa Rita and Talley will probably fall flat under the alcohol in 2-3 years. LBC will still be singing! This coming from an self-proclaimed ABC whore =D. BTW, got my allocation from the boys at Sona. Have a syrah with your name on it!! (And an extra bottle of their Le Bon Climat Pinot to sample, if you twist my arm hard enough). We GOTTA get together soon! Miss ya!

Mary said...

Ooooh I love going to SB for a day trip!! We usually go to breakfast at Tupelo Junction Cafe on State St. then the art museum afterwards (free on Sundays).

Check out our new website!

Passionate Eater said...

Haha! That picture of D at the wheel is classic! He needs to also have a drink sandwiched between his knees, and a turkey drumstick in his mouth, and then the picture would be complete.

Jeni said...

EDNBM...We'll have to save the Sears photoshoot for the Easter bunny. Thanks so much for the Christmas gift of food and wine. That rib chop was sooooo GOOOOHR!!!

Mark...Thanks for teaching me wine language. I have another Le Bon Climat waiting to be opened. Gonna open up the Talley later this year. Hey I need to do some everyday wine shopping...D has wiped out my everyday stock and I think he's starting to eye the "DO NOT OPEN" bottles. Let me know when you're free.

Mary...I love your site. But I can't comment. I'll try another browser next time. Hope teaching is going well? How are you doing on your grad paper...baaah...I hated the writing. Let me know if you need any help.

PE!!! Yes, my bf is a food monster. He refuses to drive and talk on the phone at the same time, yet he can down cha lua and a banh mi without any conviction.

Deb said...

Sounds like a wonderful trip. I had dinner at teh Hitching Post (on a wildly fun girls weekend!) and thought the food was o.k. It's the experience! Los Olivos is my fav to!

Mark said...

What??? D's hands? I thought they were yours! =D. Wine shopping... anytime... seriously. They are opening up a K&L Wines in Hollywood (soonish, I hope). We won't have to trek out to the westside anymore. We'll talk soon. Have a great week at work!

elmomonster said...

I'm so ignorant about wine, it always amazes me when "cherry" or "chocolate" tastes can be singled out in a glass of it. You guys truly have refined palates.

Jeni said...

Deb...I love Los's so cute. Still need to make it to the Andrew Murray Tasting Room though. It's a must do in March!

Mark...those fat fingers ain't mine! Anyways, I'm gonna do a quarterly wine budget and once I'm done...time to go shopping!

Elmomonster...dude...I felt the same way. During one of my first tastings, I even asked the guy, "So do they add cherries and chocolate in the wines?" People like to refer to other scents when sniffing/drinking wine. It's a way to describe wine through other points of references. But seriously...going to wine regions and wine tastings is realy the best way to learn and appreciate wine.

Eddie Lin said...

Did you drink any Merlot at the Hitching Post?

Wandering Chopsticks said...

Aww, this sounds wonderfully romantic.

I can never taste the "notes" in wine. I just taste sweet or not. :P

Chubbypanda said...

I hate wine too, except when I love it. Like you, one usually follows the other with me.

Jeni said...

Eddie..I'm not sure if they have Merlots at Hitching Post. I only know of their Merlot blend called Generation Red, I think that's what it was called. D hates Merlots by the way. I'm trying to teach him not to be wineacist and to love all varietals just as they are.

Wandering Chopsticks...I giggle because I don't think D and are the "romantic" types. Just look at how the guy drives me to SB. haha. As far as tasting notes, the more often you drink wine, the more you'll notice how your wine will taste like vanilla, or chocolate, or dirt. (^.^)

Chubbypanda...I really love wine. I'm sorry for saying I hate it. I don't. sigh.


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