Sunday, May 30, 2010


With the unofficial beginning of summer already here, and the official start only about three weeks away, I thought I'd share a nice day trip Denise and I took to Santa Barbara County wine country.  From Los Angeles, you can reach a number of great wine country spots in just a couple of hours driving time.  This particular trip was front-loaded with lots of stops for fresh produce, and it stretched up to Santa Maria, so our trip there took about four hours.  Your mileage may vary.

The Day Trip Begins

We leave the house at 7:30 and reach the Ventura Freeway in about 15 minutes.  A day in wine country is beginning to unfold before us.  After what seems like no time at all - but is actually about 45 minutes - we are in Camarillo.  We like to stop at theOld New York Deli and Bakery Co. for breakfast.  Today we share a corned beef burrito.  It's pretty tasty.  Hardly anything ever happens up to this point in the trip, and today has been just as uneventful.  As a matter of fact, the drive remains this way right through Santa Barbara, with the exception of a little slowing due to the freeway construction going on there.  We're off to a fast start.

We love the view of the ocean as we drive between Ventura and Santa Barbara.  The Channel Islands in the distance are marred only by the occasional oil rig.

Turning Northward

A few years back, we escaped Southern California during a time when several wildfires were burning in different locations.  We headed west on the Ventura Freeway with the smoke and yellow sky as our constant companion.  It wasn't until we turned northward on the freeway in Gaviota that we found relief, and it was instantaneous.  We now refer to the rest area there as the "clean air place."  It's the moment when we know we're in wine country.

The countryside is beautiful, looking like a piece of camouflage cloth.  The olive drab hills dotted with varying shades of green grass, shrubs and trees are among my favorite landscapes.

The Produce Stands

We always like to make a few stops for fresh produce while we're in wine country.  The first one occurs at Nojoqui Park.  The place officially named Classic Organic is known as "peace barn" due to the huge peace sign installed on the side of the barn.  It's a self-serve vegetable stand that works on the honor system.  The prices are marked.  You take what you want and leave the appropriate amount in the barrel.  You may have to nudge "Shadow" the black cat out of the way to reach the slot in the barrelhead.  The cat is always there, always asleep.  The produce is routinely beautiful at the peace barn.  On this trip, the butter lettuce nearly made Denise cry.  The chives were not quite so moving, but we bought them anyway.  Remember to bring enough small bills.  they don't make change.

Blueberries are just up the road.  Back on the northbound 101 for only a minute or so, and quickly off at the sign for blueberries.  We get three packages of berries and a blueberry lemon bread which looks completely, insanely delicious.

North on the 101 again, this time passing Santa Rosa Road.  We have often turned there to visit some wonderful wineries - Mosby, Lafond, Alma Rosa - and turn instead on Highway 246 to Solvang.  It seems like the traffic is nearly always slow through that little village of Scandanavian kitsch now.  If you're here at lunchtime, try Root 246, a wonderful restaurant in the Hotel Corque on Alisal Road.  We are not enjoying that stop today.  We turn north on Alamo Pintado, headed for strawberries.

The strawberry stand across from Buttonwood Winery always seems to have the biggest, sweetest strawbs we've ever seen.  We buy a whole flat of them, knowing we'll never eat them all.  We'll give some away back at home. 

Wine Ahoy!

After loading up on various fruits at the strawberry stand, we press onward.  North through Los Olivos - without stopping to taste wine! gasp! - we hit the 154, then the 101 again for another half hour or so of northbound to Santa Maria.  We exit the 101 at Clark and turn left to go to Old Orcutt.  I have in mind that I'll stop in and visit Dave Corey of Core Wine Company .  We have only met through Twitter, and I'd like a face-to-face.  I'll spare you the wrong turns and u-turns I made and simply say you're there before you know it. 

A fully functional plan might have been nice here, as the Core Wine tasting room had not Dave, but wife Becky in charge.  Dave was on his way there - maybe - but he did not arrive before I had to press on.  I hope we'll meet soon.

Volk Winery Tasting RoomWe retrace our route to the other side of the 101 and wind our way toKenneth Volk Vineyards.   Here's the part of the trip for which you'll want to fire up that GPS app.  Once you leave the 101 here at the northern end of the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail, landmarks become few and uncertain.

At the Volk tasting room, two busloads of inexplicably weirdly-dressed people are just leaving.  Ken Volk, however, is in Paso Robles at his other tasting room.  Had he been there, I was told, he would surely have poured for me some of the Touriga National and the Alicante which are oh-so-close to being released.  I settle for the truly fantastic wines Volk has already released, and I'm not disappointed.  I would love to taste that Touriga National, though!

It's getting to be almost time to head back already.  We bail on the notion to backtrack south on Foxen Canyon Road for dates at Rancho Sisquoc and Tres Hermanas.  Deciding to head back to the highway, we see Riverbench Vineyard and Winery along the way.  Oh alright, just one more stop.  If you insist.

RiverbenchRiverbench has mostly Chardonnay and Pinot Noir to offer, and they are quite good.  Lots of folks are outside enjoying a nice summer day, too.

Homeward Bound

There's something nice about heading home from a day trip, but there's also something sad about it.  On the one hand, you've had a manageable amount of fun and you'll soon be home in the comfort of your pleasant little domicile.  On the other, it would be nice to just keep on having fun, and continue the little mini-vacation a while longer.  Other obligations call, and so we do what level-headed people do.  We head home.  Doing what level-headed people do does not always come naturally to us.  Today, we're about ready to head back.

It's a pretty good trip on the southbound 101 out of the Santa Maria Valley going towards Santa Barbara.  Flying southbound through Montecito, Summerland and Carpenteria, we look at those poor folks sitting still on the northbound side.  We both spend the whole week talking about those situations as traffic reporters, so we don't kick it around too much in the car.  We breathe a sigh of relief it's not us in that backup.

A pleasant ride home found us stopping in Camarillo again at the Old New York Deli & Bakery Co.  They must imagine we have no life at all.  They probably think, "Those old weirdos ate here twice in one day."  Let 'em think what they want.  We're not that old.  Or that weird.

Feel free to comment here.  Maybe you have a story about wine country travel you'd like to share.  We'd love to hear it.

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