It’s fair to say that I love wine. Though I’m by no means a wine snob and my palate rarely detects the “subtle notes of cherry/hickory/peach/etc,” I do enjoy celebrating the return of the weekend with a bottle. Or two. Whether it be a pinot grigio on a warm afternoon or a cabernet sauvignon on a stormy night, those fermented grapes are darn delicious and have been an integral part of many a fun night or heartfelt chat. And more than one game of Guitar Hero has been played with my mom while sipping vino.
When coming up with my 30-before-30 list, I knew I wanted to incorporate some time in wine country. Luckily, California has quite a few wine countries to choose from. I toyed with the idea of going up to Napa or Sonoma, but those proved to be too far away for a weekend. I briefly entertained the idea of going to Temecula or Paso Robles, but neither panned out. So I ended up revisiting the old standby: Santa Ynez Valley. Though I didn’t spend a complete weekend there, I figure one overnight plus another full day more than count for checking the item off my list.
When President’s Day weekend came up (also coinciding with Valentine’s weekend, but I don’t pay any attention to that holiday), I struggled to think of something to do for that Monday off. After contemplating taking the train up to Santa Barbara to wander around State Street and find local tasting rooms, I finally wrangled a buddy to join me for a day of wine tasting throughout Santa Ynez. At his suggestion (which turned out to be the right call), we booked a hotel and I grabbed some LivingSocial deals for discounted wine adventures. I just love that website!
We drove up in the morning and checked into the hotel before making our way to our first vineyard at Roblar. I’d never been there before, but it was the perfect location for our first stop of the day. There were pretzels and dips to sample as we tasted a variety of whites and reds. I ended up buying a bottle of sauvignon blanc which ended up being the only bottle I purchased all day.
Sunstone was our second stop. It was the most beautiful vineyard I’d ever visited. The whole place looked like a Tuscan villa and the olive oils and balsamic vinegars were to die for. This spot was very popular with a Valentine’s themed event going on, but everyone was friendly and accommodating. We were allowed to sip at our leisure and it was the perfect day to sit on the porch and chat away. Which is exactly what we did.
Rideau was our third stop. I had purchased a deal for this place, but unbeknownst to me, I needed to make a reservation for the wine tour. We stayed for a tasting and promised to return to get the full use of the voucher. The place was hopping and we meandered around the grounds listening to a live band and watching the owner’s adorable pups run around.
On our way back to the hotel, Buttonwood popped up on the road and we took another detour for our last vineyard tasting of the day. It was at this vineyard that I realized my brand new—and might I say adorable—new shoes were wreaking some havoc on my feel. My heels had been rubbed raw and it was painful to walk even a few steps. Luckily, the wine helped to numb the pain.
Back at the hotel, I switched into flip-flops and we hit both the Wandering Dog Wine Bar and Lions Peak for additional tastings before making our way to Root 246 for dinner. Let me tell you, this was a phenomenal restaurant with the most delicious brussels sprouts I have ever eaten. Seriously, and I’m not even a brussels sprouts fan.
I’m not going to lie, Wonderlings. The rest of the evening is pretty fuzzy. Six wine tastings, two glasses of wine, and only one real meal is the recipe for disaster. I enjoyed way too much of the vino and didn’t have enough in my belly to counteract the effects. I do remember running to jump and hit a hanging sign and ending up on the sidewalk.
I laughed—hell, I’m still laughing about it—but the next day, I was hurting from a scrapped elbow and a pounding head. Regardless of the new scar on my elbow, it was a super fun time and we’ll be going back again soon. I’ll just be sure to eat more.
The return trip to Santa Ynez was much less wine-centric. Don’t get me wrong, there was wine, but there was just one tasting instead of six. With my aunt visiting from Boston, my mom and I decided to spend the day in Solvang before we spent the night in Santa Ynez with Kathy Griffin.
Our first stop after the long drive was at Gainey. As you may remember, I’m pretty familiar with this winery because my sister got married there almost seven years ago. This time, we just stopped to use the restrooms, but I simply couldn’t visit an open winery and not sample the goods now could I? I ordered their tasting flight and instantly remembered how much I love Gainey’s white wines. They make a Riesling that is delicious without being overly sweet and syrupy. I ended up buying a bottle of that and a bottle of chardonnay. Oh, and I became a wine club member. Who couldn’t use good wine at a discounted price? Did I mention that anytime I now go up, I now get free tastings? So worth it.
Since my aunt had never been to Solvang, we decided to start there as it is the country’s only Danish town. The cool thing about exploring a place with someone who’s never been there is that everyone can play tourist. It’s like seeing it with new eyes. I happily snapped pictures of the quaint town and chowed down on Danish pastries. We wandered around and it was just so nice to not have a plan of what to see and do.
Before we knew it, it was nearing showtime and we headed to Chumash Casino and Resort. I wouldn’t have called myself a Kathy Griffin fan before, but I sure as hell am one now. She was hysterical! She talked about everything from the Kardashians (with spot on impressions) to her much-younger boyfriend (you go, girl!), to gliders (“So, you get into a Toys R Us plane, another plane takes you up and decides when to let you go, and you just float. Ok.”). It was one of the best comedy shows I’ve ever seen and I loved that there was nothing Hollywood about her. She seemed to genuinely enjoy being in front of an audience who adored her unlike some other comedians I’ve seen (*cough* Chelsea Handler *cough*) and the set wasn’t rushed so she could get to the next one and go home. She was on time, she was super high energy, and she was completely entertaining. I can’t wait to read her book soon.
And just like that, my 29-year old wine country adventures have come to a close. With a trip to Sedona planned for next week and a 10K the following weekend, I don’t think I’ll get up there until I’m in my third decade when the wine club bottles are ready to be picked up.
That should certainly help me transition into my thirties.