At the end of October, our Danish-American friends, Herb and Carol, flew in from Wisconsin to join us for a week of touring and tasting in Solvang and the adjacent wine regions.
In preparation for the obligatory Sideways tour, we held a private screening of the film at our timeshare condo. Our friends had never seen Sideways, and needless to say, they were entertained by the antics of Jack and Miles and were anxious to visit some of the sites featured in the film.
During the upcoming week, we visited Firestone, Fess Parker, Kalyra, and Sanford and pointed out various landmarks as we cruised the area. Each location provided us with some amusing flashbacks from Sideways, along with some satisfying wine sampling.
Although Don and I have spent many happy days in the tasting rooms of Santa Barbara County, the joy of our recent trip was to see this magnificent wine country through the eyes of “newbies”. I don’t mean to imply that our Wisconsin friends lack sophistication or good taste in food and wine. Herb is a retired food chemist and has been a home winemaker for several years. (And they do know cheeses!) But in their sweet little Midwestern town and local countryside, there is a dearth of wineries, vineyards, wine merchants, wine bars, and wine educators. But above all, they are seriously bereft of wine grapes!
Because Herb is committed to using fresh, locally grown ingredients in his winemaking, all of his vintages are made from tree fruit, berries, dandelions, and even tomatoes. As an aside, tomato wine is decidedly exotic, but surprisingly good. It’s not like tomato juice, but clear, like blush wine. That having been said, Herb’s enchantment with grape varietals is understandable.
Because Herb must experience viticulture vicariously, we are always pleased when happenstance allows us to enjoy an up-close and personal conversation with a professional winemaker. Such was the case when we ducked into Sort this Out Cellars to get out of the rain. I had some 2-for-1 coupons provided by our resort, so it seemed prudent to check out this new (to us) tasting room on Copenhagen Drive. The coupons worked nicely, as we were anticipating a week’s worth of tasting fees.
But the next time I visit Sort This Out Cellars, I will opt for the $15 tasting, because it includes a stemless Riedel souvenir glass. This boutique winery’s founder/winemaker, Michael Cobb, was pouring that day. He shared with us his story and vision that culminated in his first release in 2007. Michael poured us a sample of mulled wine that was perfect for the weather and the season. I intend to recreate this soothing libation at home with his “kit” of Suited Merlot 2006, mulling spice pouch, and recipe ($20 total).
Later in the week, we had a lively conversation with another colorful wine personality. Chris Burroughs, who appeared in Sideways, is the manager of Thekla and Richard Sanford’s Alma Rosa Winery in the Santa Rita Hills AVA (recognized in 2001). The Sanfords sold their namesake winery and are now producing certified organic wines under the Alma Rosa label. The actual labels on bottles of wine produced in this AVA will state “Ste. Rita Hills” rather than “Santa Rita Hills” due to threatened litigation by a Chilean winemaker a while back. My favorite wine at Alma Rosa was the 2006 Pinot Noir La Encantada Vineyard, Ste. Rita Hills ($49).
Santa Barbara Winery’s tasting room in downtown Santa Barbara also poured an outstanding wine from the Santa Rita Hills AVA. I had intended to serve the Santa Barbara Winery 2008 Reserve Chardonnay, Ste. Rita Hills ($22) during the holiday season, but alas, it is now a fond memory.
It was a wonderful week of touring and tasting, meeting wine-savvy folks, and enjoying the company and camaraderie of friends and fellow wine lovers. Herb and Carol had several cases of wine shipped back home to Wisconsin, and Don and I toted several bottles home to Santa Clarita to serve during the holidays, to give as gifts, or to simply enjoy with Thai take-out. Wine works in just so many ways!