Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Adventures in Grapeland

Like so many others, I loved the movie Sideways. And also like so many others, it influenced me to take my interest in wine a little more seriously.


Last month, Helby and I took a weekend trip up to Solvang, the setting of Sideways. We stayed at a nice little lodge in a touristy part of town modeled as an old Danish village. There are lots of shops, restaurants, bakeries and, of course, a concentration of wine tasting rooms. Helby also booked us on a wine tasting tour which took us to four vineyards. Over the course of 48 hours, I tasted 38 different wines from seven different producers.

Lucas & Lewellen - The first tasting room we went to on our first night in town, and a great start to a weekend of wine. This is a good producer. I did a tasting from their Reserve List and, while I'm sure you'd be happy with any of their wines, I particularly recommend the 2005 Pinot Noir Goodchild "Hilltop."

Bella Cavalli Farms & Vineyard - Our first stop on the wine tour, and one of my favorite producers from this trip. I enjoyed both their 2008 Pinot Grigio and their 2005 Pinot Noir. Being a red person, I'd particularly recommend the latter. It had a spiciness, and tastes of tomato and mango.

Rusack - I'm afraid that a not-so-great presentation may have negatively colored my opinion of these wines. We visited this room in the mid-afternoon on a Saturday, and they were slammed with business. Hopefully I'll have the opportunity to give these wines another chance. That being said, they had the best Rosé I've ever had (in my limited experience with Rosés).


Saarloos & Sons - Probably my favorite producer from this trip. This is a small, family owned operation. I loved all their reds, but none moreso than the MRS Pinot Noir. Thick, rich and balanced, it had tastes of honey and golden apple against red berries. It also happens to be $52/bottle. If I had lots and lots of money, I'd have lots and lots of bottles of this. But I couldn't bring myself to cough up the money at the time and, being a small producer, they'll probably run out soon which means I'll never get to taste this wine again. And that makes me sad. But this is a producer I'll be keeping my eyes on for a long time.

Sunstone Vineyard & Winery - Our final stop on the wine tour didn't blow me away, but had an interesting 2006 Merlot Estate with tastes of chocolate. Also a good 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon. Rather pricey for the quality, however.

Sort This Out Cellars - Back in town, we stopped at a couple more tasting rooms before our weekend was over. Sort This Out is one of the few rooms in town that's actually open at night. (Yes, Solvang encourages you to do your drinking during the day.) This is a fun little rockabilly joint with a gangster and pinup theme, and live music. Their cellared wines are also very enjoyable. They have a 2009 Viognier and a 2008 Grenache that both taste like candy. But I walked away with their "Zin City" 2007 Zinfandel, while Helby picked up their 2009 Suited Muscat.

Royal Oaks Winery (no website) - Our final tasting room on our way out of town. I took their dry wines tasting, while Helby took the semi sweet. I picked up a 2006 Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir, while Helby bought both a Niagara and a Concord.

So, that was our first trip to wine country. The overall experience of tasting these wines in the heart of the region that produced them reminds me of visiting Hershey, PA in my teens. Yes, chocolate is always good, but the pristine freshness of experiencing it just off the line is like nothing else. Likewise, there's a special spark to these wines when you're enjoying them in wine country. Not to mention the beauty of the region.

Keep your eyes on this site. In the coming weeks, I'll post more detailed write-ups on the wines purchased during this trip.

In summary:
If you remember anything about Sideways, you probably remember how much the main character Miles loved pinot noir. After seeing the movie, I tried some pinots noir and wasn't particularly impressed; the pinots I tried were perfectly fine, but didn't stand out to me as a grape worth obsessing over. One thing I learned on this trip was why Miles loved pinot noir so much. The Santa Ynez region clearly excels at producing it. I'll be paying more attention to it in the future.

I hope you have a chance to enjoy my recommendations. Most of the wines mentioned here are available for purchase online, so check out the websites and leave your comments below.

Note about shipping wine between states:
Many states have laws in place that prohibit direct shipment of wines from producers to consumers. These unfortunate laws serve to benefit distributors and other middlemen, and are a disservice to both the wine producers and the consumers. If you live in a state that restricts direct shipment, you may not have access to the wines discussed above. Most of the websites for each wine producer have listings of where their wines may be available in your area.

If you live in a state that restricts direct-to-consumer shipments, you can help Free the Grapes! Visit and click on your state for information about contacting your representatives.

Finally, if you're planning a visit to the Santa Ynez Valley and are interested in booking a wine tour, I can heartily recommend Stagecoach Co. Wine Tours. They have great relationships with the area's wineries, clean and comfortable tour vans, and affable driver/tour guides who will show you a good time.

1 comment:

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