Transitions commence new adventures. Make 'em last…
The weather was generously warm, the sun was shining, the sky was clear, and the roads were generally traffic-free in the Santa Barbara wine country, which is essentially all one can ask for when going on a wine-tasting trip, especially during the last week of December when almost everyone has the week off.
Although, apart from the beautiful vineyard landscapes, rolling hills, friendly people, and quaint country towns, the cohesive element that ties it all together in this area is wine, quality wine at best, and if it’s not found amid the plethora of quaffable slush some wineries put out, the trip can end on a sour note and feel quite futile. Therefore, finding superb wine is crucial, and one must be up to the task, focused and ready, and in some cases, lucky, for that very moment when a transcendent, ethereal wine causes a reawakening of the senses, of which I aptly call “winetrippin’.”
With my father in the driver’s seat, and a map and winery research in my hands, we set out to locate the first winery on my list. However, along the way we stopped off at Mission Santa Inés to rest our minds for a moment and give thanks for the opportunity to be together for a few wonderful days in the wine country. While I walked around the Mission, I recalled a verse in the Bible that I’m rather fond of: “You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man…” -Psalm 104:14-15
Named for a 13 year-old Roman martyr, St. Agnes, who refused to sacrifice to the pagan gods in 304 AD, Mission Santa Inés was founded on September 17, 1804 by Father Estévan Tapís. This particular site was chosen as a midway point between Mission Santa Barbara and Mission La Purísima Concepción in order to relieve overcrowding at those two missions that served native Indians living along the coastline. It was the 19th of 21 missions built along El Camino Real (The Royal Road), named in honor of the Spanish monarchy that financed expeditions into California in the quest for empire.
After striking out at the first winery and then tasting some “gambles” at the next one we visited on my list, we headed to the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail in hopes to hit up a few wineries I’ve been meaning to visit for quite a long time. Along the way, we spotted a 1946 truck rusting away in a cow field and I couldn’t resist the opportunity to take a photo. Although, I quickly ascertained that I’d be required to climb over a wire fence and jump over a wide stream, which wasn’t all that easy.
We then stopped off at several wineries and sampled more wine, but I still wasn’t exactly dazzled with any particular wine. Although, after having lunch, we headed to Bridlewood Winery, and it was here that I tasted the best wine until that moment.
After tasting their run-of-the-mill wines, I asked to try some of their Reserve wines that are not on “the list” and found one that had some potential, but just not quite enough to take home. I was a little bummed that I had not found a great wine yet after visiting five good wineries, but I did not lose hope. It was possible that I had set my expectations a little too high after having opened two bottles of Sea Smoke Pinot Noir (a private specialty winery located in the same area) during the holidays, which was the best wine I have ever tasted, but I was bent on finding one near its equal. We later visited Byron winery, the last visit of the day, and I had a great time tasting the best wine of the day. Before leaving, I purchased the “Swan Clone” Pinot Noir as I was very pleased with its vibrant flavors and consistency. (www.byronwines.com) The great thing about it is that one can only purchase this wine from the winery in person; it’s not in any stores, or on their internet page.
After our last winery, my dad and I walked through the town of Los Olivos and stopped off in a dynamic nursery garden and I had a relaxing time snapping a few photos.
The next day I woke up early in order to walk through the town of Solvang, which is considered the “Danish capital of the US.” Am I back in Europe?!?
Solvang was founded in 1911 by a group of Danes who traveled west to establish a Danish colony far from the mid-western winters. Set in the middle of the Santa Barbara wine country, the city is home to a number of bakeries, restaurants, and merchants that offer a taste of Denmark in California. The architecture of many of the facades and buildings resemble traditional Danish style, and is quite a pleasant sight to see.
Once the wineries began to open, my father and I hopped into the car and headed to several more on my list, and it wasn’t until the second to last winery of the day that I had found a great wine that truly surprised my senses – QUPE 2oo9 LOS OLIVOS CUVEE. (qupe.com/wines.html)
Qupé, somewhat of a sleeper winery in the area, had some decent wines, but it was their 2009 Los Olivos Cuvée that was pretty good, and one of the top wines I tried from over 10 wineries throughout the entire valley during my 2-day wine-trip. This wine has the ability to age nicely for about 10-15 years, but is totally drinkable now with explosive, rich wild cherry flavors that pleasantly linger and is rounded out with subtle spice and berry notes. I was definitely winetrippin’ while tasting this wine and I look forward to popping open the bottles I purchased.
All in all, it was definitely a journey to remember with Dad and I will soon share the wine I’ve picked up with friends back in Korea. ¡Salud!