Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Our Sideways Tour

Six people and one dog headed out in our rented mini-van early on a Sunday morning from Burbank and drove north on the 101 to Santa Barbara where we branched off to the 154 north through the Santa Ynez Mountains where misty clouds hovered over the valley blanketing the budding grapevines with the required cool air to help them do that thing that they do. I ask you, where is the ‘scenic overlook’ area when you need one. This was a serious bummer for Jennifer, an avid photo enthusiast. Thankfully, there would be many more photo ops during the day. In fact, it seemed like the more wine we consumed, the more pictures there were to take. Don’t know if this would have been the case had we been sipping premature wine, a.k.a. grape juice.

Our first stop was Sunstone, a beautiful setting with a Tuscan style courtyard abundant with blooming rosemary shrubs and a well established flowering vine draping the entrance to the tasting room. While the winery isn’t dog friendly, we stopped at the recommendation by friends for its setting and architecture, we're glad we did.

This was 26 year-old, Tara’s first wine tasting experience, and I must say she looked a little bit like a kid in a candy store and excitedly asked me “how does this work?” As the older, not in all matters wiser, experienced wine taster, I showed her the tasting list and explained we’d taste the 7 wines described. Her eyes widened in a Christmas morning way as she stated, “I’m going to be drunk”. I assured her that the one-ounce pours, coupled with the possibility of pouring disagreeable wine into the spittoon would most likely not facilitate drunkenness. I also offered my glass as the spittoon for red wines in an effort to not be wasteful.

The white wines were being served in the courtyard and although I am not a white wine fan, I did try the 2005 Viognier and the 2006 Syrah Rose’. Enough said.

We moved inside for the red wine selection. The cave-like darkness illuminated by votive candles enticed us into the cavernous room where my husband commented he felt like he was on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. Much to our surprise, we were informed that the architect who designed the Indiana Jones ride also designed the Sunstone tasting room. One in our group, a bit grumpy that day, thought the design to be forced and fake. I think the rest of us loved it, I mean, who wouldn’t enjoy the ‘wine tasting ride’ at Disneyland if they had one?

Even further back, the smaller cellar/tasting room was lined with shelves of older vintage appropriately dusty bottles that were available for purchase, a nice option if you want to do a vertical tasting sooner rather than later. We didn’t partake of the reserve wines that were being poured in that room, but did enjoy the small cheese cubes.

My husband Michael and I brought home the 2003 Fred’s INXS a 100% syrah, 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon (100%) and the 2006 EROS a blend of 74% Merlot, YES – Merlot, despite what the movie Sideways did to that poor little innocent grape, 23% Cabernet Franc and 3% Cabernet Sauvignon. Most in our group tasted the “Noble Rot” 2005 Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc while I opted to get artsy with the camera, not realizing until later there was a smudge of something on my lens that blurred most of my pictures.

In an effort to keep our day on schedule, I informed the group of our next stop, Buttonwood Farm Winery & Vineyard. I handed off the keys to Jennifer’s mom, Irma, our much appreciated designated driver, and off we went to this delightful little tasting room in a beautiful garden setting which was inspiring Irma to dig up more of her yard back in Michigan to create another garden bed. It was inspiring me to start with the red wines and stroll in the garden.

While some started with the whites, a 2007 Sauvignon Blanc, 2006 Devin and a 2007 Syrah Rose; I started with the Sibling Revelry – a red blend available by the case only at $60.00. Described as an everyday blend and priced at $5.00 per bottle, you can’t go wrong with this red.

Harmony, the dog, was allowed into the tasting room and to sniff around the gardens where she and Irma took a snooze on a bench in the sunshine. As I moved on to the 2005 Merlot, I couldn’t help but ask the gentleman pouring the wine about the movie ‘Sideways’, which took place in Santa Ynez and Los Olivos, in which, Paul Giamatti’s character pooh-poohs the Merlot grape entirely. He shook his head and stated it was amazing how one opinion could have such a negative impact on a specific wine.
Truth be told, in the years since the movie, some very well-educated ‘wine economists’, yes, there is such a position, have done studies that show while Pinot Noir sales did increase after the movie, in fact, Merlot sales weren’t truly affected. It certainly didn’t stop us from picking up a bottle – it was delicious. We also brought home the 2004 Cabernet and the 2002 Trevin, a blend of 50% Merlot, 35% Cabernet and 15% Cabernet Franc.

This is the tasting room in which we discovered that Jennifer and Tara's eye color is quite similar, don't you think?

Tara was now in fact, drunk. Or at least highly tipsy because she was giggling at things that weren’t all that funny.

Surprisingly, we were still on schedule and next on the agenda was lunch at the Los Olivos CafĂ© – dog friendly outside on the patio. We shared a delicious cinnamon puff pastry baked Brie and a cheese plate with fig jam, honeycomb, marcona almonds and dried apricots. We all enjoyed our meals, from the Butternut Squash salad with tender spiced cranberries, the Southwest salad and the Pulled Lamb sandwich with a creamy onion jam with a Caesar side salad tossed with pine nuts. Delish. As was the cabernet we drank with lunch.

Next stop was a tasting room on Grand Avenue in Los Olivos called Consilience (which means the unity of knowledge). My husband and I had been there before on an all-day 15-person birthday limo-bus wine-tasting extravaganza. While the tasting room was a bit more subdued than the last time we were there, we enjoyed the wines immensely and Harmony enjoyed a few dog treats as she entertained the tasting room patrons and employees with dancing turns.

I happened to be reading the tasting notes while enjoying the 2005 Syrah “Hampton Family Vineyard”, when I nearly choked at the pretentious description, “Each grape is carefully plucked from the stem, held up and admired under a setting sun before being gently placed in the hopper . . .” and bitter Unpublished Patti thought to herself, what a horribly sappy writer they found to do that crap, until I continued . . .”well, not really, but you get the idea.” Ahhhhh, humor is so refreshing; like a perfectly chilled Pinot Grigio on a warm summer afternoon spent with good friends discussing the meaning of life . . .

We purchased the 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon “Camp 4 Vineyard” and the 2005 Cuvee Mambo Red, carefully placed them in the mini-van and headed up the street to ‘Wine Country’, a little wine and beer shop where three of us tasted beer and my husband continued on the wine-tasting tour. One wine label caught my eye and I’m so relieved I didn’t try to pronounce the French way it was written here:

I love when people don’t take themselves too seriously, and to see a wine label like that makes me think these three people were enjoying the moment of creating something together, yes, perhaps with a little too much wine, but once the design is off to the printer and you have 1,000 labels, there’s no turning back. Michael raved about and purchased the 2006 Paredon Grenache and the 2003 Trentotto File from White Hawk Vineyard.

At this point in the day, sadly we weren’t going to make it to the last scheduled winery stop at Brander but Michael did manage to convince us to stop at the Cold Spring Tavern on Stagecoach Road that was an actual stagecoach stop in the 1860’s. We had been here once before on our previous visit and really enjoyed this mountain tavern time-travel experience. On the two occasions we’d been there, live music seems to lift everyone’s spirits and pretty much wherever you turn, you see a smiling face. The band, Studio C, was on stage when we arrived. We grabbed a beer; a whiskey and 2 hot chocolates for the group and enjoyed some people watching before calling it a day and heading back toward Los Angeles.

I think we converted our first-time wine taster, Tara. And, hopefully she’ll be back to visit and we can explore some more wineries so close to home.


  1. Dear Unpublished Patti,
    What an incredibly refreshing tale of your trip as it is filled with facts, connection, humor and charisma! I am a bit amazed you were able to gather so many facts after the multiple wine tastings! One must ask, were you taking notes the whole day? Or do you have a photographic memory? Maybe your deep love of wine just heightens your intelligence! In any case, I am glad to see the pictures that escaped the "smudge issue" -- they well accompany the story -- like a perfect wine cracker!

  2. WOW! I had no idea that there was a detailed report of that glorious day spent in Wine Country with such terrific folk! So really, were you taking notes??? Either way, this is great for those of us that are not blessed with a memory such as yours, even without partaking in the ritual of tasting wine - LOL. How delightful it was to relive the adventures of that day through your wit and humorous journal!

    Irma (a.k.a. Designated Driver)

  3. Thanks for reading, Irma! That was a super fun day. I had the itinerary to work off of, and the tasting notes we picked up from the wineries.
    Michael and I are going to Paso in a few weeks and I'll post about that trip, too.
    hugs back,