Well, this is about the time that my GoFamily and I would be taking the opportunity provided by the February break to take a little ski vacation, most commonly out of the state. This year, however, with the two oldest having returned to in person college (no Feb break) and my second semester senior playing a full season of varsity baseball (thank God), no traveling was going to take place as a family. I took the whole week off anyway and planned two short bookend getaways, a Sunday to Tuesday trip to Carmel-by-the-Sea with my husband and a Friday to Sunday visit to Santa Barbara with two girlfriends. On the agenda in both destinations? Wine!
Fees were typically 20 to 25 dollars for 4-7 pours. As you might expect, there is quite a variety of generosity when it comes to pouring ranging from the 1.5 oz test tubes presented at De Tierra to the chincey pours at Blair Estate, in which I could barely see the wine in the glass. It took us only one winery to figure out that we were going to have to pace ourselves by splitting tastings. In this manner we were able to visit three wineries on day one and four on day two. Tasting wine this way also cuts your tasting fees in half. It is possible in most of the tasting rooms to waive the tasting fee with a purchase of wine, some quite a bit more than others.
Not all the info in the app was accurate. For instance, Talbott was not open at 11 as advertised and neither was Scheid. Scheid did open about noon and we did take advantage of that but we never circled back to Talbott. Vino Napoli was also closed. This was all fine because there was no way anyone could visit all the wineries anyway, seriously, you would die.
The wine is good but not excellent in my opinion. Though we visited 7 wineries, we bought only one bottle of wine. The guilt here is easily dispersed by the fact that now you pay a tasting fee. Remember when it used to be free?? However, it is the experience really you are paying for. We had excellent service at all wineries and did tip all our servers accordingly.
Of all these tasting rooms, only De Tierra had a bathroom.
So lets get a little synopsis of where we walked on our wine walk!
De Tierra (Mission between 5th and 6th): Bar and table seating. Great presentation of wines in a test tube rack allowed for proceeding at your own pace. Charcuterie board available. Incredible live music from Meredith McHenry. She managed keyboard and a guitar and had some rig that allowed her to harmonize with herself. Dang I was impressed.
Hahn Family Wines (Ocean and Mission in Carmel Plaza): No food but outside food allowed. We had to sit outside as the indoor seating was full and it got pretty wicked cold out there.
Blair Estate (also Ocean and Mission in Carmel Plaza): Limited seating and tasting at the bar. No food available. Good wine but really small pours, the worst pours of all the rooms we visited.
Manzoni Cellars (7th between San Carlos and Dolores in the Hampton Ct.): Very limited seating and some bar space. 15$ charcuterie box available (which we did buy). Pleasant unhurried service.
Scheid Vineyards (San Carlos and 7th): Good wine and pleasant service at tabletops. No food. Minimal docking for not being open when the website said it would be open.
Dawn's Dream Winery (San Carlos and 7th, Plaza San Carlos) Cheerful setting with bar, tabletop, and outdoor seating. Excellent service. The staff at Dawn's also referred us to ...
Galante Vineyards (Dolores between Ocean and 7th, in the Der Ling Passageway). A very cute tasting area with minimal bar and outdoor (firepit) seating tucked in the back area of the aforementioned passageway. The young lady here was just adorable and generous with the pours and the extras. This is the only winery where we actually purchased a bottle, a lovely dessert wine.
Now our experience in Santa Barbara was quite a bit different. The area around State Street and the general downtown in Santa Barbara also has a lengthy list of tasting rooms and even tasting patios that can be enjoyed simply by walking from one to the other.
Well, we didn't explore the easy route this time, but hopped in the car and drove to the wine region of the Santa Ynez Valley to visit some actual wineries. The Santa Ynez Valley can be accessed by exiting 101 onto Highway 154, also known as San Marcos Pass Road, and travelling about 35 miles north and west, which actually aims you toward the cities of Solvang and Buellton. The area is quite undeveloped, widespread and beautiful.
As there are quite a few wineries to choose from, it was difficult to choose exactly which two wineries to visit. Only two wineries of the 10 or so I checked out (which turned out to be the ones we visited, though I did make reservations at both) did not require reservations. Most cost about the going rate of $20 for 5-6 tastes, though one cost up to $50 I guess depending on what you tried. Most limit your tasting time to 60-90 minutes. Many wineries did not allow outside food, though some did have snacks available for purchase.
Despite the limitations and additional hassles, I would be interested in spending more time tasting wine in this region. The wine in general was better than what we tasted in Carmel, but that's just my own expert opinion.
So lets review the wineries we chose and how it went!
Sunstone Winery (125 N Refugio Rd, Santa Ynez) Sunstone Winery is a huge venue! There is a huge hilltop tasting area with what looks to be about 40-50 picnic tables. Groups of wine tasters are escorted to picnic tables appropriate to the party size. Thereafter a server comes by and takes care of your table. Outside food is allowed, but on site there is a food truck if you forget your cheese and crackers. The tasting fee is waived if you buy three bottles of wine (which added up minimally to about $90, so we did not take advantage of this). The tasting time is supposed to be about one hour, but we did not feel rushed. 6 tastes for 20$. Lovely, and worth the stop. The only thing I would recommend to the winery is the installation of a few more bathrooms. 5 stalls was too few for so many people and there was frequently a line.
Gainey Vineyards (3950 East Highway 246, Santa Ynez) Gainey Vineyards does tasting on a smaller enclosed patio. One thing I liked about Gainey was that the wine came out all at once in small flasks, allowing us to take our time. The disadvantage to this was that both my and my friend's taste were brought in one flask, requiring us to divvy up between two glasses. Most of the time it was pretty fair, but well, you know, lots of pressure! I believe that Gainey allows outside food in a separate picnic area but we were already pretty full and did not need to eat more, actually I think our food was gone! Gainey also has a little gift shop and a quite nice bathroom. Delicious pinot noir was the highlight.
After returning to the downtown area, we wanted to visit one of the downtown venues. I know better than to mix, but one of my friends doesn't drink wine so we decided to go to Cutler's Artisan Spirits, just a nine minute walk from our hotel, to address some of her drinking needs. This was a mistake. The "London Mule" I ordered, which was a guess gin and ginger beer, was really strong, ok so like pure alcohol. Very sadly, there is no kitchen, so the only thing you can do is order a pizza from a venue in the complex (all outside drinking patios). Things started to go south pretty quickly and that pizza could not come fast enough and was downed in about three minutes. Some people never learn, like me. The place was fine, but I shoulda stuck to one thing. I was fine, but it kind of put a damper on the rest of the night!