Could things get any better?
For the first time this week I was awake before Doug and Pam. No, I haven’t been burning the candle at both ends; I’ve simply grown to appreciate the comfort of a good mattress. Today was my first foray into Santa Barbara wine country. I had an appointment with Andrew Murray of Andrew Murray Vineyards at 10 o’clock so I had to get moving early.
Escaping LA was uneventful (thanks in no small part to the GPS that Doug and Pam let me borrow); though I’m sure that the poor souls sitting in traffic going the opposite direction would hate to hear me say that. After I hit the 101, which follows the coast before running for the hills, one scene after another left me shaking my head with an ear-to-ear smile. Mountains falling into the ocean followed by high-county lakes and hills draped in vineyards.
Andrew was the first person to reply to my requests for a visit and he was also the most empathetic, having gone through periods of wanderlust himself. The typical winery appointment consists of a tour of the winemaking facilities and a tasting of the produce. To make the experience more unique, Andrew took me on a tour of the eastern end of the Santa Ynez Valley, where grapes native to the Rhone Valley thrive. We visited two vineyards, Thompson and Watch Hill, to inspect the early season development of the vines. Keep an eye out for an upcoming post that will chronicle the tour.
Andrew Murray has a tasting room in the small town of Los Olivos. After my time with him I went into town to taste his wines and mingle with the tourist set. In 1998, his tasting room was the third to open in the small town. After Sideways put the spotlight on the Santa Barbara scene, the number of tasting rooms grew to fourteen. Now a town with one stop sign is the favorite imbibery of LA’s weekend warriors. I heard horror stories – people were dumping the spit buckets on their heads on a regular basis. No lie!
At three o’clock I traveled the short distance to Buellton, another Sideways setting. Just off the highway is a new multi-million dollar venture for boutique wine production called Terravant. Ken Brown is an eponymous husband-and-wife operation that uses the facilities for wine-making and storage; their offices are on the property as well. Ken is one of Santa Barbara’s wine pioneers. He worked at Zaca Mesa from 1977 until 1984 when he founded the Byron Winery. He sold Byron to Mondavi in 1990 and stayed on to manage the wines through 2004. We had an enlightening two-hour conversation and tasting in his office. We talked about the growing conditions in Santa Barbara, the history of California wine and the advancements that have been made in the vineyards over the course of his career.
As I left Ken Brown in the late afternoon, I came across the Hitching Post restaurant of Sideways fame. They make their own wines and serve them by the glass. I had the 2006 St. Rita’s Earth with grilled quail and mashed Wild Turkey sweet potatoes. The dish was an excellent pair with the Pinot, but it worked even better with the 1985 Chateau Palmer. How did I end up with Palmer? I sat at the bar next to an off-duty waitress whose customer had brought it the night before along with a 1978 Leoville-Las Cases. They didn’t finish the bottles, so I had the leftovers. Not much of the 78, but at least I got a taste. Over half the bottle of Palmer remained and I shared it with another wine tourist sitting on the other side of me. The staff didn’t care for the wine, saying it was too heavy for their tastes. More for me!
Now I’m off to complete the day with a viewing of Wolverine before finding a rest area to try out my latest theory on comfortable car sleep. We’ll see what this passenger seat is capable of!