by Xochitl Maiman August 8, 2017
California wineries are taking their tasting room experience out of the vineyard.
California is home to some of the most beautiful wine regions in the world, boasting over 600,000 acres of wine grape vineyards. A winery’s vineyard is often an integral part of their tasting room experience, providing the backdrop for tasting, touring, dining and entertainment.
But there is a new tasting room experience emerging in California, with nary a vineyard in sight. The garagiste movement, having taken a strong hold in the state, especially in the Central Coast regions of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties, created the need to come up with new ways to attract wine tasters without the lure of the vineyard setting, as many of these small production wineries do not actually own any vineyard acreage. Now communities of tasting rooms, some in industrial park settings, are providing the inquisitive wine consumer with the unique opportunity to taste these limited production wines, most often with the winemakers themselves, in tasting room settings that often reflect their own unique personalities.
Santa Barbara County, home to Sta. Rita Hills and 5 other prestigious wine grape growing regions, now has a quickly growing community of tasting rooms in Lompoc, just a 20 minute drive west of Buellton, off the 101 freeway. With over 2 dozen tasting rooms to choose from, there is no shortage of exceptional wines to be tasted.
3 to visit:
Artisan Uprising – David and William Vondrasek, two brothers from Reseda, California, began making wine “for family enjoyment” in 2001. Their passion evolved and the 2012 vintage became their first official bottling under the Artisan Uprising label. In 2016 they moved into the Wine Ghetto where they have created an intimate, inviting and laid-back environment in which to enjoy their wines and their company. You can generally find both brothers on the weekends pouring wine and chatting up guests while inviting them to pick out their favorite vintage vinyl to play on the turn table. Whether it’s Cat Stevens, the Beatles or the Monkees you choose, don’t miss out on their chocolate and wine pairing featuring truffles from Ethel M.
Wines: Rosé of Malbec, Merlot, Malbec, Tempranillo, Petit Sirah
Case production: 700-800 annually
Sweetzer Cellars – Lisa and Michael hail from the neighborhood where I grew up, West Hollywood, California, where they began to make wine in their white-carpeted apartment in 2008. By 2013 they had turned their hobby into “what they do”, producing uniquely styled wines using grapes sourced from the Santa Maria Valley, Sta. Rita Hills and Paso Robles. Lisa’s exuberant personality shines through as she presents each wine in the two tasting flights offered.
Wines: Chardonnay, Grenache, Syrah, Pinot Noir, including a number of single vineyard bottlings.
Case production: Approximately 1000 cases annually
Ampelos Cellars – Peter and Rebecca Work named their winery after the Greek word for vine – a tribute to the vineyard and their close ties to Greece, where they were married. Their Sip-Certified vineyard is maintained through organic and biodynamic farming methods, exemplifying the Work’s respect for the environment and their desire to produce wines that reflect the terroir from which they come. This environmental respect is also evident in their comfortable tasting room which features many “up-cycled” design elements.
Wines: Viognier, Rosé of Syrah, Syrah, Grenache, Pinot Noir
Case production: Approximately 5,000 cases annually
In the last three years, this urban hub of tasting rooms has become home to over 20 small local producers of wine, hard cider, beer and spirits. Names that are quickly becoming synonymous with artisan quality like ONX, Clos Solene, Cordant/Nelle, Brian Benson and Nicora, just to name a few. Many of these tasting rooms are open only on the weekends or by appointment, so check ahead – it’s definitely worth the extra bit of effort. Tin City is located just east of the 101 Highway, just a few minutes from Downtown Paso Robles.
The charming and historic Downtown area is the place to go for shopping and dining, with restaurants featuring just about any kind of food you’re craving after a full day of wine tasting. The area is also a wine tasting destination in and of itself. Just park your car and stroll the area stopping in at any of the over 20 tasting rooms, each with its own unique atmosphere and friendly tasting room hosts, often the winemakers themselves. Taste the diversity of wine Paso Robles has to offer – Spanish, Italian, Rhone and Bordeaux varietals – everything from Albariño to Zinfandel.
Music plays a big part in the Downtown tasting scene, with many of the tasting rooms offering live performances by local talent on the weekends. In fact, if you’re a musician as well as a wine enthusiast, don’t miss the vintage guitars at Gary Kramer Guitar Cellars, the movie music memorabilia at D’Anbino Cellars, or a tasting with musician turned winemaker, Denis Degher, at Domaine Degher.
If historic buildings are your thing, visit Derby Wine Estates in the circa 1922 “Almond Growers Building”, or Anglim located in the train station.
Frolicking Frog Cellars is located in a jewelers shop in case you’re looking for a little something shiny and special to take home along with your wine. Seven Oxen is located just inside the entrance to Thomas Hill Organics, one of the area’s most popular restaurants.
So next time you plan a wine tasting trip to California’s Central Coast, day trip or extended vacation, leave some room in your agenda to visit and experience these urban tasting areas. I’m sure you’ll come home with a trunk full of new favorites – I always do.
I’LL DRINK TO THAT!