Category Archives: wine travel

Sweetzer Cellars tasting room Lompoc

California’s New Urban Tasting Rooms

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.

Sweetzer Cellars tasting room LompocBut 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.

The Lompoc Wine Ghetto

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

Artisan Uprising Lompoc Tasting Room

Sweetzer Cellars – Lisa and Michael hail from the neighborhood where I grew up, West Sweetzer Cellars tasting room LompocHollywood, 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

Ampelos tasting room Lompoc

Tin City in Paso Robles

Tin City Paso Robles Tasting Room

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.

Downtown Paso Robles Wineries

Asuncion Ridge Wines Paso RoblesThe 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!

Wine Tasting in Downtown Paso Robles

by Xochitl Maiman – January 7, 2017

Downtown Paso Robles offers a comprehensive wine tasting experience that’s still a secret to many touring and tasting visitors to the area.

Downtown Paso Robles WineriesThe Paso Robles wine region of Central California is no longer the secret of locals and wine writers on the lookout for the next best thing. Nope, Paso Robles is now a major player in the California wine scene, in fact, it was named “Wine Region of the Year” by Wine Enthusiast Magazine in 2013.

The region, located halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, and named for its oak studded rolling hills on either side of the 101 freeway, boasts over 200 bonded wineries, many of them with tasting rooms along various wine trails zig zagging through the hills. Visitors can literally spend days touring and tasting on the various “wine trails”.

Downtown Paso Robles WineriesWhat is still somewhat of a secret is that there are over a dozen tasting rooms located in the charming and historic downtown area, offering myriad wine varietals and styles for every palate. These tasting rooms generally represent smaller boutique wineries that aren’t equipped with an “on site” tasting room facility to receive guests, or are just too far off the wine trails to be easily found.  Most of the wineries belong to the Paso Robles Downtown Wineries Association, and each offers a unique tasting experience. Many also offer live music performances in the late afternoon and evenings on weekends.

Strolling Downtown Paso Robles

The trick is to actually plan to spend a few hours downtown – simply park your car and stroll the streets surrounding the downtown park, stopping  to taste wine, have lunch, and shop at any of the wonderful stores boasting food goods, clothing, home décor, antiques and collectibles. Alternatively, you could spend a few hours tasting, then relax with some music in one of the tasting rooms  before heading to dinner with your new favorite wine in hand.

If you’re planning a trip to Paso Robles, you might consider planning to be there when the Downtown Tasting Rooms have one of their “wine strolls”, usually once during each season. This is the perfect opportunity to meet many of the winemakers/owners themselves, and each tasting room generally offers a food pairing to showcase one of their wines. Many also offer music and wine specials during these events.  The group also does similar walk-around events to benefit various charities, like Zoo to You and Wine 4 Paws.

I haven’t visited all the downtown tasting rooms yet, and more have opened recently, but here are a few standouts I would suggest.

D'Anbino Cellars - Downtown Paso RoblesLocated in the historic train depot, just a couple of blocks from the Downtown Paso Robles Park, are Anglim Winery, producing wines primarily from Rhone varietals, and the very unique tasting room of D’Anbino Cellars.  Co-owners John D’ Andrea and Carmine Rubino, come from the music industry and their tasting room is like a TV and film music museum with much of their music memorabilia on display. The tasting room bar is made of piano sound boards and the whole place doubles as a much sought after music venue featuring some of the finest musicians in California, with concerts 2-3 times a week.  Their annual “Italian-night” is a ton of fun.

LXV Wines - Downtown Paso Robles

Photo Credit: LXV Wines

LXV is one of the most unique tasting rooms you will probably ever experience. Here your senses are aroused by the color of the walls, the texture of the fabrics of the couches, the smell of spice, and, of course, the taste of their beautifully crafted wines with labels inspired by the 64 arts of Kamasutra.

For most unique building, Derby Wine Estates, located  in an iconic Downtown Paso Robles landmark, is the place to visit. Erected in 1922, the building was a processing plant for the Almond Growers Association for the period of time when almonds were the area’s prime agricultural commodity. The building went through a number of incarnations before being purchased and meticulously renovated by the Derby’s in 2010. Call ahead for a “reserve  tasting” in their lofty “Almond Room” with stunning views of the surrounding hills.

Derby Wine Estates - Downtown Paso Robles

Photo Credit: Derby Wine Estates Facebook page

Frolicking Frog  also boasts a unique location as it shares space with a jewelry store, fitting as owner/winemaker Stu Goldman is also a jeweler. The “jewels” of his winemaking include rich, lush wines made from zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon and other red varietals.

Parrish Family Vineyard not only offers wonderful wines, both red and white, but their family history is deeply rooted in the Paso Robles area. If you’re lucky enough to visit on a day when David Parrish or his daughter, Cecily, is there, do ask for the family story while you sip one of their delicious zinfandels or Cabernets. Don’t miss the “Silken” blends, both white and red versions.

Downtown Paso Robles WineriesTo learn more about the Paso Robles Downtown Wineries visit their website or follow their Facebook page

Download and print tasting guide and map of Downtown Paso Robles Wineries tasting rooms.

 

I’LL DRINK TO THAT!

Carmel-by-the-Sea – A Food and Wine Weekend Getaway

by Xochitl Maiman – November 27, 2015

Carmel-by-the-sea, on California’s Central Coast, is the perfect spot for a wine weekend getaway between holidays.

If you’re still washing dishes and wine glasses from Thanksgiving, but already thinking about the next big celebration, now might be a great time to plan a quickie wine weekend getaway before the next wave of relatives arrives. California offers myriad wine country destination choices, but perhaps not as familiar to some, is the wine region of Monterey County and the gorgeous Santa Lucia Highlands AVA, home to some of the most elegant and delicious Pinot Noir and Chardonnay the state has to offer.

Where to stay…

Carmel-by -the-Sea” is just the place to relax and take some big breaths of clean ocean air to rejuvenate your spirit and energy. But don’t be fooled by the tranquility, this charming European-style village, rated a top 10 U.S destination, has it all including art galleries, unique boutiques, bakeries and dining, gourmet food shops, spas, lodging and plenty of tasting rooms. And the best part is that all this can be enjoyed by foot as the village and shore is within walking distance of many of the area hotels and inns. Hofsas House - Carmel, CaliforniaThe iconic family owned and Bavarian inspired Hofsas House has been offering European hospitality in Carmel for over 60 years. Their “hands on” approach to providing their guests with the best possible service is evident from the moment you check in. You’re greeted like visiting family, and, with the wine and cheese package, you’ll find in your room a bottle of Monterey County wine and a cheese selection from The Cheese Shop – Carmel, for you to enjoy as you warm up by the in-room fireplace. Each of the spacious 38 rooms are unique, offering amenities like the aforementioned fireplaces, balconies, wet bars, kitchens and WiFi. The landmark pink building is located among tall trees and on a hillside with westward views offering stunning sunset viewing while enjoying a glass of wine.  In the mornings, visit the main lobby for continental breakfast and to pick up a map of the village before starting off to explore.

Where to taste…

If this is your first time wine tasting in the area you might consider purchasing the Carmel Wine Walk by-the-Sea Passport which provides visitors with a tasting at their choice of 9 of the 14 village tasting rooms. The concierge at Hofsas House can arrange to have your passport waiting for you when you check in, upon request at booking.  Two standouts on the self-paced tour include Caraccioli Cellars and Wrath Wines.

Caraccioli Cellars Caraccioli Cellars - Carmel, CaliforniaStart your special wine weekend off right with bubbles! Caraccioli Cellars produces a Brut Cuvée and a Brut Rosé that are just the thing to help you toast your getaway weekend, and to take home to share with friends as you toast the holidays and New Year. Winemaker Michel Salgues also produces lovely and elegant still wines with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from vineyards in the Santa Lucia Highlands.

Wrath Wines Wrath Wines - Carmel, California Wrath Wines -Sabrine RodemsWhen tasting wines produced in the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA, you’re going to hear a lot about clones. Clones are different strains of the same grape, notable for their specific characteristics. Winemakers grow and blend different clones to achieve the finished wine that they envision. Kind of like a spice rack to a chef. You’ll see lots of mention of clones in the names of the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir on the tasting list at Wrath Wines. But don’t let that deter or confuse you. Take advantage of all this variety to avail yourself of a comprehensive focus tasting of these two varietals and the many styles of wines they can produce under the guidance of a passionate, talented and creative winemaker, in this case, Sabrine Rodems. Besides all that very interesting and delicious Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, Wrath Wines also makes a wonderful Sauvignon Blanc under their Ex Anima label and in the Single Vineyard Series, I loved the San Saba Vineyard Syrah. Note: Need cheese for that wine? The Cheese Shop is right next door!

Where to dine…

While you can easily walk to many fine restaurants in the village, there are also many wonderful and unique restaurants just a short driving distance away.

Located in an 1840’s adobe in Monterey, Restaurant 1833 is an intrigue from the moment you approach its inviting front courtyard. Standing tall and stately over the various candlelit seating areas and fire pits are an odd threesome of old trees – an oak, a palm and a pine tree, the three trees of California, according to our maitre d’.  Once inside, the ambience is warm, dark and a bit mysterious with many different dining areas and bars located in the various rooms upstairs and down. Of course, this old building comes with some ghost stories, but the real story here is the food – while basically American comfort food, the inspired menu consists of dishes made special with unique ingredients and combinations, artistically presented. They get pretty creative with the drinks menu too and pride themselves on their award winning cocktails.

Duck at Tarpy's Roadhouse - Monterey, California

Tarpy’s Maple Leaf Farms Duck over Farro with Rye Glazed Heirloom Carrots, Cherry-Port Compote

Tarpy’s Roadhouse has been an area favorite since 1992, but the history of the name and site is storied and dates back to 1851. Today, however, it’s all about  the food. The menu is varied, but the meat dishes prevail and are combined with tastes and textures of additional ingredients that just tantalize your taste buds to the last bite. If you are a scotch, bourbon or rye fan, try one of their unique cocktails or choose from a good selection to drink “straight up”.

Tarpy's - Carmel, California

Cast Iron-Seared Sea Scallops with coffee-cocoa rubbed bacon, grits, cauliflower, bourbon syrup

So….here’s the takeaway….take some time out for yourself and head to beautiful Carmel-by-the-Sea. It just might become your “special place”.

Note: I’d like to thank Hofsas House for having me as their guest, and for the gracious hospitality at both Restaurant 1833 and Tarpy’s Roadhouse. Special thanks to the folks at Caraccioli Cellars and Wrath Wines for taking the time to share their wines and their stories.