We had an awesome time up in the Santa Barbara Wine Region last weekend. First off, so sorry for being radio silent last week. After what turned out to be an amazing weekend of wine tasting and education, I returned to my alter ego life and immediately jumped on a flight for a marketing consulting gig. I needed that time away to dry out and was so crazy busy last week that I simply didn’t find the time to whip up a post..
This wine tasting trip was different for me than most in the past. First off, we went with friends that we’ve never been to wine country with before, although we’ve done that a 100 other times. Our friends were awesome and I believe had a great birthday weekend away. The key difference this time is that for the most part, we avoided the large vineyard tasting room experience (also known as crazy tour bus infested tourist traps) and instead met one on one with some amazing people in the wine trade – sellers, wine makers, field harvest hands, and winery operations staff. It was one of the most educational and fascinating wine tasting weekends that I can recall.
Now I’m not completely against the tasting room setup, although I do long for the old days when tasting was free (or comp’d if you purchase), when staff seemed to enjoy their jobs, and when you could taste and learn and enjoy before they throw the “wine club” brochure in your face. This all said, more often than not, I taste in tasting rooms, and enjoy chatting wine with other visitors and wine lovers.
This trip rocked because we got face time specifically with the people making the wine, and to be honest, their passion for the craft was completely contagious. Our first stop of the day was a private tasting and lunch with Jeff Fink, winemaker/owner of Tantara Winery. Now after driving through the rolling hills out to the Bien Nacido Vineyard in Santa Maria Valley, we arrived to what looked and feeled like a scene from BottleShock. Jeff was there with a huge smile and down home style to welcome us, and he immediately introduced us to his team and colleagues that were in attendance – everyone from the sales manager, harvest field hands, to fellow winemakers. We sat down to a wonderful meal catered in from a local Italian joint and immediately jumped into some time. Jeff told us they love to “brown bag it” and we simply went for the ride. In this case, all of the bottles of wine on the table were concealed in brown lunch bags, hiding their identity. All we knew for sure, was that we’d be tasting several Pinot Noirs, and a handful of whatever else they stumbled across that morning. Speaking for myself, I felt completely at ease with this group, although clearly out of my league on wine knowledge. I could often pick varietal (sometimes even guessing right), but choosing the vintage, region, and clone were well above my and my groups level. We loved the game, and once each wine was revealed, we enjoyed chatting and talking about the tasting notes.
In the end, we learned a lot, both about the wine and the personalities behind them. As the lunch went on, friends simply stopped by with bottle in hand and we kept on tasting and learning. In the end, I think we tasted as many wines from Tantara as from elsewhere in the region. By this point, I was a bit fuzzy on Tantara’s tasting notes and styles, however we still managed to leave with a 1/2 dozen bottles to revisit at a later date. If your looking for a fun, educational experience, definitely check out Tantara.
From here, we immediately headed over to Foxen Winery. As members, we love their big, spicy, bold reds and were happy to brings friends to “the Shack” tasting room. I know, I should embrace Foxen’s grown and new tasting facility, literally 1000 feet down the road, however, the small rustic charm of the Shack is Foxen to me as much as their wines are. Here, we simply tasted and relaxed. We needed a more casual tasting after our lunchtime session and Foxen and their cult worthy Reds were exactly what was needed.
A quick stop in Los Olivos, well ok, maybe not that quick now that I think of it. Wine country tends to close down around 5-6pm, so we went to the local wine shop/restaurants on the strip to enjoy some casual appetizers and a bottle of wine. Dinner this evening was at Jocko’s in Nipomo, California. Now we’ve been loyal fans of The Hitching Post II for well over a decade now, but eager to try something new we ventured north. In the end, the wait was beyond insane, the wines were good, and the steak was excellent. For me, not quite Hitching Post quality, but then again, the prices were half! I’d highly recommend it, although learn from our mistake and call ahead to get on the list. If you forget, plan on sitting in the bar, working your way through a couple bottles of decent local area wines, and snacking on relish trays. Oh yeah, the girls working the front desk, don’t take bribes (from what I hear!).
Part Two, coming up later…..