Today was going to be a great day, and we all knew it. Our first stop of the day was going to be meeting with Curt Schalchlin from Sans Liege Wines. Curt is the winemaker and owner of this boutique, cult favorite Rhone variety style winery, known for choosing the best fruit from Santa Barbara up to Paso Robles. The Sans Liege concept of “without allegiance” is his way to acknowledge that these grape varietals do not have a history on the central coast, yet, in the spirit of “independence in wine making” he’s going to go for it and make the best damn wine he can.
Now I have to admit, I really wasn’t ready to start tasting wine when we first arrived. Curt came outside and greeted us, and his genuine warmth and down to earth nature was immediately welcoming. He has his operation housed within Central Coast Wine Services in Santa Maria. While Curt’s operation is amazing, he walked us through the CCSW complex and explained how the “big boys” produce wine in mass. I’ve seen barrel rooms and wine caves on many occasions, though in this case walking the floor, seeing the de-stemmer, the sorter, the varied bins and drums, not to mention the giant steel drums, were all an amazing site. This facility provides services to several big name wineries in the Central California Coast, doing anything from grape to bottle.
In contrast this this automated and processed world, Curt showed us where he makes his wine, the old fashioned way, by hand. We even got to press down the grapes in a bin to aid in the fermentation process. Not exciting to some, so cool to us. The warmth and aromas coming off these just picked fruit was inspiring. Now, I was ready to taste some wine ! We sat down at casual table surrounded by rows and rows of stacked barrels, to walk talk and taste our way through the world of Sans Liege.
I must admit, this is without doubt, one of my new favorite wineries!! Not only is Curt making amazing Rhone blends, but he’s managing to keep the price points down. Not only is the wine spectacular, but each bottle tells a story, starting with the name itself – The Pickpocket, The Offering, The Transcendentalist – each is a different wine with different story to tell, and each with its own unique spin on things. Needless to say, we had a great experience here and walked out with a nice array of wines to try back home.
From here, our little group had a monumental decision to make. We were all hungry, but the tasting rooms close early. The decision was made, rather quickly I’d offer up. We jumped into the waiting car and raced off to the Lompoc Wine Ghetto, opting to eat after the wineries close rather than waste precious wine time eating. Now this area is not what most people think about when they think wine tasting but its definitely something I’d recommend experiencing. The Wine Ghetto is an industrial park, located behind a Home Depot in Lompoc. Visiting here is a factory style visit, although the tasting rooms have come along nicely this past year. In the front of each “office” is the tasting room, and the back warehouse area is used to make, store, and age the individual wineries wine. Each, very different from the next so give yourself some time to go into and try each one. A star in my opinion here in Palmina Wines. They have a nice variety of Italian inspired wines, a pleasant staff, and nice snacks to complement the wine tasting experience (did I mention we skipped lunch?). They I’d have to admit are probably one of the bigger players in this complex. The Lompoc Ghetto complex houses around 10-12 different and unrelated wineries, ranging from literally husband and wife winemaker teams to larger midsized producers.
When we left the Ghetto I was more or less wine’d out. Tasting is fun, but honestly I can only go to 4-5 places MAX before my palate is fried and I lose my ability to distinguish flavor profiles (not that I’m that good to begin with).
For dinner, we went over to Full of Life Flatbread up in Los Alamos. This little joint in this tiny throwback old west feeling town is exactly what we needed. Several of the locals we ran into over our weekend mentioned this as a local favorite so we knew we had to try it. Excellent salads and artisan styled flatbread pizzas worked their magic to fill our stomachs, while a nice selection of local wines did the job to complement the food. They also had a nice beer selection as well.
All in all, I remain a huge fan of wine country weekends away, and am already looking forward to going back up (hopefully very soon). My next hope – roll up my sleeves and help with making wine. I’m ready to get dirty and jump in today.
What do you like about wine tasting? Favorite memory? Please share…