Aspen Times Weekly: Wine wanderlust
IF YOU GO ...
Carhartt Tasting Room
2990A Grand Avenue
Los Olivos, CA 93441
Phone: (805) 693-5100
Fess Parker Winery & Vineyard
6200 Foxen Canyon Road
Los Olivos, CA 93441
Phone (800) 841-1104
Foxen Vineyard & Winery
7600 Foxen Canyon Road
Santa Maria, CA 93454
Phone: 805 937-4251
The Hitching Post II Restaurant
406 East Highway 246
Buellton, CA 93427
It’s pretty quiet this week in Aspen as the lifts close and everyone heads out to find their beach. While spring has sprung here in the mountains, and it is truly beautiful, a young man (or even an older one) could be forgiven if his thoughts turned toward a wine trip. And this man’s thoughts have turned toward California.
Let’s assume you have never taken a Cali wine sojourn and let’s conjure an itinerary that will give you an appropriate overview of some of the state’s top wine regions. We’ll start this week in Santa Barbara and then, in future columns, we’ll head north to Paso Robles, Napa, Sonoma and points beyond.
Begin by booking passage directly to the Santa Barbara airport. It is the perfect airport to kick off your trip. Small and easy to navigate, you can begin your trip by ignoring the hustle and bustle that surround LAX and SFO. Pick up a car (spring for the convertible, it will be worth it) and head out Highway 154. Be sure to check out the stunning views of the Pacific as the highway crests San Marcos Pass before heading into Santa Barbara wine country.
Within an hour after landing you can be pulling into the picturesque wine town of Los Olivos. Tasting rooms abound here, so grab all the necessary maps and have a glass of wine as you get your bearings. Start at the tiny Carhartt Vineyards tasting room on Grand Avenue and have a glass of the 2013 Grenache Blanc. Say hello to Mike Carhartt. Yes, he is the grandson of Hamilton Carhartt, who founded the famed workingman’s clothing company in 1889.
It’s time to get in the vineyards, and the best bet is to take Foxen Canyon Road out of Los Olivos to see the heart of Santa Barbara wine country. You’ll have a number of choices for places to imbibe including Firestone, Vineyards and Andrew Murray, but be sure to make a stop at the Fess Parker Winery.
Founded in 1988 by the famed television actor who played both Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett in his career, this winery is quintessential Santa Barbara wine country, and it imparts the feel of the Old West. Blair Fox, the winemaker for a decade now, makes spectacular, small-lot, single vineyard wines that are available in the tasting room. The vineyards are stunning, especially the acclaimed Rodney’s vineyard which was named for Fess’ late son-in-law. The property shares a fence line with NeverLand Ranch, once the provenance of Michael Jackson and his menagerie.
If you feel a sense of déjà vu while standing inside of the tasting room, it is likely because you have seen the movie “Sideways.” In the film the winery is know as “Frass Canyon” and it is here that Miles, the film’s sad protagonist, discovers his novel has, once again, been rejected. He tries to drown the disappointment by downing the contents of the spit bucket. Do not duplicate.
By now the spirit of the region, the effects of the flight, the euphoria of your first tasting and the inevitable sunny skies have put you in a very happy place indeed. Cruise slowly up Foxen Canyon Road and stop at whatever winery feels right.
One that will definitely beckon is Foxen, one of the region’s original wineries. Founded in the mid 1980s by Dick Doré and Bill Wathen on land that had originally been bequeathed to Doré’s great-grandfather Benjamin Foxen, as a Mexican land grant in 1837, Foxen set the standard for the region. The laidback, “figure-it-out-by-doing” ethos that Dick and Bill adapted inspired a generation of winemakers to figure it out for themselves. Their solar-powered, sustainable winery built in 2009 is the culmination of a 30-year journey to make great wines that speak to the region. Stop and explore, but be sure to also head down the road to the original shack that served as Foxen’s wine tasting room in its seminal years. A former blacksmith shop, the Shack is where Foxen pours its Bordeaux blends and Italian varietals to visitors.
As your day ends, you’ll be hungry, and the signature restaurant in the region is The Hitching Post in Buellton, famed for both its classic grilled steaks cooked over local oak and its outstanding California pinot noir produced from grapes grown in the finest vineyards of the county.
Sounds like a pretty good day.
Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass with his wife, Linda, and black lab, Vino. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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