I was late to the party, but I finally made it. To Santa Barbara Wine Country that is. These days, very few exciting things happen in the world of tax law in my office. It’s not that we’re not doing work (just the opposite). It’s just that it doesn’t excite me like it used to. Yes, tax law actually used to excite me. But after 20+ years, it’s gotten a bit old. Of course, I’ve also found something that interests me more, though it doesn’t pay nearly as well. But I do get to have some great wine conversations in the office. And it was one of those conversations that got me intrigued about Santa Barbara Wine Country.
While I’ve studied a good bit of wine, Santa Barbara wine just doesn’t come up with any degree of regularity or detail to have made me appreciate it. So when one of my work colleagues went on and on about the wines of the region, I made a mental note but still didn’t really get it. But a timely visit by some of the region’s winemakers to Houston for a trade event started to put things in perspective. In a nutshell, I was amazed by the wines. I was also intrigued at the cool climate growing conditions (the geeky part). After that, it didn’t take long for me to plan a trip out there.
And so it was that we flew from Houston to Los Angeles to get a closer look at the region. It was literally the third time that Thing 1 and Thing 2 were away during the summer and we hadn’t taken advantage and gone anywhere! So I figured this was as good a time as any. While Solvang was to be our base during our stay, I’d heard that the city of Santa Barbara was worth a pit stop, not to mention that the hour and half drive up there along the Pacific Coast Highway is absolutely beautiful.
Having not really toured L.A. much (save for a short stint visiting family years ago), I loved seeing places I’d just only heard about like Santa Monica with its iconic pier, the beautiful beaches, as well as the very tony Malibu. We gawked at the peeks of multi-million dollar houses we were able to get glimpses of and pulled off at various vista points to better appreciate the region’s beauty. Before long, we found ourselves heading into Santa Barbara.
Upon driving into town, parking the car (which was a total PITA!) and stepping foot outside the car, I instantly wished I’d planned more time there. I absolutely loved the laid-back, yet upscale vibe of the city with all its Spanish influence. It’s definitely a place I’d like to return to explore more. We spent several hours browsing the shops beginning with the pedestrian-friendly Historic State Street Plaza in downtown working our way towards the beach. I had a few wineries I wanted to visit (of course) so we just worked those in as we went. Occasionally we had to backtrack or go out of our way, but there was always beautiful scenery in every direction.
The Santa Barbara Wine
I was able to visit most of the wineries I wanted – except for one that I couldn’t quite find and by the time I found them, they were closing. Oh well…
But there was plenty of Santa Barbara “wine therapy” to be had.
Sanford Tasting Room
The first wine stop was Sanford Tasting Room, which was literally in the middle of everything. Sadly, I heard this location is closed now, but you’re still able to visit them up on the Lompoc wine trail. They are the ones that got it all started and planted the first vineyards in Santa Barbara. What we brought home: Sanford & Benedict Pinot Noir.
Au Bon Climat
Recalling one of those “wow” Pinot Noir experiences from many years ago, I knew I had to visit Au Bon Climat. Sadly, we recently lost founder and winemaking pioneer Jim Clendenen, so that visit and those bottles I brought home from there are just that much more special now. As for the visit, I of course went in expecting to love the Pinot Noir, but the Chardonnay, Aligoté, and Nebbiolo blew me away. What we brought home: Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Nebbiolo.
Margerum Wine Company
When I reached out to other writers about places to visit, several recommended Margerum Wine Company. I absolutely loved the modern and spacious tasting room and the outside patio was also really cute. With all the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay the region is known for, I knew this was a great opportunity to see how Rhône varietals fared. The Syrah, Grenache, and red blends were nicely done and I certainly understood why they were recommended to me. But wouldn’t you know that my standout wine was their Sauvignon Blanc. Surprising because SB and I don’t always get along. What we brought home: Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, and their ‘Marc’ Brandy.
Since I wasn’t able to make my last winery stop (it was Whitcraft btw) we decided to walk around town. We walked out on to Stearns Wharf taking in the views and then browsed a local artisans market where I bought more jewelry that I didn’t need. I seriously cannot get enough of the gorgeous views in Santa Barbara.
Onward to Solvang
After that it was time to make the 45 minute drive up to Solvang. First thing we did was check into the hotel. One thing I was struck by when planning the trip was the lack of true “hotels” and the prevalence of “motels.” Yes, I’ll admit that I’m not much of a budget traveler anymore. At any rate, I was thrilled when I found The Landsby. I. Loved. This. Hotel.
Stay – The Landsby
The Landsby is a charming spot that was in the middle of everything and had plenty of room for us. Clean and modern with a Scandinavian vibe, it was just what I was looking for, not to mention you can’t beat the location. Room tip: Do get a room that overlooks the courtyard. We opted for the Junior Suite which had a lofted space with a king bed, a seating area below, and semi-private patio that looks out onto their cozy courtyard. And ya’ll, the courtyards are everything!
Before dinner, we walked around town to stretch our legs and see some of the quaint and charming town that is Solvang. It was literally like stepping back in time to an old-world Danish town. In fact, the town was founded by Danish immigrants in 1911. We saw some of the windmills for which the town is known, took in the architecture, and even spent a little time with Hans Christian Andersen, who was, you guessed it, Danish. We also had some pre-dinner drinks at a very cool spot called The Good Life Craft Beer & Wine Cellar. It’s great for people watching and Mr. Corkscrew was able to get himself a pint of beer while I got myself some bubbly. And do be sure to get some of their artisan popcorn. It’s amazing and you’ll end up with a second bag like we did.
Dinner – Succulent Cafe
For dinner, I’d made a reservation at Succulent Cafe, which came highly recommended. So named for all of the succulents that are found throughout the property, this was a great place to get a taste of the local wine – and a great meal. We sat on the patio (my goal was ONLY to sleep indoors and enjoy the outdoors as much as possible) and began dinner right before sunset and finished well after dark. One thing that we were struck by was how darn cold it got every night when the sun went down. Luckily, the restaurant had plenty of outdoor heaters and baskets of blankets for everyone. It was then that I understood why the wine grapes were so happy here. They get plenty of sun and warmth during the day to help in ripening followed by really cool temperatures at night to retain their all important acidity. In wine speak, that’s “diurnal range.”
Anywho, we were thrilled at all of the local wines on the list and made sure to get one we’d never heard of or had the opportunity to try. And there’s a reason for the “piglet” is on the sign. But you know what they say about pork and pinot…
After dinner, we corked our unfinished wine (yes, it does happen occasionally) and went back to enjoy what was one of my favorite features of the hotel – its multiple courtyards with fire pits. We cozied up near the firepit with a warm blanket, our bottle of wine, and just enjoyed the essence of it all. As a total “Type A” that suffers from anxiety, this was one of those rare moments where I just exhaled.
Be sure to read on for the next day of our Santa Barbara Wine country adventure…