Day 4 of our Santa Barbara adventure started with a return trip to Lompoc to visit a man whose passion about the region contributed to my wanting to visit. He had me hooked! And just a reminder that if you haven’t read Part 1 and Part 2, be sure to go back to see how we got here. After that, it was all about Los Olivos wine tasting.
So despite the fact that I didn’t want to go back and forth to Lompoc, Greg Brewer had agreed to meet me at his winery in Lompoc first thing in the morning for an interview. So that made going back to Lompoc a no-brainer. When he and some of the Jackson Family Wines vintners visited Houston for a media event, it was Greg who really sealed the deal for me. He has such a way with words (practically mesmerizing) that draws you in.
One of the things that stuck with me was why he decided to be a part of the Jackson Family portfolio. People love to malign the larger outfits, but I’d say that Jackson Family is not cut from the same cloth. By partnering with them, Greg no longer had to moonlight for other wineries and stretch himself thin trying to make a good living. With capital backing and a good safety net, he has been able to hone his craft and put the most into his own wines. So much so that he was named the 2020 Wine Enthusiast Winemaker of the Year. I’ll share more of our interview in another post so stay tuned!
So, Mr. Corkscrew dropped me off and went to search for coffee (we skipped breakfast) and I was ready to learn more about Brewer-Clifton. I really loved the tasting room at the winery. Sleek and modern, it had a stylistic, laid back vibe much Iike Greg himself.
After viewing the production area, talking about his wife, Sonja Magdaveski (who makes wines for Casa Dumetz), and waxing poetic about wine and food, it was time to do some tasting. Greg, as expected had some quite profound observations and thought-provoking perspectives.
We began with Greg sharing his thoughts about the longevity and sustainability of the industry. “The premise of Brewer-Clifton is ultimately a steadfast discipline to raise all the vineyard sites, all the blocks, all the clones, in an equal opportunity way. I’m fearful of judgment, of being the arbiter of something because who am I to do that? I’m just a short-term steward of this product. If our template is completely neutral, it helps to embolden place, it helps to elevate appellation, and in my eyes, it renders this whole dynamic more sustainable.” And this is where we started and the conversation only got better! Like I said, more to come on Mr. Brewer.
Anywho, after starting with a tasty barrel sample of Chardonnay, I was able to taste both the entry level Chardonnay and Pinot, the higher end 3D Chardonnay and Machado Pinot, as well as the Diatom Chardonnay. After that, we got into a robust discussion about Syrah and why Americans won’t drink it. Hell if I know, but his Ex Post Facto Syrah was the bomb! Like, how could you not drink Syrah with this around?! Many thanks to Greg for an enlightening discussion and an amazing tasting. What we brought home: 3-D Chardonnay, Machado Pinot Noir, and of course the Syrah.
So if you’re in Lompoc (and the dreaded ‘Rona is not affecting things) then do make an appointment to taste here. Otherwise, the tasting room in Los Olivos will still have all the great wines.
A Glimpse of Santa Ynez + Lunch at Bothers Restaurant
After my tasting with Greg Brewer, Mr. Corkscrew picked me up and we headed over to Santa Ynez. I wanted to see all of the towns in the Buellton-Solvang-Santa Ynez-Los Olivos triangle and since we skipped breakfast, we decided to have an early lunch in Santa Ynez.
Honestly, there wasn’t a whole lot to see (there is a casino in town if that’s your thing) but we were able to see the charming Santa Ynez Inn as well as relax with some coffee and people watch in town at Pony Espresso, which just THE cutest coffee shop.
But there was also method to my madness as I wanted to visit one of the Brothers Restaurants. These two brothers from Iowa have done such great things for the food scene in the region. I think I initially heard about them on some TV show. When we were there, the had a restaurant in Los Olivos (now closed, COVID I presume), but we opted for the Santa Ynez restaurant so we could also see the town at the same time.
Brothers Restaurant at the Red Barn had a previous life as a private residence and a dance hall. The restaurant specializes in wines from the area as well as has a nice selection of champagne. They also had a pretty good beer selection which Mr. Corkscrew decided to indulge in. We had the pulled pork sandwich and the cod fish and chips (which I PROMISE was better than the pic) and both were amazing. Like, so darn good. I ended up stealing most of Mr. Corkscrew’s fish and he ended up with most of my sandwich.
Hanging Out in Los Olivos
After lunch, we headed back over the Los Olivos. We did some shopping at the Los Olivos General Store and J. Woeste – where we spent way to much time, but I seriously loved this place and was determined to bring a few things home. Every placed you looked was something else cool.
As Mr. Corkscrew had started with beer at lunch, he was thirsty for more, so we headed over to Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co. I took a load off while he had a flight of beers. We also sampled some local olive oil and vinegars at Olive Hill Farm and bought a couple to bring home.
Los Olivos Wine Tasting
And finally the wine tasting! This is where our Los Olivos wine tasting took place over the course of two different days. On Day 3 after biking, we visited Stolpman Vineyards, Dragonette Cellars, and Carhartt Winery.
Stolpman came highly recommended by other writers and bloggers, so I added them to my list. They are based in Ballard Canyon, which is known for Syrah and Rhône varieties and was a change from all the Pinot and Chardonnay we’d been having. They are quite low intervention, dry farm in limestone, and produce varietals such as Grenache, Syrah, and Sangiovese. The wines reminded me more of the style of old world wines with more earthy, savory characteristics as well being very structured. We did our tasting inside (it was a bit wam) and loved the furry friends hanging out. But I also really loved their patio which was so cozy and surrounded by a charming white picket fence. What we brought home: the Grenache and Angeli Syrah.
I had never heard of Dragonette before heading out to Santa Barbara. The name came up when I was doing my research of where to taste, but we didn’t go in expecting much. Well, it probably ended up being our favorite place for wine. This was one of those places where I loved every single wine I tried. The wines had a nice balance of fruit and structure, and yeah, they all just seemed to go down easy. An absolute must as part of a Los Olivos wine tasting itinerary. Dragonette generally crafts Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah. And what a great conversation we had. I learned that winemaker Brandon Sparks-Gillis went from studying geology in college to bread-baking before turning to wine. In fact, it was the bread baking that helped him learn so much about fermentation. There’s not a whole lot to the tasting room, but its my understanding that they’ve recently updated it. What we brought home: A varied case consisting of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Syrah.
We bought 3 of these!
Carhartt Family Wines
Carhartt was our final stop on Day 3 after a long day of bike riding earlier. Mr. Corkscrew was not in the mood for any more tasting and promptly ordered himself a glass of wine and went back to enjoy the patio. I of course, did a tasting. Carhartt is family owned and operated and only does direct to consumer sales. They make a wide variety of wines – up to 26 in any given year – including estate Sangiovese, Syrah, Merlot, and Sauvignon Blanc as well as Pinot Noir, Mourvèdre, Cinsaut and others that they source from within the region. Many of the wines are blends but there are a fair amount of varietal wines as well. While I enjoyed the wines, my favorite part was definitely the cozy patio out back. Well-shaded with a fountain, comfy Adirondack chairs with ottomans, and plenty of other seating, it is the perfect place to finish up a day of tasting and kick back. You know when you actually drink the wine! And yes, this is the same Carhartt family that makes the work clothing. What we brought home: Sangiovese and their Southerly Red Blend (75% Mourvèdre & 25% Grenache).
And these are our Los Olivos wine tasting spots for Day 4 after the shopping and beer above.
Kaena Wine Company
Our visit to Kaena wasn’t entirely planned. I found myself standing next to the “Grenache is Queen” sign in the window and felt compelled to walk in. It was a sign and thank goodness I followed the signals. Hawaiian born winemaker Mikael Sigouin’s primary winemaking focus is Grenache. He works with as many as eleven different grenache sources that he crafts into seven or eight grenache wines each year. We tasted Grenache Blanc, white bends with Grenache Blanc, Grenache Rosé, and of course Grenache Rouge. We also tasted a Merlot and a great red blend. No, you will not taste as many wines as we did, but you will enjoy the Grenache. Aside from all great Grenache, my biggest takeaways was that people really love Kaena (there were so many people that appeared to be regulars) and that Mikael is a super cool guy. Like cool as a fan. I absolutely loved talking to him about his grandmother.
And that sign? Mikael views grenache as feminine due to its softness and fruit forward profile. But at the same time, he also views grenache as strong which is also characteristic of women. What we brought home: 3 different bottles of Grenache, Grenache Blanc, and a white blend.
Los Olivos Tasting Room & Wine Shop
Los Olivos Tasting Room was our final tasting stop of the day. So I’d heard the owner was a total grump, maybe even bordering on being an ass (the reviews of this place are awful). He is a little rough around the edges and VERY sarcastic, but the two of us seemed to hit it off just fine. Maybe I’m just that lovable? LOL! He’s been around for over 30 years, so he must be doing something right. And he’s quite knowledgeable. At any rate, many people pop in because he’s one of the few folks around that has Sea Smoke available to taste. I didn’t try the Sea Smoke since I’d already had some with my friends at Taste of Sta. Rita Hills but I tasted some really great wines with him. He has an extensive selection of Pinot Noir (some from Santa Ynez and some from other neighboring regions) and I brought home several gems. So all I can say it, go at your own risk. What we brought home: Joyce, Wrath, Ojai, Roar, Ken Brown and Jaffurs – all Pinot Noir.
So I did not visit Liquid Farm as part of my Los Olivos wine tasting. I honestly didn’t know anything about their wines when I visited. But during my visit with the folks at Taste of Sta. Rita Hills, I bought one to complete my case of wine as the owners recommended it. I also started seeing more people talk about them on social media, or maybe I just paid attention more. After opening up the Chardonnay I’d purchased at home and almost having a tear come to my eye (like this was one of those moments y’all) I now understood what a mistake it was not to visit. Don’t be like me. Go! I’ve since ordered a shit ton of wine from them and its all great stuff!
Dinner at Industrial Eats
From the first day we got to town until the last, every time we talked to someone about local restaurants that they liked, many (many) mentioned Industrial Eats. Like even people from other restaurants. So we finally made our way there for our final dinner. It’s an eclectic space to be sure, located in a repurposed warehouse. It has purposeful graffiti on the exterior and inside its quite cavernous with long communal tables. The menu is papered on the walls with butcher paper along with clipboards on the counters that provide the specials of the day. I describe it as an industrial warehouse in a pizza joint cum wine bar cum tapas bar cum I don’t know what. They serve whatever is fresh and local and let me tell you, I was there for it! After getting a small carafe of wine, we noshed on all sorts of things including some outrageously delicious king crab with garlic butter, cherry tomatoes, and basil that was drip down my arm, finger licking good. These people are like my soulmates as they put garlic (and lots of it) in everything! Always nice when a place truly lives up to the hype.
More Courtyard Fun
We finished off the day by finishing off our opened bottles of wine by the wonderful fire pits with cozy blankets that the hotel provided. After that, it was time to pack, head to bed, and make the return drive to L.A. to fly home the next day.
And this is some of what we brought back. This didn’t include the 12 bottles we bought at Dragonette or the additional 6 bottles that they shipped to us and included with their wines. But many of these wines are not sold outside of the region, so we certainly tried to stock up.
This area doesn’t have the glam and glitz of Napa or even Sonoma, but it has an amazing charm all its own. I loved everything about it. It’s definitely one of my favorite wine trips I’ve taken so far. We will definitely be back!