After a fantastic first day in the Santa Barbara Wine Country, we were ready for more. After enjoying some morning coffee, along with a couple of goodies from Mortensen’s Danish Bakery, from our little courtyard patio (see my room tip for Part 1), it was time to see more of Solvang.
We did some shopping, hunted for windmills, checked out some local tasting rooms (no tasting, just looking) and really enjoyed the architecture of Solvang.
Lompoc Wine Trail
After that, we headed out to check out the Lompoc Wine Trail, which is made up of the Lompoc Wine Ghetto and the Lompoc Midtown Wineries. But, a little geography first as it relates to Santa Barbara Wine Country. There are several AVAs aka wine regions, that lie within Santa Barbra County. The two largest are the Santa Maria Valley and Santa Ynez Valley AVAs. Nested within Santa Ynez are four additional sub-AVAs – Sta. Rita Hills, Ballard Canyon, Los Olivos District, and Happy Canyon. Finally, Alisos Canyon is the newest AVA and was granted that status in 2020.
Within the seven AVAs are various wine routes or trails which are as follows: Buellton Wine Trail; Foxen Canyon Wine Trail; Lompoc Wine Trail; Los Olivos Promenade; Santa Barbara Urban Wine Trail (which the aforementioned Margerum and Whitcraft in Part 1 are a part of); Santa Maria Wine Trail; Santa Ynez Wine Trail; Solvang; and Sta. Rita Hills Wine Trail.
Taste of Sta. Rita Hills
We didn’t necessarily follow any of the routes per se, but did try to group the wineries we wanted to visit in the same area to avoid backtracking. Heading out to Lompoc, we visited Taste of Sta. Rita Hills which is a must visit to get your hands on the likes of Paul Lato, Sea Smoke and more. They were located in Lompoc in the Wine Ghetto (a unique collection of wineries, tasting rooms, and production facilities) when we visited but have since moved to Los Olivos. So you’ll definitely want to fit them in while in Los Olivos. They also have their own Moretti line of wines, including a fantastic Prosecco, which are pretty solid.
I loved being introduced to wines such as GoGi, Bonaccorsi, and Thorne as well as being able to taste the Paul Lato and Sea Smoke that I came for. They really have a fantastic selection of Santa Barbara wines, many of which are hard as heck to find. This was one of those places where I wanted to purchase just about everything I tasted. I even bought a couple of things I didn’t taste just to make a full case. (Insert shrug). I lost track of how many wines we tried, but do know that you probably won’t try as many as I did. But you will get to taste some damn good wine.
There are various other boutique tasting rooms in the Wine Ghetto (don’t let the industrial setting fool you) and some worth visiting including Sandhi, Fiddlehead, and Domaine de la Côte. The hours are short and tricky, so plan accordingly. Generally most are open on the weekend, but some are by appointment only. In the Lompoc Midtown Wineries area, you’ll find a handful more producers including Brewer-Clifton, who I did visit but on a different day. Which means you’ll have to come back and read Part 3 of this venture.
After finishing up in Lompoc, we headed just east back towards Solvang and visited a couple of places on the Sta. Rita Hills trail.
Babcock Winery is like food for all of your senses. We spent as much time looking around the eclectic tasting room as we did drinking wine. The grounds are beautiful too. Established in 1984, winemaker Bryan Babcock is a celebrated winemaker with many accolades to his name including selection by the James Beard Foundation as one of the “Top Ten Small Production Winemakers in the World,” with Bryan being the only American chosen. What we brought home: Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from the Radian Vineyard and Grenache.
Literally right next door to Babcock (same driveway) is Melville Winery. They also have a tasting room in Santa Barbara just a couple of blocks from the water. Founded in 1989, Melville is a family-owned and operated estate winery in the heart of the Sta. Rita Hills appellation that excels at cool-climate Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Syrah. Though it was later in the day for us, if you’re there around lunch (or heck whenever) and want to enjoy wine with a picnic, this is the place. Lots of picnic tables dot the grounds of this Tuscan inspired estate. What we brought home: that damn Syrah! And Pinot.
If you’re planning on visiting Sanford Winery, this would be the time to do it as it is also on the Lompoc trail. As I mentioned in Part 1, their Santa Barbara tasting room is now closed. Aside from my return trip for my interview with Greg Brewer at Brewer-Clifton, I liked doing all the Lompoc stuff together as it’s the furthest away and outside of the Solvang-Los-Olivos-Buellton-Santa Ynez triangle.
Dinner at Mad & Vin
After Lompoc, we called it a day and went back to The Landsby to enjoy the courtyard as well as the bottle of wine that was left for us in our room when we checked in. Actually the initial plan was to relax with a glass or two in the courtyard and then head to dinner. But we enjoyed relaxing in the courtyard so much that we just ended up ordering snacks/dinner from the hotel’s restaurant, Mad & Vin. The bar menu was available for the courtyard. When in Rome…And there may have been some wine-induced shenanigans.
Breakfast at Paula’s Pancake House
The next day (day 3) started with a classic. I mean, ya gotta do it. That is, have the self-professed “world famous Danish pancakes” at Paula’s Pancake House. The place always has a line and no, I will NOT stand in a long line. For anything. Well, except amusement park rides. So we went early. They open at 6am and I’d say we were there around 8:30-ish. It was a bike riding day so we wanted to get up early anyway. And what better way to fuel up than with pancakes. And yeah, the coffee was smooth and strong.
Biking Amongst the Vines from Solvang to Los Olivos
After breakfast, it was time for some cardio. Mr. Corkscrew has a thing about biking. After damn near fearing for my life while biking on the streets of Rovinj, Croatia, I’ve now put parameters around any bike excursions. Namely, that it can’t be a place with a ton of cars nor mountain biking of any sort. Of course, we’d heard that the biking in the Santa Barbara wine country was great, and lets be real, I’d never say no to biking by some vineyards. Just slap a “Will Bike for Wine” sign on my head! So we walked down and rented a couple of bikes from Dr. J’s Bicycle Shop and off we went. We did a 13 mile loop from Solvang to Los Olivos and back again. It’s was a fairly flat route, but there were a couple of spots, particularly on the way back that were uphill and somewhat strenuous. But overall, it was fun and enough of a challenge to work up a thirst. We of course stopped to take pictures and get a closer look at a few things along the way. We even saw one of the wineries where part of the Sideways movie was filmed. Requisite sign out front in case you’re unsure. It really was a beautiful and peaceful ride with gorgeous vineyard views. And the time in Los Olivos helped me get my bearings for the wine tasting that was to come later.
After returning the bikes, we made the return trip (by car) to Los Olivos to taste some wines. Read about that in Part 3. Sorry, my OCD is making me order things a certain way! But we did visit 3 tasting rooms in Los Olivos after biking that we really loved. And on a side note, I find about 3-4 places a day is ideal for wine tasting. I usually begin the day spitting but near the end will enjoy small sips and pour the rest. This allows you to end the day with a coherent and enjoyable dinner. And speaking of dinner…
Dinner at the Famous Hitching Post
If you’ve seen the movie Sideways, then you may remember the scene where Miles and Jack are walking to dinner and first encounter Maya. (And if you haven’t, it’s a fun movie to watch.) Well that restaurant was the Hitching Post, which is in Buellton right next to Solvang. We ended up here on a Monday as I’d read that this was one of the days when they had their amazing, elusive, off-menu burger. At the time, it was only available Monday through Wednesday and you could only order it in the bar area. Which doesn’t take reservations. The rest of the restaurant does. !##%$$!*&!! Remember, I’m not a fan of waiting. But I was willing to give it a go. Plus the Hitching Post makes its own wines and has tasting room next door to keep you busy. Lucky for us, we only waited about 15 minutes which even my impatient, cranky ass could handle. [Note: In COVID times, a lot has changed so I think they’ve changed some of their burger nights, days open, etc, so just check their website to see the current state of things.]
While we wanted to try the amazing burger, we were also intrigued by the “World’s Best BBQ Steaks” moniker on the sign. As a Texan, I take any kind of “best steak” talk seriously (and a challenge) as well as anything that talks about BBQ. But more than that, what the hell is a ‘BBQ Steak?’ We had to find out so decided to divide and conquer. We ordered one burger and one steak and shared.
We started with a bottle of one of their many Pinot Noir selections as well as some roasted garlic. FYI, both Mr. Corkscrew and I are mad about garlic and will legit order extra garlic on all kinds of stuff. Just don’t get too close.
The burger certainly lived up to the hype. It was delicious. It featured house ground filet mignon and ribeye grilled over an open fire, house smoked bacon, house made cheese buns, and perfectly oozing juices…oh my. This was perfection in a burger. The “BBQ Steak” was also quite tasty and got 2 thumbs up from this Texan. The “bbq” part of it comes from the fact that it is cooked over open coals for quite a flavorful bite.
So, that’s it for days 2 and 3 in Santa Barbara Wine Country. But be sure to check out the fun in Los Olivos (including all the must visit tasting rooms) and Santa Ynez in Part 3.