Wine Tasting up the Coast of California!

Busy lives can create havoc on any relationship. Fortunately, my partner and I have found a simple and exciting way to cope with this challenge, and you can easily do the same. Setting aside a small amount of time to recharge and reconnect with one another has become a priority. Sometimes it’s as simple as turning off your phones for a few hours and taking a walk around the block or a picnic on the beach. Taking this one step further, little excursions will do wonders.

Los Osos; Photo by Richard Bilow; courtesy of ETG

Since I am a lover of wine (the designated drinker), and my partner is a lover of nature and photography (the designated driver), we agreed on a quick two day/one night trip up the coast. I happen to be a big fan of Inception Wines, so I reached out to founder/owner Jonathan Hirsh, who partnered up with a local winery (Terravant), just off the 101 in Buelton, in the Central coast of California.

Big things are happening for Inception…it has been picked up by Southern Wines and Spirits of California and Delta Air Lines will be serving its Central Coast Pinot Noir in their Delta One (First Class) service, starting in mid-September as a global placement. Hirsch and Joe Padilla (VP of sales at Terravant), have teamed up for the past couple of years and have a brotherly admiration for one another. It was interesting to watch as they joked back and forth while taking us on a tour of the winery. “Wine is a pure celebration of life and nature.” said Hirsch. “Terravant was the final catalyst for me to begin Inception. It is clearly one of the most state of the art wine making facilities in California — I felt that this was the right place for me the moment I walked in. Joe has been a great partner to work with. The needs of a small and growing brand require great patience from a great leader and Joe is certainly that.”

Joe Padilla (left) and Jonathan Hirsch (right); photo by Richard Bilow; courtesy of ETG

We sat down to an amazing meal with Hirsch and Padillo at Terravant Winery and Restaurant, with a view of the fascinating production facility. Created in 2008, the restaurant offers a wine wall featuring over fifty wines provided by twenty plus wineries. It was like being a kid in a candy store – so many delicious wines to choose from. The cuisine was excellent as well. We previewed a wine currently being created right there at Terravant. It was a smooth lovely red blend paired perfectly with our appetizers.

We started off with a Burrata grape appetizer (Crostini with thyme-roasted grapes, local honey), – delicious. We also enjoyed a beet salad (Avocado, pistachio, goat cheese, mixed greens, citrus vinaigrette). Who would think a beet salad could taste this good? – this dish definitely changed my mind. We continued our feast with additional appetizers…Tuna Tartare (Chipotle aioli, mango, avocado, toasted sesame seeds and cucumber) along with dates wrapped with bacon…both incredible. Of course, we enjoyed several tastes of Inception’s Pinot Noir. My favorite was a tantalizing 2012 Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir, which was a perfect pairing with the farmer’s market pizza. This popular menu item changes daily (ours featured bacon and fresh veggies) and a prosciutto and pear pizza (Seasonal pear, Berkshire heirloom prosciutto, truffle oil, Gorgonzola, and balsamic reduction). The meal was exquisite. If you find yourself in this area – be sure to stop for lunch or dinner here.

Prosciutto and Pear Pizza, Terravant Winery; photo by Richard Bilow

Moving on from our great experience at Terravant, we headed north towards Los Olivos for a whole different wine tasting experience. The drive from Buellton to Los Olivos takes one through the town of Solvang, a charming Pennsylvania Dutch-inspired town which buzzes with the spirit of Christmas (my most favorite holiday) all year long. This time around, Solvang was not on our agenda, so we only stopped for a quick look at the quaint shops filled with trinkets and gifts and got right back on the road.

About fifteen minutes past Solvang, we arrived at our next destination, Los Olivos. Our brief stop in Solvang set us back a little, but we managed to stop at a few more wineries later in the day. One really fun one was Kaena, run by Mikael Sigouin, or as he is affectionately called by the locals – the Grenache King. He offered us a full range of wines. Speaking to an entire room of wine lovers, he recounted the story of why his love of wine and his wife, Sally were parallel. “Grenache is very feminine varietal in many ways, said Sigouin. “It’s a very difficult grape to farm and produce at a high quality level, so it takes amazing patience in the vineyard and winery, many times walking on eggshells to get it just right. So Grenache like a woman needs to be treated with ultimate respect.  If you have the patience to do it all right, she will be your ultimate reward.”

ETG Co-founder Kathy Leonardo with with Wemaker Mikael Sigouin of Kaena Wines

Like many small wineries in the area, Kaena mostly sources from Tierra Alta Vineyard and Larner Vineyard in the Ballard Canyon AVA. Created in 2001, the brand was named Kaena (which is a shortened version of the owner’s given name) a strapping handsome warm-hearted Hawaiin raised in Oahu who has an affinity to Grenache. “I guess what sets me apart from large scale wineries is that I’m a one-man show, doing it all when it comes to production,” explained Kaena. “Every decision was made by me throughout the process from vineyard to bottle and beyond. I feel very torn apart at times but I’m a control freak when it comes to my wines and brand.

Next, we hit Byron Wines, where I met Jason Villalobos who served up several delicious reds. At this point in the day, I had to prioritize my wine choices. I enjoyed several Pinot Noirs. My favorite was the 2012 pinot noir Drizzel Barrel (the most concentrated juice of the barrel) which has an intense layered flavor of blackberries with a smoky savory finish. By this time my taste buds were a bit clouded, so we decded to call it a day and headed further north.

the Baywood Inn Bed and Breakfast; photo by Richard Bilow; courtesy of ETG

We drove through to Los Osos and checked into the Baywood Inn Bed and Breakfast. It was a breathtaking respite…armed with some added amenities that one does not always expect…a fireplace, coffee, granola bars, microwave popcorn, Neutrogena face soap, etc. We both slept like babies and then enjoyed a Mexican style breakfast before heading out to our next adventure – this day devoted to my partner’s love of nature and photography.

Although the morning was shrouded with a thick layer of coastal fog, we decided to take a ride to Morrow bay in search of the legendary otters who put on a show each day. Birdwatching was an added benefit to our outing and we tested our rock balancing skills as we hopped from rock to rock crouching and scrambling to catch a better view of the adorable otters. We stopped at the waterfront and picked up some salt water toffee and caramel popcorn. As we headed towards Los Olivos we noticed the sun decided to make an appearance – perfect for my partner’s photography. The sun lit up the local wildflowers creating a luminous iridescent yellow….be sure to save time (from 2-3 pm) to take advantage of a great photo op.

Shell Beach; photo by Richard Bilow; courtesy of ETG

We lingered in Los Osos as we continued to stop time and time again to take photos heading south to Shell Beach. Shell beach is easily accessible from the 101. Finding coastal access points allowed for a spontaneous picnic in a romantic setting. The coastal views were mesmerizing. Old shell beach offered even more impressive water views, although we were warned by a local about the eroding cliff side. The photo ops continued here with sweeping coastal views.

Just a short hour later we were compelled to linger back to our busy chaotic lives in Los Angeles feeling relaxed, recharged and ready to take on the world. Get out there and take advantage of a weekend away…enjoy the weather, the wine, the cuisine and more of the Central coast…just a couple of hours away from LA and definitely worth it.

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