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While visiting the town of Solvang I was inspired to do some wine tasting. Located in the Santa Ynez Valley, the area is known for its Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Syrah. Below are some of my favorite tasting rooms and wineries.

My first stop was the Casa Cassara Winery & Vineyard tasting room which is situated in the center of town. I was greeted by owner Dan Cassara, a jovial Santa look-alike who entertained me and my husband with his stories. Dan’s father planted the first vines in 1992 at his ranch in Santa Rita Hills, officially starting what evolved into the now flourishing family business. Although his parents have passed on, Dan and his wife Bridget continued growing the business through the years and have honored the legacy of their relatives with their ‘Family Collection.’ Dan is an active member of the Solvang Community and is the president of the chamber of commerce (as of the posting of this article Nov 2022). After a long run of nurturing the business, the couple recently decided to step back from the vineyard but will maintain the tasting room, where Dan can continue to charm visitors and wine lovers alike.

Casa Cassara Winery & Vineyard; photo by Richard Bilow courtesy of ETG

I was pleasantly surprised when he poured me a 2018 Sangiovese “Padrino,” named after his uncle. This was delicious, with notes of dark fruit and spice. Next the 2019 Super Tuscan “Fratello” was delightful – a fruit forward balanced red blend from Tuscany. The beautifully crafted blend offered 50% Sangiovese, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 25% Syrah. This wine was named after Dan’s brother Robert.

My third and final taste was the 2019 Dago Red Sam. This blend offered notes of plum and dark berry, along with mellow tannins. Dan recounted the story of this easy drinking wine. His grandfather Sam made his own wine with the help of his son (Dan’s father) who would later create the winery – Casa Cassara. The chianti style blend is 70% Sangiovese, 15% Barbera, and 15% Arneis. Casa Cassara Tasting Room, 1607 Mission Drive, Suite 112, Solvang, CA 93463; https://ccwinery.com

Rusack Vineyards; photo by Richard Bilow; courtesy of ETG

Then we visited Rusack Vineyards situated in the beautiful rolling hills of Ballard Canyon. In less than ten minutes we reached the area and were immediately treated to some truly gorgeous views – the sun lit up the vineyards under clear blue skies. Upon arrival, we were greeted by Robert the hospitality manager who welcomed us with two glasses of a 2020 Sauvignon Blanc. I don’t normally drink white wine, but this was superb – refreshing and light, with a hint of lemongrass.

The charming patio surrounded by trees created the perfect ambiance to unwind while relaxing into a tasting. I chose an Old World red flight – presented on a wood tray with five mini carafes filled with liquid joy. I began the flight with a 2017 Reserve Pinot Noir. The pomegranate immediately hit me. This fruit forward wine had lush nuances of black cherry with a long smooth finish. Next the 2018 Catalina Zinfandel offered notes of cranberry with the warmth of cinnamon rounding out the flavor. 

Rusack Vineyards; Wine Flight; photo by Richard Bilow; courtesy of ETG

More dark berry came through with the 2018 Estate Zinfandel. I was taken aback when I glanced at the tasting notes after taking a sip of the 2018 Estate Syrah. Licorice is what it read, but I tasted only a slight hint of licorice flavor. It was so good, like the taste of tarragon, which I adore. This was my favorite with the final wine (2017 Reserve Syrah) coming in at a close second with its notes of bold dark berry and cinnamon. Rusack Vineyards, 1819 Ballard Canyon Road, Solvang, California 93463; https://www.rusack.com/

Back in town the following day, I found several tasting rooms located in one complex on Mission Road. I was immediately drawn to McClain Cellars due to the art on the walls, as well as on its labels. Art was printed on the pillows strewn throughout the various seating areas. I was greeted by Sebastian Cacique who gave me a quick tour of the tasting room. It had a great layout. You could choose to sit at the bar, the inside lounge area, the inner complex patio or the outside front patio with its comfy couches – a great place to people watch. I chose the latter.

Sebastian told me a bit about the wines and the owner Jason McClain who is an art lover. The labels are not just art pieces, many feature his wife and children’s names. As I started my people watching respite on the front patio, my red wine flight began with a 2019 MacKenzie (red blend – Graciano, Barbera, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah).This was well-balanced with a cherry forward nose. A tartness from the cherries mixed beautifully with the mild sweet taste of dates. Next, the 2019 Family Values Petite Sirah offered notes of dark berries with a touch of floral overtones. The third blend impressed me – the 2019 Soulmate was comprised of Tempranillo, Syrah, Barbara, and Petite Sirah. This medium bodied wine had notes of cranberry, blackberry, and oak. I enjoyed the 2019 Purpose Road, another blend (Merlot, Sangiovese), which brought more dark berries to my palate, along with a wisp of chocolate.

McClain Cellars, Sebastian Cacique pours another delicious taste; photo by Kathy Leonardo; courtesy of ETG

Sebastian returned with the 2019 Sofia’s Star (100% Syrah) and recounted the story of its namesake. Jason wanted to honor his wife Sofia, whose mother died when she was just twelve years old. This medium bodied wine featured a dark cherry, boysenberry, with a slight hint of white pepper. He went on to explain that the final wine which is dedicated to his wife Sofia – the 2020 Sacred Love Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. The taste of boysenberries, cherries, and chocolate, along with the poignant story added to a beautiful long finish. McClain Cellars,1623 Mission Drive, Suite B, Solvang, CA 93463; https://www.mcclaincellars.com

In the same complex Cordon Tasting Room + Gallery also featured art on the walls with a lovely outside patio (within the complex). I was rushing off to review a restaurant, so I only had time for two. The 2020 “Les Jumeaux” Pinot Noir was an easy drinking wine, light bodied, with hints of red fruit and oak. The 2019 White Hawk Vineyard Syrah was fantastic.This medium bodied wine was so smooth, and layered with dark fruit flavor. Cordon Tasting Room + Gallery, 1623 Mission Drive in Solvang, Courtyard Suite I-J, Solvang, CA, 93463; http://cordonwine.com

From left to right: Phil Jones, Mark Crawford Horvath owner/winemaker of Crawford Family Wines; photo by Kathy Leonardo; courtesy of ETG

Crawford Family Wines was just down the street. The owner/winemaker Mark Crawford Horvath was there as well, while Phil Jones poured some tasty reds. I had just enough time to squeeze in this final tasting of the day before our reservation at First and Oak.

Known for its micro-production lots of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Syrah and Rhone varietals, I was impressed with the 2020 Pinot Noir, Walk Slow Sea Rita Hills. This smooth medium-bodied wine offered a berry nose, along with cherry and oak on the palate.

The 2017 Grenache Kimsey, Ballard Canyon was quite tasty – bright with a dark cherry finish and a touch of spice. The final red was robust. This 2018 Syrah, Zotovich Vineyard, Sea Rita Hills was full bodied, jammy, with notes of dark fruit and pepper. Crawford Family Wines, 1661 Mission Drive, Solvang, CA 93463; https://www.crawfordfamilywines.com

The following day I stopped into Lucas & Lewellen. Located on Copenhagen Drive in the heart of Solvang for over twenty years, it has a sister tasting room – Toccata located across the street which features Italian wines.

Lucas & Lewellen, Toccata Tasting Rooms; photo by Kathy Leonardo; courtesy of ETG

I enjoyed a tasting here as well. Beginning with a 2018 Pinot Noir Goodchild “High 9,” I tasted red berry, floral, with mellow tannins, and a long finish. The 2019 Cabernet Franc was very nice – earthy, well balanced, oak with a tinge of chocolate. A favorite was the 2018 Syrah. This was so lush, with a deep dark fruit flavor, full-bodied with a peppery nuance. Lucas and Lewellen, 1645 Copenhagen Dr, Solvang, CA 93463; https://www.llwine.com/

Everyone I met was extremely nice and deeply passionate about their histories and contributions to the art of wine. I was invited to review other wines at tasting rooms in town, such as Royal Oaks winery and Dascomb Cellars, but alas my time was limited. I had shopping plans and was excited to pick up some new ornaments. Plus there were pastries and other Danish delights calling my name. I’ll be back Solvang…to taste more wine. For more info about Solvang, visit https://www.solvangusa.com/

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