Wine Vacation to Santa Ynez Valley
We started our road trip early in the day from Orange County to Solvang along a breathtaking stretch of HWY 1 North to Santa Barbara County. The three hour drive skirted by quickly as we the ocean lapped along the coast on our left and the lush rolling hills of vines and crops summoned Sean, and I on our right. On our way to Pinots of Santa Ynez, this was a trip the both of us looked forward to for some time now.
After we turned onto HWY 246 to Solvang, I caught sight of Ostrich Land in Buellton and just for the hell of it, we stopped by to see if we could feed the strange animals. For nine dollars we came face to face with the birds and their fist-sized eyes. Armed with food bowls to lure them to the fence for our ready cameras, it became obvious little enticing was needed as a smaller, intrepid fellow jabbed his head through the fence to attack my offering. Needless to say it scared the hell out of me. As Sean goaded me to feed the ostriches, I eased over to the fence with apprehension as more and more blinking, beaked heads swarmed and pushed for position like a hungry mob in a famine struck country at the grain truck. The sign cautioned, “Yes, We Like To Bite!” and I wasn’t about to question the sagacity in that. I handed my bowl to Sean and as you can see in the picture, he didn’t fare much better.
Along an oak lined street dotted with windmills, smorgasbord signs, and quaint cottages is this charming Danish styled village, Solvang. The restaurants, chocolate/pastry shops and markets are filled with Danish specialties in this pedestrian friendly village. So take a break from your wine tasting and enjoy a worldly stroll around Solvang. We tried a Danish favorite called aebleskiver; a warm, light and airy pastry ball dusted with powdered sugar and served with a sweet raspberry jam.
Our first recommended winery stop is Kalyra (cal-EYE-ra) Winery. As you drive through Solvang on Mission Drive (from HWY 246) a few blocks ahead is Refugio Road. Turn right here and continue down this road to just before the road turns where you’ll find Kalyra on the right.
An Australian born wine maker recently opened Kalyra Winery. This is one of our favorite tasting room wine tours! The refreshing Australian gave this place a unique flavor to enjoy on our tour. In the tiki lounge (complete with a surfboard inscribed with Kalyra) we were greeted by the friendliest of club members as we relaxed and took stock of our close encounter with the avian kind.
Kalyra’s current tasting list includes:
2006 Kalyra Merlot
2005 Kalyra Alvarehao
2007 Old Vine Zinfandel
Kalyra NV Black Muscat
Kalyra 2005 Vintage Port
The most impressive part of this visit was that all the wines from their tasting list were good. From the whites the Viognier was a stand-out; a well balanced wine with pear, sweet apricot, and a hint of honey on the noise. Sharlee, our hostess further described this wine as having little ml (ml is winemaker’s lingo for malolactic acids) and oak (it is barrel fermented in neutral French Oak). We learned that cool grape growing regions tend to be high in acidity. This high acidity comes from the contribution of malic acid.
Their 2005 Kalyra Alvarelhao was our favorite from the entire wine list. The unique aroma hinted at the most addicting smoky bouquet. Sharlee recommended drinking this bottle with grilled meats, steak or BBQ. Their tasting list explained, “the fruit of this Portuguese varietal was sourced from the Santa Ynez vineyards of Eli Parker during a very warm harvest period. Once fermented, the wine was moved to aged French Oak barrels and left to mature for over 32 months. The result is a delicate, soft & smooth wine with rich dark berry flavors, with just a touch of vanilla and cocoa.”
We can’t forget Sharlee’s favorite for the Autumn season, 2007 Old Vine Zinfandel. Harvested from 50 year old vines in the Alexander Valley, it is a subtle zin compared to some of the bigger ones we’ll soon describe. It has a classic dark berry flavor and jammy finish. The wine maker recommends decanting this wine prior to sipping.
We finished our wine tasting and shut down the place with locals Sandy & Tim (club members). Never one to ignore the recommendations of local wine lovers, Sandy suggested Rancho Sisquoc Winery, River Run Vintners, and Grey Wolf Vineyards and Cellars. Sharlee, our informative hostess, urged us to visit Four Vines, Tobin James, Tablas Creek Vineyard, and Linne Calodo Cellars. Check back with us next week for our experiences on these recommended Central Coast Wineries and Vineyard tours.
Kalyra means “a wild and pleasant place“. Our experience with our wine hostess, Sharlee the bubbly, energetic and most knowledgable wine tender, was exactly that. It was an entertaining visit we were happy to share with locals Sandy & Tim.
We hope we’re not getting our hostess and locals in trouble, but they did spill the grapes on a local establishment’s special. We were told to visit the Hitching Post II on Mondays, Tuesdays or Wednesdays for a phenomenal cheeseburger special at the bar. It is such a secret that it’s not even on the menu! We had to try this special known only to locals. So, after our tasting we headed over to the Hitching Post II. Naturally, Sandy and Tim were already there (next time they‘ll have to spill the secret of their shortcut). They described the special so well that I’m sure they talked themselves into enjoying it too.
Hitching Post II Restaurant
Most of us wine drinkers are familiar with the Hitching Post II restaurant from the 2004 oscar wining film Sideways. It’s at this restaurant where Miles makes his opinion on Merlot abundantly clear. We didn’t try the merlot. But we did sip on their Pinot Noir HIGHLINER. There are only so many bottles of wine you can drink in a lifetime. This is one you can’t miss. Balance and complexity are perfect descriptions for this most elegant Pinot Noir. Here’s a fine review according to Wine Spectator, “fragrant, delicate and clean, with spicy berry, cedar and hints of fresh earth and mineral, ending with modest, integrated tannins. Drink now through 2011."
The Hitching Post II was a fantastic time and we enjoyed getting to know Sandy and Tim some more as well. Tim introduced us to a lovely wine cork project where he made wreath centerpieces for his daughter’s wedding tables. Tim - we would love to see pictures of the wreaths and hints on how to make them. Please do share! Thank you Tim & Sandy for the wine.
Wine Country Stay in Solvang
Just around the corner from the Hitching Post II Restaurant is the Kronberg Inn. The location is central to visiting the ostrich farm, Solvang, and Santa Ynez winery. A modest inn, the rooms are a great value (with a patio!) and convenient to everywhere we visited that day. You can’t miss it as you turn onto Mission Drive, where a large windmill beckons from the front.