Thursday, May 8, 2008

PB & Wine

No, it's not a new sandwich. The title actually refers to the last week's girls' getaway weekend. The girls involved: Valerie, Claire and myself. The destination: Pismo Beach. The agenda: wine, food, hanging out at the beach and more wine.

The trip started on a Thursday. Pismo Beach was selected because it is more or less in the middle between where we all live. Despite being the one to have a slightly shorter drive, I was the last to arrive thanks to the many slow drivers along the 101. I understand that the stretch of highway between Oxnard and Santa Barbara is beautiful and should be enjoyed, however, it is just plain wrong to drop below 50 mph in the fast lane when there is no traffic ahead. Grrr. Eventually I pulled into the Cottage Inn, located right along the beach. We had planned to stay at a different hotel that was more inland, but thanks to Valerie's great investigative skills we found out that the Cottage Inn had lowered its rates during our planned stay. So bye-bye view of asphalt and buildings, hello view of the beach. Valerie also did a great job of dissipating my road rage with the fantastic belated birthday gift she had made for me. You can read all about it here. Thanks Val! I've always hoped that someday I'd get one of your handmade creations. :-) Thursday night was fairly low-key. We made the short drive up to San Luis Obispo to check out their renowned downtown farmer's market. I've never seen such stunning fruits and vegetables before. It totally unleashed my inner cook and made me wish our hotel room had a stove. I would have made dinner for all three of us. Instead, we grabbed some bbq and sat down in the plaza to listen to one of the bands playing that night. Then it was back to the hotel, after some fresh strawberry shortcake of course.

We spent Friday in the Santa Ynez valley. We started off at Sanford, which is perhaps one of the best known wineries in the region. Since we arrived there at noon on a weekday, we were the only ones in the tasting room initially. It was an odd feeling since I am accustomed to wineries being much more crowded and lively. The pace did pick up eventually and we each did pick up a bottle of wine, but there wasn't anything too remarkable about our visit there. From there we continued along Santa Rosa Road to the Lafond winery. Again, it was not a very remarkable visit. The wines we sampled were okay, but there were one or two we poured out into the slosh bucket. I ended up purchasing a bottle of Syrah-Grenache, which I opened up just a few days ago. Fortunately, it was better than I remembered. Much better. :-)

After Lafond we headed to our last stop on Santa Rosa Road, the Alma Rosa winery. This winery was one of the two that had intrigued me the most as we were planning the trip. The owners of Alma Rosa are Mr. and Mrs. Sanford, of the Sanford winery previously mentioned. Despite being a commercial success and an almost iconic winery following the release of the movie "Sideways", the Sanfords walked away from their namesake winery due to philosophical business differences with other partners. Alma Rosa was founded shortly thereafter. The winery was the first to have certified organic vineyards in the region and has a commitment to sustainable agriculture & eco-friendly packaging. The end result are some really fantastic wines. The atmosphere in the tasting room was very laid back. If you happen to be there sometime and have a pourer with spiky blond hair, be sure to ask him where he gets his hair done.

By this time, we were definitely in need of lunch. We headed a few miles east to the Danish town of Solvang. After lunch at one of the traditional restaurants, Val and I headed to a local tasting room while Claire set off exploring. We ended up spending most of the rest of the afternoon at Tastes of the Valleys. I must admit, before we went in I was worried that it would be a cheesy place based on its label as a "Sideways" wine bar. I still really wanted to go however, because it was the only location in the area to try two particular wines I was interested in: Au Bon Climat and Qupe. I was pleasantly surprised however, to find a tasting room that was warm and subdued with barely any "Sideways" merchandise to be found. Tastes of the Valleys has an extensive menu of tasting flights. Most of its offerings are also available by individual tastings or glasses. We decided to go with two tastings each and lingered over our glasses. Lingering was definitely encouraged as our original pourer, Eric, sat down with us for a fun, lengthy chat after he finished his shift. We ended up tasting another wine or two thanks to Eric. We also exchanged a few words with the manager, Dorothy, and Eric's counterpart, Phil. After almost two hours we left to meet up with Claire, do some browsing and have a yummy Danish cookie. We were somewhat surprised to find out that most shops in Solvang closes by 6pm, so with another 90 minutes to go until our dinner reservation we all headed back to Tastes of the Valleys. In the span of just 45 minutes, the place had filled up and we snagged the last few seats at the bar. This time, Phil was our pourer. Not only did he keep us entertained, but he also found a wine for non-wine drinking Claire! Then it was off to dinner at the Hitching Post II.

Staurday morning we set off in the opposite direction and headed north to wineries in Paso Robles. We started off with the farthest of the Far Out Wineries, Justin. I think this one reminded me of Napa the most because of its beautiful grounds as well as the inn and bistro onsite. The two large friendly dogs lounging about were a welcome addition too. The tasting room was large and felt like a comfortable old study. We didn't stay too long because we had a lunch reservation that we were trying to make, but our time there was enjoyable. Next we were off to the Tablas Creek winery. This was the other winery that I had been most curious about, as mentions of Tablas Creek seemed to pop up everywhere in anything food or wine related I read over the past several months. What makes this winery unique is that they produce many of its wines in the French style, with clones brought over from France. Our pourer was very knowledgeable and took the time to explain the unfamiliar grapes and the process, but was never condescending or snooty. I walked out with wine, Claire walked out with a shirt. See, even non-drinkers can have fun wine tasting too! We intended to head to one other winery in the Far Out family before lunch, but really needed to get to the restaurant in Templeton before they closed. So off we went to McPhee's Grill. We started with an appetizer of sweet potato fries with basil that was awesome. I think the awesomeness of the sweet potato fries overshadowed my kobe burger, which was just okay even though the Adrian Grenier lookalike at Tablas Creek said that the burger was "the best one ever."

After lunch we backtracked to the Opolo winery. I'm so glad we did; it ended up being one of our favorite places. The tasting room was very casual and kickback. All of the pourers seemed nice, but our pourer, Anne, was especially friendly and engaging. As everyone was indoors tasting, Opolo's chef was manning the grill outdoors and bringing in tasty Yugoslavian sausages to snack on. I should have skipped the burger at lunch and just chowed down on the sausages at Opolo; they were so good. The wines were great too. I had a hard time deciding which ones to buy. Val had an even harder time and ended up becoming a member of their wine club on the spot. Anne closed out our tasting by offering us some of the Late Harvest Zinfandel accompanied by dark chocolate truffles that were to die for. Again, I'm SO GLAD we went back to check it out.

Unfortunately, the next winery we went to turned out to be a total bust. Clautiere Vineyards had received great reviews claiming that it was a fun, zany place to go. I think their website describes it as "Edward Scissorhands meets Moulin Rouge." Yes, the decor was interesting, utilizing many colors and patterns that we didn't see at any other winery. Yes, there was a collection of crazy wigs for patrons to wear. All those things, however, were cancelled out by the bitchiness of the winery staff. It was not fun at all to be served by someone who obviously either didn't want us there or didn't want to be there herself. I had planned to leave there without buying anything because I was already regretting the $5 I handed over; I didn't want to further support a business whose public face is so bitchy, but the port was great and I usually hate port.

Thankfully, the next and final stop on our trip was the polar opposite of Clautiere. When we walked into the Tobin James it felt like we were walking into a raging party. The tasting room had three large pouring areas that were almost entirely filled. The pourers did a great job of multitasking amongst all the customers while still being friendly. While Val and I were content with several of the wines, our pourer happily took on the challenge of finding something Claire would like and succeeded in her mission. This winery also had a large friendly dog roaming around searching for treats. Maybe it's because I was missing my own dog, but I absolutely loved seeing all these winery dogs.

After getting back into Pismo Beach that evening, we walked down to the edge of our hotel's property to watch the sun set. We had dinner at Two Blocks off the Beach, which has excellent bruschetta. Sunday morning we walked into town to have breakfast at Old West Cinnamon Rolls, which seems to be a local institution based on the line out the door we faced when we got there. The cinnamon rolls lived up to the hype and thank goodness we walked the 1.5 mile trip; it made eating every single bite of the roll absolutely guilt free. Sadly, after breakfast it was time to part ways. I was also heading up to the bay area to visit my parents, but was driving separately from Val and Claire. Even though I knew I'd probably see one or both of them again while I would be in SF, it wouldn't be the same as a trip away. I don't see my BFFs anywhere close to often enough. But looking back, we had a fabulous weekend of good food, good wine and good friends; what more could a girl ask for?

For pictures, check out FogCityDweller's blog.


WeezerMonkey said...

Sounds awesome.

valerie said...

Hey, I think you should stop off at Justin and buy more of the Orphan Wine...I've practically finished off the bottle myself! How'd that happen! I even used the small wine glass...I guess I just kept filling it up more!

And way...I got like 3 links. Woohoo!

Really may need to think about Harvest at Opolo...hmmmmm.