People have a tendency to picture a small town in similar ways. Where everyone knows each other, the diner is the center of gossip, and not much happens on a daily basis. Well, Los Olivos is in some ways like this. If said small, bucolic town was surrounded by some of the most fertile vineyards in all of California. It is quaint. The locals all do know each other. They do meet up, but at the R-Country Market, and actually a lot happens on a daily basis. It is the perfect get away, if you don’t really want to get that far away. It’s just a hop, skip and a jump from Santa Barbara. Another of my favorite spots here in the Golden State.
There are other small towns around in wine country, such as Santa Ynez, Solvang and Buellton. But I’ve recently enjoyed renting a house in Los Olivos, and enjoying a little of the small town life. The others all have bits and pieces of it, but Los Olivos has all you are looking for, and in walking distance. I will cover the other areas at another time, so don’t fret. You’ll get all my favorite wine and dine spots in the entire Santa Ynez Valley. And yes, one of the best things about Los Olivos is you once you park, you can eat and drink your face off without moving your car/bike/rental/tour guide. It’s a perfect way to spend a day, or a weekend, and not have to worry about drinking and driving. Within a few block radius is nirvana. 35+ tasting rooms. Yes, 35++. With varietals as varied as flakes of snow, from the Rhone, to Tuscany, to California. I have some favorite “go-to’s” of course. But all the tasting rooms are very inviting, and fun. On a non-busy day, you can hang out, chat, and quite possibly try some “bonus” wines. It is definitely the anti-big winery experience of the North.
There just happens to be some fantastic food happening as well. First off, find your rental house. There are two main streets, Grand and Alamo Pintado. You can’t miss the intersection as there is the All-American flagpole dead center. It’s an easy ride anywhere around town if you have bikes, and some rental houses actually have bikes with them! So park that car, no need to drive anywhere. There is food, grocery and most importantly wine within easy reach.
Although, first off, before you set those keys down and forget about them, you might want to stock the fridge. That is best done at El Rancho Market down on the 246. http://californiafreshmarket.iga.com/ There is everything you need for your home away from home. Everything from farm fresh eggs, a full butcher shop, to coffee, and a bottle of scotch. I personally love their fresh roasted coffee. You can’t beat it for the price. Full deli counter, great cheese selection, produce, said butcher counter even a fresh sushi counter. There is also a full selection of liquor. Yes, you should probably get at least a bottle of Scotch. PS: (most rental houses have a hot tub). And for breakfast check out their butcher counter bacon. It does not disappoint. There is the small grocer in Los Olivos, but El Rancho has the whole selection if you have the time.
In Los Olivos itself is said small grocery store. And they are known for their BBQ. The R-Country Market. They start their smoker and grill early in the morning with a lot of meat, Lots OF MEAT. The sandwiches are worth a stop even if you are not staying around the area. Their Tri-Tip Sandwich is divine. There is also a nice selection of beers to drink if sitting on their patio and you are wined-out.
As far as tasting rooms are concerned, here is just a quick little planner in no particular order of some of my favorites. They are all within walking distance to any part of town, whether for a day trip, or a whole weekend.
Saarloos And Sons The Saarloos family has been farming this valley for many, many years. They are an old school family run operation that loves to have fun, and make sure you do as well. The wines are all terrific and run the gamut from a crisp, steely Sauvignon Blanc to a deep, hearty, age-worthy Cabernet. The Cabernet will make you forget about the much more expensive Northern California ones! A fun, rollicking tasting room with Rock playing, and a photo booth. All the wines are named after family members, and you can also do a cupcake tasting. YES, cupcakes because who doesn’t like cupcakes?? There is also a nice front patio to chill on and enjoy the afternoon. http://saarloosandsons.com/
Tercero Winery One of the smaller rooms in town, but not to be missed. Test your wine knowledge here, as Larry the winemaker doesn’t believe in giving you tasting notes. Decide for yourself what you smell and taste. Pretend to be a professional Sommelier and have fun. He makes Rhone varietals that are some of the best in the valley. I am preferential to the Mourvedre and Grenache. There are also some nice Cuvee blends to play around with. All the whites I can demolish. Crisp, acid and fruit forward. Great for those hot valley days. http://tercerowines.com/
Stolpman Vineyards Family run. No pesticides or herbicides. Fresh, clean, delicious wines. Drink now, or save for later. One of the toughest decisions you must make the entire weekend. Some different things going on as well. There is a Sangiovese. Yes, that Italian grape you’ve seen at your local pasta joint. There are two to choose from. And one is unlike any you’ve had at your local joint. It’s a Carbonic Sangiovese. Simply put, it’s made similar to the famous French wine, Beaujolais Nouveau! Fermented whole cluster to make a high acid, low sugar, easy drinking wine. A true one of kind in the Valley. PS: there is also a very nice Syrah. http://www.stolpmanvineyards.com/
Blair Fox Cellars Another small family run winery. A true boutique winery if you will. Well known for their Syrah. Actually some very, very well done Syrah. Worth a visit just to try the various bottles that are opened that day. Also a super crisp, clean, acid and fruit friendly Vermentino. http://www.blairfoxcellars.com/
Longoria Wines Another smaller winery, but with a full array of wines available. Quirky tasting room with both inside and out areas. You can sit outside in the garden to taste whites, and then step inside to taste reds. Inside you can also admire their blues and jazz inspired labels. The labels themselves are works of art without the wine inside, add the wine, and it’s a win-win. Some very balanced wines that harken more to classic European styles than American. You can find something for anyone here! http://www.longoriawine.com/
Carhartt Vineyard Yes, that Carhartt. They’ve had a farm running since the 50’s. And the name isn’t just for tough clothes anymore. Another tasting room worth a visit just for the ambiance. Since they opened up a small patio out back, you can sit and relax under the trees and listen to some kickn’ tunes. Sit back and relax as they come and pour the flight for you, and explain what you are having. A very leisurely stroll though wine country. They also run the gamut of some Rhone varietals that are very well done. They have a very nice Sangiovese as well. Again, this is a fun place, with great wines. http://www.carharttvineyard.com/
Tessa Maria Wines The daughter of famed Santa Ynez local/Hollywood Star Fess Parker, Tessa makes some terrific new world versions of some of the same varietals you taste around town. Another small intimate tasting experience with a terrific Sangiovese that I love. Also a worthwhile Vermentino. http://www.tessamariewines.com/
And then some other’s that I enjoy and worth a quick note: Consilience/Tre Anelli http://www.consiliencewines.com/ Epiphany Cellars http://www.epiphanycellars.com/ Qupe Wine Cellars http://www.qupe.com/ and who could forget Coquelicot Estate Vineyard which has a huge back garden area AND a bocchi court. Perfect way to end the afternoon…….. http://www.coquelicotwines.com/
Then, there is dinner. If you are staying in town. Two choices. Two GOOD choices.
Petros The restaurant in the Fess Parker hotel. Also good for a strong cocktail if you want something other than wine or beer. As one might guess from the name, yes, it is Greek. I have not eaten there since my trip to Greece, but I did enjoy it prior to the trip. A nice selection of simple Greek dishes. http://www.petrosrestaurant.com/location.asp
Sides Hardware and Shoes Have you not been to the area in a while? Well Brother’s Restaurant at Mattei’s Tavern in the old stagecoach stop closed. They reinvented themselves here. Smaller. Streamlined. Excellent. You won’t be getting any real hardware or shoes. But some really, really well done food. Good service, good food. A perfect compliment to a long day of wine and cheese. http://www.sidesrestaurant.com/