Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Grape Escape

Living and working in Los Angeles may have a reputation for being laid back and mellow, but we know that in reality, our lives are filled more with running around chasing deadlines than laid back lunches and lives of leisure.  We get so overwhelmed taking care of everyone else's needs that we lose track of our own happy place.

When you feel the need to get out of the daily grind, driving a few short hours will take you in all sorts of exciting directions:  south to San Diego, east to the desert, and west...well...I don't recommend driving west for very long.  One of the nicest drives I've discovered, however, is north into Wine Country.  Just a ways up the 101, you can relax and enjoy the sights and sounds of the ocean right outside your car door, and in just a couple of hours you'll find yourself at one of the many Central Coastal wine regions. 

But you can't just go jumping into wine tasting all willy-nilly.  No.  You must have a plan or by about noon you'll be passed out in the backseat and babbling incoherently about how the changing whale migration patterns from the effects of global warming are reflected in the flavor of pinots (don't ask). 

Lucky for you, we recently had the opportunity to take a drive to the Central Coast with our friends Meri and Anthony.  So here I bring to you the what-you-need-to-know before jumping into your first wine, tasting experience.


1)  Eat a nice, big, alcohol-absorbing meal before getting started. 

Granted, breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but even MORE so when it comes to wine drinking.  All those carbs you shy away from most days of the week will not only give you the energy to lift several glasses, but will keep all that wine from going straight to your head. 

Not my food - the camera was slower than my stomach

2) Know where you want to go.

Did I mention that there are a number of areas in California where wineries flourish?  You could go anywhere from 2-4 hours away and hit about 5-9 different regions in the Central Coast alone.  For our most recent adventure, we chose the Foxen Canyon area of Santa Barbara County - which took us into places like San Ynez, Santa Maria and Los Olivos.  But even once you have an area decided, you need to decide which wineries to visit, because again, this is a healthy wine area and there are plenty to choose from. 


3) Relax and enjoy the wine, the wineries and the people who pour their passion.

Visiting the wineries is not just about slamming glasses of wine and running off to see how many places you can visit in a day.  Each location is unique and has taken great care in developing a tasting experience that you'll want to enjoy.  The people pouring your wine are passionate about what they do - some are even the owners themselves!  So don't be afraid to be friendly and ask questions.  I don't think we've met anyone yet who doesn't enjoy talking about their wine with the pride of a new parent.



4) Pace yourself, attack snacks and hydrate!

Most wineries offer you a variety of samples, either individually or by flight.  Needless to say, those little 1 ounce pours start to accumulate quickly if you're not careful.  Don't be afraid to (gasp!) dump out the reminder of your glass after the first sip - especially if you're less than thrilled with it.  Again - whole lotta wine out there, there's no need to be trashed by the second stop.  Also - snacks are key!!  Most wineries offer some form of munchies - so remember to nosh between flights.  And finally, stay hydrated with more than just wine.  I suggest at least half a glass of water per flight of wine.

5) The wine cats and dogs are not good sommeliers

Since the wineries are not only a business, but sometimes a residence as well, you may see a four-legged friend or two cruising around.  They're very friendly and sociable, but with very limited knowledge about the wines.  They probably won't help you with selecting a bottle to take home, but after drinking all that wine and water, they may be able to recommend a nice litter box or hydrant on the property for you to utilize.

6) Behave yourself

Rule breakers will be dealt with harshly.

And thus endeth my words of wisdom for wine drinking.  The summer days are long, lovely and perfect for day trips like this.  So if you're up for an adventure, Google some wineries, grab a DD, jump in the car and make a day of it! 

Happy place.....found once again!

We had an absolutely wonderful time last Saturday wine drinking, and would like to extend a thank you again to the fabulous people at each of the tasting rooms we visited:  Gainey Vineyard, Koehler Winery,  Tres Hermanas Winery, Foxen 7200 "The Shack", Riverbench Vineyard & Winery, Kenneth Volk Vineyards, and Cottonwood Canyon Winery.  No compensation was received for mentioning them - they just happen to be the vineyards where our sure-footed guide (that would be Anthony) took us.  If you're looking for personal recommendations, any of these were very tasty and definitely worth visiting.  And of course a HUGE thanks to Meri & Anthony - without whose knowledge and guidance Nick and I would have ended up at some sheep farm stumbling about asking where's the wine??