Sammy’s Birthday – Solvang, California

I don’t know much of anything about wine. I suppose as a bartender that is a cardinal sin, but nonetheless it’s true.  I know if I like something or not, but if you ask me what it is I like about it, I revert back to my limited vocabulary of wine jargon. I’ll tell you that it’s full-bodied or fruity, but really, I’m just hoping you agree or at least bullshit me back so that one of us feels good about the response.

Words like “tannins,” “jammy,” and “oakie,” don’t really flow off of my tongue as they do the ones who serve it up in wine country. I don’t know if my chardonnay is “big” or my pinot is “earthy,” but I know that I want to learn the difference. You can enjoy a glass of wine, but it really isn’t until you go wine tasting that you actually understand what these terms mean. Your palate will eventually expand and your taste-buds may even pick up on “notes” or “hints” of leather, jerky, citrus, chocolate and rhubarb. (And if not, you may want to check out some of the literary snobbery at 2basnob  for a better understanding.)

  Sammy at Dierberg Vineyard’s tasting room

All in all, I can at least navigate through the conversation and only hope to learn something in the process. I guess that’s just how it works; we all have to start somewhere.

This weekend we started in Solvang, California. Sammy, myself, Tim and Claire headed two hours north to the Santa Ynez Valley; the same wine region where most of the movie “Sideways” was filmed. The picturesque Danish town boasts incredible bakeries, Danish architecture and wine tasting rooms on every corner. They’re also only a few miles from some of the region’s best vineyards. The only thing is, almost all of them close on 4th of July, so next time you want to spend your holiday weekend sipping wine and munching on locally harvested dishes, make sure you call ahead.


Dierberg Vineyard

For our trip, we stayed at Hotel Corque, which is a great deal for what you get ($170+ for free shuttle to their casino, luxury rooms and amenities, continental breakfast, balconies, etc.). Their restaurant, Root 246, is headed by Chef Bradley Ogden who is known for his simplistic yet delectable dishes. As their website states:

“Chef Ogden is the creator of several award-winning restaurants, including Lark Creek Inn in Marin County, One Market in San Francisco, and Bradley Ogden at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. In 2004, Bradley Ogden at Caesar’s Palace received the “Best New Restaurant” award from the James Beard Foundation. Other prestigious honors that Chef Ogden has received over the last 30 years include: “Best Chef of California” by the James Beard Foundation; one of the “Great American Chefs” by the International Wine and Food Society; the “Golden Plate Award” by the American Academy of Achievement; and “Chef of the Year” by the Culinary Institute of America.”

Some of the notable vineyards in the region are, Foley Estates, Firestone Vineyard, Lincourt Vineyards, Sanford Winery, Alma Rosa Winery, Roblar Winery and many more. For about $10, you’ll sample six or seven of the winery’s bottles – everything from Sauvignon blanc to Cabernet. And after your second or third vineyard, you’ll be surprised just how tipsy you actually are. Wine tours and wine taxis are pricey (about $60 per hour and that does not include gratuity or wine-tasting fees), so your better off finding a designated driver in your group. Chip in on his/her hotel room or buy them dinner and it may just be worth their while to cart your drunk asses around the beautiful California countryside.

Napa and Sonoma may get the reputation, but the Santa Ynez wine region will give you more for your money and it’s closer to home for you Southern Californians. Enjoy!

 Sanford Winery
Sanford Winery
 Downtown Solvang
View from Hotel Corque suite
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