If you are a California wine aficionado, you may have been tempted to recreate some of Jack and Miles’ adventures from Sideways, the film about two bachelors having a last romp in Central California wine country before one of them gets married. I’m already married, so my recent Sideways tour did not include a naked tow truck driver nor Sandra Oh in any compromising positions. Nonetheless, we managed to have a great time and enjoy some wonderful wine and food.
The keys to a successful Sideways recreation are: an aspiring writer (check), a love of Pinot Noir (check) and a motel room to serve as home base (check). In our case, the motel was in the lovely Danish village of Solvang, located near the 101 freeway at the southern end of the Santa Ynez Valley.
Solvang is a fun town to explore on foot, with block after block of Danish architecture, excellent bakeries, decent restaurants, numerous gift shops and a good brew pub. Most of the architecture in California is either Spanish colonial, midcentury modern or ranch house; sometimes you get an urge to see something completely different, and Solvang is all that. It also features a handful of tasting rooms. We found the Las Vegas themed Sort This Out Cellars to be a fun respite from the faux-Danish kitsch. They also feature an Elvira series, styled for the horror film hostess. The 2008 Elvira Macabrenet was good enough to bring a bottle home for Halloween.
To find the truly great wines of the Santa Ynez Valley, head north out of Solvang on Alamo Pintado Road, past the miniature horse ranch, to Los Olivos, a quiet little town where you can see folks kicking back in front of the General Store and be serenaded by a backyard musician.
If you’re hungry, you can get a great burger at Sides Hardware and Shoes. Or you can taste wine next door at Presqu’ile and have them bring over the burger. There are more than fifty tasting rooms in Los Olivos, most within a couple blocks of the General Store, so park the car and walk. I’d recommend lunch and a couple tastings in Los Olivos, followed by a drive northeast on Foxen Canyon Road. There you will find not just tasting rooms, but actual wineries, including some of my favorites.
Koehler is an excellent first stop, with gorgeous vineyards, quality estate wines and a fun tasting room staff. Koehler makes a tasty Santa Rita Hills Pinot, excellent full bodied cabs, and a nice estate Sangiovese.
The “star” of Foxen Canyon is Fess Parker. For those too young to know, Parker was the star of TV’s Davy Crocket where he played the legendary frontiersman. He later made a fortune in the hospitality and wine industries of the Santa Barbara area. Not surprisingly, his winery resembles a modern version of the frontier cabins that made Parker famous.
The grounds and the tasting room are spacious and comfortable, and the staff is first rate. Parker’s son Eli is the head winemaker and takes full advantage of the local climate’s ability to produce extraordinary Chardonnay and Pinot Noir fruit. In addition to the many great estate wines, Parker produces a Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot that is everything a great wine should be.
Are my eyes deceiving me, or did someone plant a bottle of Alfaro Family wine in the tasting room display? Who would perform such a sophomoric stunt? Well, it was a Sideways tour, and we were at Fess Parker, so a little horseplay might have seemed appropriate.
Thanks for joining us on another wine adventure. Next time we’ll visit Paso Robles and Pismo Beach.