Wednesday, July 16, 2014

#WBC14 Bike Tour: Santa Barbara County -> Buellton - Solvang

On Sunday of the conference, I took a few hours off and rented a bicycle at the Marriott. I wanted to explore both Buellton and Solvang since theCompass Winery, Brewery, Distillery Locator app showed that each is home to multiple establishments; and a bicycle seemed the best form of transportation.  I had planned to bike directly to Solvang on Route 246, but the valet recommended a more scenic route.

Starting on 246 and heading east, the first option you hit is the famous Hitching Post Wines available at the Hitching Post II. (I'll post more about these wines in a later post.) Shortly after is the joint Loring Wine Company & Cargasacchi tasting room. The majority of grapes from both of these wineries come from Sta. Rita Hills, so expect cool climate Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. When leaving this tasting room take an immediate left on Ballard Canyon Road which will take you through a hilly, but scenic tour of part of the Ballard Canyon AVA. One of the vineyards you will ride by are those from Larner Vineyard & Winery whose proprietor, Michael Larner, participated in several informative sessions at #wbc14. In order to sample these wines you will need to take a left to continue on Ballard Canyon Road at the intersection of Chalk Hill Road and continue on to Los Olivos.  In any case, I would recommend turning left at this intersection and biking the two miles to  Rusack Vineyards. They weren't open yet, but based on tasting their Reserve Syrah during the Ballard Canyon Syrah seminar, worth a visit.


Upon leaving, retrace your route but continue onto Chalk Hill Road which will lead you directly into Solvang. Your first stop should be Lucky Dogg Winery which will be on your left at the intersection at 246. Brent Melville is part of the Melville Vineyards and Winery clan and spun this winery off to focus on the family's Verna’s Vineyard which is located just north of Los Alamos. Brent uses a minimalist approach with short periods of oak treatment for his reds and a stainless steel Viognier - all are very nice. You won't have trouble finding other wineries, Casa Cassara Winery and Vineyard is practically next door and Presidio Winery and Royal Oaks Winery are across the street. I would recommend crossing over 246 and then a left on Copenhagen Drive to visit Lucas & Lewellen Vineyards. I tasted several of their wines over the weekend - and definitely worth a visit. Other Solvang wine options are Sevtap Winery, Toccata, and Carivintas Winery. To return to Buellton, just head west on 246. The one brewery, the Solvang Brewing Co, will be in your path on the right.  Although it's in a perfect location, and the wheat ale was refreshing, my experience was not pleasant. The bartender was a complete ass - arrogant and obnoxious - so I will never be returning.

Leaving Solvang look out for Shoestring Vineyard & Winery on the left as you get closer to Buellton and discover a little Italy in Santa Ynez. When entering Buellton, cross over Route 101 and hit straight until you see Ken Brown Wines on the right. No incentive more than the fact that Brown is one of the founders of the modern day Santa Barbara wine industry. Here you can taste several vineyard specific Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Syrah. Moving on, turn left on Industry Way for four more tasting options. Alma Rosa Winery and Vineyards, a Richard Sanford enterprise, is immediately on the left. Sanford started the Sta. Rita Hills Pinot movement and his wines were predominately featured in Sideways.And in addition to the Pinot Noir, try the Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris.

Continue down Industry way to Figueroa Mountain Brewing and Santa Barbara's first post-prohibition distillery Ascendant Spirits.  My visit to FMB was the complete opposite of Solvang Brewing, hospitality at all levels - even Judie Dietenhofer approached to say hello after seeing me snap some photos.  The Kolsch was solid and the Wheat - spot on. There's even hard cider and bbq outside. I had to force myself to leave the walk next door to Ascendant Spirits. The distillery is a shade over one year old - but has made a large impression already (multiple awards). The corn whiskey is all sweet corn with little burn; while the Semper Fi is made from red, white, and blue corn and is even smoother. Their bourbon is highly rated and check out the American Star Caviar Lime Vodka, where the Caviar limes are cooked in the mash. This is not your ordinary flavored vodka. And to us Washington DC folks, their portfolio is available in DC and Maryland. At the end of the street, Terravant Wine Company & the Avant Wine Bar are waiting. I didn't stop in, but would expect a nice setting.

The last two stops are in the same building, Cold Heaven Cellars and  Standing Sun Wines. To navigate there, retrace to 246, turn right, then turn left on Avenue of Flags, and finally right on 4th street. Get ready for Viognier at Cold Heaven as well as some Pinot Noir. Standing Sun has a wider portfolio, and I suggest anything with a GSM in the name. The final stop before heading back to the Marriott is also a no brainer - the Firestone Walker Brewing Company Taproom. Try one of their barrel fermented and aged beers - and no, not all heavy used bourbon barrels. In fact, try the Bretta Weisse if available - a little oak goes a long way.

That's it - about 15 total miles so not a major undertaking, but check out the options. And if cycling isn't your thing, then check out the free Santa Ynez Valley Loop Shuttle courtesy of Figueroa Mountain Brewing. Safe travels. 

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