Santa Ynez Valley / Santa Barbara Wine Country

Golden vines - perfect shotI had no idea that the vines turned colors in the fall. In fact, I was downright delighted to see the rows and rows of orange, gold, and rust. It was a warm Thanksgiving weekend. Well, warm during the day and chilly at night. Highs were in the upper 70’s and it cooled to the 40’s. We left LA completely socked in fog and drove to Santa Barbara wine country where the air was fresh and clear.

We stayed at Hadsten House in Solvang. The Hadsten is an old motel, designed in the Danish style for which the town is known. The interiors of this motel, however, have been completely renovated. The rooms boast chic, clean decor heavy in neutral tones and black. A nice modern makeover. The rooms also have fireplaces, but don’t be fooled – this is mostly for ambience. When the night chill descended upon us, not much heat came from that decorative box. The Hadsten has a nice restaurant as well as an indoor pool.Solvang

A major perk to staying at the Hadsten House is they are linked to approximately 20 different wineries that offer complimentary tastings to Hadsten guests. When you check in at the front desk, be sure to ask for the list. The clerk will give you a signed and dated sheet that will act as your coupon for free tastings. The “coupon” is good for up to four guests. An added bonus for me was that most of the wineries listed were ones I had never been to before. I have visited this wine region many times and it was refreshing to have several new spots to explore.

If you stay elsewhere and the hotel does not have complimentary tastings included, expect to pay about $10 per taste. The cheapest I saw was an $8 tasting, but that was not common. Some places were even $12. Remember the days when you got to keep your tasting glass? Not so much anymore. But you can often purchase the glass, which is a nice souvenir.

Stacey and Aaron - BridlewoodDuring our wine weekend, we explored, sipped, and explored again. I will save you the details of each stop, but here are some highlights. Foley is a must-see. This winery is located between Solvang and Lompoc along Highway 246. I am not a Chardonnay fan, but Foley specializes in Chardonnay as well as Pinot Noir. The Chardonnay was fantastic. I am still surprised to have found a Chardonnay I genuinely like. Needless to say, we had to bring some home. I already like Pinot and theirs was very flavorful. Foley is also a beautiful property. This is a great place to lounge.

Further down the road, is the Wine Ghetto. If Foley is a gorgeous landscape, the Ghetto is the opposite. This is for people coming only for the wines, not the ambience. The Wine Ghetto is located in Lompoc in an industrial area behind a hospital. Severalwine ghetto wineries have tasting rooms in these very plain commercial buildings. We tried Flying Goat and Palmina. Flying Goat had an amazing Pinot Noir in a space that looks primarily like a small warehouse. Palmina might be the exception to the rule. Their interiors were lovely as well as their Italian wines. Palmina also offers tastes of their pasta sauce and cheeses while you sip. Food is always a big bonus with me. I actually bought a few Christmas gifts at Palmina. Their wine glasses are also really pretty – sorry, I am a girly girl. The large wine glass boasts the Gemini twins symbol and since both my husband and I are Geminis, we simply had to get two. I loved Palmina’s whites.

Back through Solvang and towards Los Olivos (take 246 to 154) is Bridlewood Winery. Like Foley, the Bridlewood property is breathtaking. This site seems fitting for an outdoor wedding with a rustic touch. The wines were delicious and the tasting room has a high end flare. I bought their Cabernet. North of Bridlewood is Brander, another great spot with great wines. I especially like their Sauvignon Blancs.
Firestone tasting roomIf you are new to Santa Ynez Valley/Santa Barbara County, a very easy way to hit up great wineries is to drive Foxen Canyon Road. Off of the 154, you will have about 15 wineries at your disposal. It is a scenic drive with a whole line-up of great places. I suggest Firestone, Curtis, and Zaca Mesa. All three have great wine, the reds are especially great at Zaca. Keep in mind that the wineries close early between 4-5pm.

The view from the Firestone tasting room is fabulous. Quite frankly, the Firestone tasting room is my favorite. If the back counter is open near the window, I suggest tasting there. There is also a great tour of the facilities – it’s free, take it. Like Bridlewood, this would be a great wedding site. Be sure to also say hello to Howard the cat. He was a stray who was ultimately adopted by staff. He sits near the front register. He’s a little old and a little slow, but if you are kind to him, he will let you pet him gently. Children who are not-so-nice will get the same response, hence, the sign. I am a sucker for those who adopt lost pets.Harold the cat
If you don’t feel like driving and want to merely walk to various locations (safer), there are plenty of tasting rooms/shops/restaurants in Los Olivos and Solvang. I really enjoyed Tercero Wines (thank you, Larry!) in Los Olivos and I always visit Lucas & Lewellen in Solvang. You will find nice places to eat in both towns as well as shops to pick up a variety of gifts.
Stacey and Aaron - Firestone 2

Speaking of shopping, I mentioned that this was Thanksgiving weekend. I was pleasantly surprised to find Black Friday specials at almost all of the wineries. Firestone was selling a case (12 bottles) of Sauvignon Blanc for only $99, Lucas & Lewellen was selling their Merlot for only $10, and there were many more great deals on good wines. You could honestly get all of your Christmas shopping done in one weekend. When I asked my husband who gets what from our trunk of loot, he gave me “that” look. “You kidding me….this is all for us. If people come over for dinner, we will share, but we don’t just give good wine away.” Okay, okay. Before people start lining up outside our home, I suggest taking your own drive up to wine country. The views are gorgeous, the wine is worth savoring, and if you stay at the right hotel, your sips will be free. Cheers!

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