Wine Bloggers Conference 2014: Mystery Bus Trip, or The Ode to Solvang
“About what?”, I asked.
“About the right bus for the today’s winery excursion”.
One of the main staples of the Wine Bloggers Conference program is so called Excursion. The agenda item, titled at WBC14 simply as “Excursions into Santa Barbara County Wine Country”, was an object of discussion, agitation, frustration, and many other “-tions”. The whisper in the air was insisting “you have to get on the right bus”, or else. Supposedly a few attendees, mostly veterans, such as 1WineDude, knew what bus was the right one. So the task was to follow the people who were “in the know”, and get on the right bus with them. And there was also a fear. A fear to get on the wrong bus. Yes, you can laugh all you want, but you know how most of us are afraid to miss out on something special and be left (ahh, horrors!) out of the supposedly exceptional experience – in this case, we could get on the wrong bus and end up at the winery, which wouldn’t be “the right one”.
When I came out shortly before the excursion time at 5 o’clock, I only caught a glimpse of 1WineDude, disappearing in the “right bus”. I should’ve taken a picture of the crowd, waiting to get on the “right bus” – probably all of 400+ conference attendees were standing outside, creating a large, inpatient crowd. The next person who seemed to know what he is doing was TheDrunkenCyclist. As he was getting on the “right bus”, the only way for me to join him would be if I would have a practical experience of dealing with Japanese subway at the peak hour, which I don’t have. Thus the next “right bus” was missed again. At this point, my only desire was to get on any bus, but at least with someone I knew (SAHMMelier). When we got on the bus as part of group of 20 people, I was relieved – at least we are going somewhere.
As the bus started moving, two very excited ladies (our guides) told us the name of our destination – Solvang. Solvang? What the heck is Solvang? A winery? Ahh, it is the town related to the movies Sideways. As a matter of fact, it is the 10th anniversary of the “Sideways”. which came out in 2004, and Solvang was mentioned in that movie (nice, but I had no idea). We even were asked to answer 10 questions about the movie Sideways, and the person with the fastest and best response would get a special prize. I dribbled something just to be a team player, but my enthusiasm was not moving.
It turns out that Solvang is a small town in the Santa Barbara County which was established about 100 years ago by the group of Danish immigrants (“Solvang” in Danish means “sunny fields”). The town itself looks very different from the most of the typical American towns of the same size of population (about 5,245 people live there based on 2010 data) – it looks like someone simply transposed a tiny piece of Europe in a middle of the Santa Ynez Valley. Colorful roofs, windmill and overall setting more suitable for Medieval Times than for a small modern American town are all the part of Solvang downtown.
Going back to the bus ride, the statement from our very enthusiastic guides that we will be visiting tasting rooms was not registering with me. I’m not very familiar with the concept of the tasting rooms outside of wineries, so I’m not expecting anything mind blowing. The bus stops. We are split into two groups and off we go – visiting tasting rooms first, with the dinner following right after.
As we started walking, our first stop is the wine bar called Sevtap. We get around the bar counter, the first wine is poured, it is a very nice Sauvignon Blanc. And the gentleman who is pouring the wine is actually a … winemaker! He pours more of his wines, including some which are not even bottled yet, and all the wines are excellent. What I thought to be just a wine bar in reality was a winery – and so was the story at all other “bars” we stopped at. Solvang has 18 so called tasting rooms – each one of them is the winery, with its own winemaker, its own history, and – its own wine. Considering what we had an opportunity to taste, a lot of those wines were outstanding – but, as you can imagine, mostly not available anywhere else outside of that tasting room/winery. Sigh.
Now I’m going to share some notes which I managed to scribble during our visits to the 5 different wineries/tasting rooms, plus more wines which were poured during dinner. Here we go.
Sevtap Winery. Art Sevtap, who came over from Turkey 22 years ago, changed a number of professions, fell in love with wine and now makes wines and entertains people at his Sevtap Winery tasting room. The tasting room itself is very unusually decorated, with the chalkboard-type walls, all covered in the notes and names of the guests (take a look at the pictures below). We tried a number of wines, including two wines which had not been even bottled yet, and all the wines were excellent. I also love the unique and different names of the wines as well as the unique label design. Here is what we tried:
2012 Sevtap Istanbul Sauvignon Blanc Santa Ynez Valley (12.4% ABV) – unusual nose, beautiful concentrated fruit, refreshing. Drinkability: 8-
2012 Sevtap Zig-a-zig-ah Cabernet Sauvignon Santa Ynez Valley (tasted from the “barrel”) – notes of eucalyptus, pure, beautiful, dark fruit, cherries, overall an excellent wine. Drinkability: 8-
2012 Sevtap Pillow Talk Petit Verdot Santa Ynez Valley (14.25% ABV, again from the “barrel”) – concentrated, earthy, almost black color, notes of barnyard. Very balanced overall. Drinkability: 8-
2012 Sevtap Wish You Were Here Sangiovese Santa Ynez Valley (13% ABV) – Tobacco and earthiness on the nose, clean tobacco and coffee flavor profile on the palate, an excellent balance. Drinkability: 8-
A short walk along the streets of a beautiful replica of Europe, and we enter the Wandering Dog Wine Bar. We were greeted with the glass of 2011 Wandering Dog Bentley’s Bubbles Blanc de Blancs – perfectly classic, with fine mousse, touch of toasted apples and minerality on the nose, perfectly balanced – an excellent Champagne-rivaling California sparkler (Drinkability: 8). We also had the Wandering Dog Petite Sirah which was simply spectacular – luscious, layered, perfectly balanced and just a joy in the glass – but I didn’t even have a chance to take a picture as we had to run to our next destination…
Lions Peak Vineyards. One of the oldest wineries on Central Coast, founded in 1992. Jennifer Arant, the winemaker, was born and raised in Texas, learned classical French ways of making the wine, traveled the world and now is crafting excellent wines under the Lions Peak label (the pictures below might not be great, but still should give you an idea of the artfully designed labels). I only wish I would be paying more attention tot he Jennifer’s story and take notes, but I didn’t 😦 Here is what we tasted:
2011 Lions Peak Vineyards Zinfandel Paso Robles – restrained smokey nose, dusty palate, dry, perfect balance. Drinkability: 7+
2010 Lions Peak Vineyards Lionesse Central Coast (40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc) – beautiful Bordeaux nose, palate is slightly sharp, restrained, needs more fruit. Drinkability: 7
2010 Lions Peak Vineyards Roaring Lion Cabernet Sauvignon (100% Cabernet Sauvignon) – classic Cab, cassis, green bell pepper, soft, round, supple, good open fruit. Drinkability: 8-
Our next stop is Presidio Winery tasting room. Presidio Winery is Certified Biodynamic winery ( Demeter) since 1994. We had two wines at the Presidio Winery. 2011 Presidio Vineyard Syrah Rose Santa Barbara County (12% ABV) was nice, light, with some strawberry notes and good acidity. Drinkability: 7
2011 Presidio Vineyard Pinot Gris Estate Grown Santa Barbara County – earthy nose, apples, butter, popcorn. Butter on the palate, then just acidity. Drinkability: 7-
I also learned about the usage of Pinot Gris versus Pinot Grigio name. Grapes for Pinot Gris wines are usually picked up earlier, and then generally fermented and aged in the oak barrels (neutral oak). Grapes for the Pinot Grigio wines are picked up later and fermented and aged in the stainless steel.
Our last stop before dinner was Dascomb Cellars. Dascomb family had been growing grapes in Santa Ynez Valley since 1974, which makes it one of the oldest vineyards in the region. The wines had being commercially produced for the first time in 1999, and the Dascomb label was started in 2008. Tasting room at the Dascomb Cellars is decorated with the paintings by renown wine artist, Leanne Laine – the two well visible paintings are called “Rubylicious” and “The Wine Collector”. And now, here are some tasting notes:
2011 Dascomb Cellars Melange Central Coast Santa Barbara County (35% Grenache, 10% Syrah, 55% Mourvedre) – earthy nose, good balance, clean, spicy, peppery. Drinkability: 7+
2011 Dascomb Cellars White Hawk Vineyard Sangiovese Santa Barbara County – interesting nose, a bit too sweet on the palate but clean and balanced overall. Drinkability: 7+
2010 Dascomb Cellars Riserva Santa Barbara County (Cabernet Sauvignon/Sangiovese blend) – open nose, some barnyard and fresh fruit. On the palate – tobacco, cassis, green bell pepper, perfectly elegant. Drinkability: 8
And … we are still not done here. After visiting all these tasting rooms, our last stop was the Cecco Ristorante for dinner – with more wines. At the restaurant, we had most of the winemakers we just met waiting for us with more wines to pour – we also met more winemakers with more wines. All the dishes, which were served buffet style, were outstanding. Sliders were just melting in your mouth; two different kinds of pizza were delicious; beets salad, always my favorite, had big chunks of delicious red and yellow beets with arugula and mozzarella.
Among the wines we tasted, I have to mention the wines from Lucas and Lewellen. Everything we tasted – the Rose, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon – were delicious. But – I hope you can forgive me, considering the late hour – I got no detailed notes whatsoever on these wines.
And I can finally conclude this long post about our excursion to Solvang. I’ really glad I missed all the “special” buses and got an opportunity to discover Solvang. We had a great time, met great people and tasted wonderful wines. If your travel will take you anywhere near Solvang, I hope you understand that not visiting it would be the loss you can not afford. Proost!