Touring the Santa Barbara Wine Country (Guest Author Andrew Wang)

Bien_nacido Tuesday, October 9th.  [During my absence in the Loire, guest author Andrew Wang offers this excellent posting.  Andrew also writes regularly for Travel Reward Credit Card, Wine Making Supplies, International Travel Medical Insurance Guide.  ~Dave]

When Father Junipero Serra planted the first grapevine cuttings in Santa Barbara County in 1782 he could scarcely have been aware of the potential of the land. The same can be said of the generations that followed him. It was only in the 1980s that the first recognition came of the area’s unique potential.

It was then realized that the Santa Barbara County was blessed with the right soil, the right amount of sunshine and the right temperature to grow grapes. Vineyard masters and wine makers descended on this glorious Californian land, bounded by Santa Ynez to the south and the San Rafaels to the north, to plant yards and yards of world-class grape vines. The result: Santa Barbara is now known as America’s wine country.

Today a drive through Santa Barbara County is any wine lover’s dream. Over 100 wineries operate in this area, and more are setting up shop. There is also a great deal of experimentation going on as new winemakers join the party. Tasting rooms dot this beautiful County, where visitors can taste some of the best wines being produced in America.

The County itself has been divided in three clear zones (AVAs): the Santa Ynez Valley, the Santa Rita Hills, and the Santa Maria Valley. Each zone has its own, unique climate. The Santa Ynez Valley, which is the largest, is home to more than 50 wineries and scores of grape growers. It is slightly warm, as its eastern parts are a little removed from the ocean.

The Santa Rita Hills are much cooler because they are fed by a cool ocean breeze that also brings in fog. This area is ideal for growing grapes like syrah, pinot noir and chardonnay. The Santa Maria Valley is the coolest. It is windy and often foggy and has a climate that is almost like Burgundy, the French home of pinot noir and chardonnay grapes.

Some of the most well known vineyards in Santa Barbara Country are Sanford & Benedict Vineyard, Bien Nacido, Babcock Vineyards, and Byron Vineyard and Winery. Besides this, winemaking giants Beringer, Robert Mondavi and Kendall-Jackson have major vineyard holdings in Santa Barbara.

Perhaps best known for its Pinot Noir, the County also produces some of the most exotic grapes in the world. These include Syrah, Petite Syrah (aka Petite Sirah), Sauvignon Blanc, Mourvèdre, Grenache, Viognier, Rousanne and Marsanne as well as Riesling, Dornfelder and Tocai Friulano.

The fame of the County has grown with the shooting of the Hollywood film Sideways in 2004. Hundreds of tourists now descend on Kalyra Winery, where the film’s sassy star, Stephanie (played by Sandra Oh), was pouring wine. Other stops for these tourists are Los Olivos Café & Wine Merchant, Hitching Post II, cellar at Firestone and Foxen tasting room. In fact, this trail has come to be known as the "Sideways tour" which ends well if you finish your day at Solvang’s Tastes of the Valleys wine bar, where they feature the wines of the Sideways Wine Club.

Visitors can also time their visit to coincide with the wine country’s two annual bashes. The first one is Vintners’ Festival and is held in April. The second one is called the Celebration of Harvest, and is held in October. Both are marked by days of wild dancing, crush parties, dining and merrymaking.

Andrew Wang


About the Author

Andrew Wang lives in Seattle area.   He writes for the following blogs: Travel Reward Credit Card, Wine Making Supplies, International Travel Medical Insurance Guide

That's it for this week and I am outta here!

Map_france_loire_2This space is going silent for a while.  My family and I are spending some time in the Loire Valley, thanks to Superwife, whose first choice would have been somewhere in Africa or Asia.  You see, before I got married my goal was to spend vacations in one of the globe’s best winegrowing regions.  Immersion in the local food and wine is the best way to expand one’s appreciation and understanding.  And love.

But Superwife made this a conditional concession – we could tour the Loire as long as I was not running off to every internet cafe to post new articles, process orders, manage club members or any of the other duties I take on as Chief Cook and Bottle Washer at  Don’t worry, orders will be filled almost as quickly as we are known for, and I’ll come back home with a plethora of posting possibilities.

I’ll be back in touch later this month, after processing our club orders on the 16th.  Meanwhile – pop the cork on a bottle of Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc or Cabernet Franc for me, and I’ll raise a toast in your direction.

Swclogogs3x3_2 Cheers,

Dave Chambers, Wine Merchant

Today’s Quote is from Oscar Wilde

Too much work, and no vacation,
Deserves at least a small libation.
So hail! my friends, and raise your glasses,
Work’s the curse of the drinking classes.
~ (I wishe he’d known about!)



. Help me continue this free blog by taking 5 seconds to vote here!

I see sheep and dream of lambchops and pinot!

Sheep_dog_trialsThis weekend I was in Anderson Valley, home to some of our state’s best Pinot Noir vineyards as well as our Lila Farms olive ranch.  Sunday morning was spent watching the sheep dog trials at the Boonville fair grounds, part of the Mendocino County Fair and Apple Show. It wa day of rodeo, funnel cakes, carnival rides, produce contests, and, of course, apple pie. But the highlight for me was the sheepdog trials, which I can’t watch without rooting for the dogs. They are entrancing.

Boonville is a throw-back to an America before fast food, chain stores or strip malls.  As Superwife explains "People want to be where nothing is.  It’s kind of ironic, really".  But who would have thought Boonville’s sheepdog event would make the cover story of NYT online today?

I always have wine on my mind.  And I’m always looking for new ideas for this blog.  So as I sat there watching the sheep trials… I started craving a glass of pinot and our favorite recipe for roast lamb.  Whoops, now I’m drooling again, so I’m going to quickly give you the recipe and send you to the pinot section of our online store, then get an early lunch…

The Recipe – "Dead Easy Rosemary Lamb"
Superwife and I have been working for more than 20 months on a cookbook of almost-lost family recipes (it would have been complete long ago if not for the fact we’ve overloaded the capabilities of the software at, which we do not recommend for serious projects, no matter how enticing their website!!)  Anyway, this recipe is from that effort, and is a contribution from our friend Eileen Loustau (nee Utter).


3 1/2 – 4 lbs. bone-in leg of lamb

2-3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed with 1 oz sea salt and 1 Tbsp olive oil

3-5 Rosemary sprigs ~ 6 inches long


Heat oven to 375.  Crush garlic on cutting board, using the oil and salt as grit.  Spread evenly on lamb and rub well.

Place on a wire rack in a roasting pan with an inch of water in the bottom.  Spread Rosemary sprigs around the roast and place in oven.  Calculate timing as follows – 15 minutes per pound plus an extra 15 minutes (for rare). 

Remove from oven and cover with foil.  Let rest for 15 minutes before carving.  Serve with a great pinot, as follows:

Avpn05 See our Pinot Selections Here!

Dave Chambers, Wine Merchant

Today’s Quote from Dr. Grant Colfax, Boonville native

"Sheepdog trials are a moment where everything seems to be in balance.  It’s what everyone wants America to look like. It’s an illusion we all collectively embrace.” and so do we at



. Help me continue this free blog by taking 5 seconds to vote here!

Here come for a slobbering good nosh!

300pxgluttonousposter_2My favorite news about the upcoming Beijing Olympics involves the reports about "Chinglish."  Chinglish is the (usually humorous) English translation of common Chinese phrases.  They are most often found on signs, menus or anywhere a Chinese entrepreneur might be found laying in wait for a tourist with a few spare dollars.

The title of this article "Here come for a slobbering good nosh!" is an invitation to try the mouth-watering food at a certain Beijing restaurant.  And the photo shown here (it is gluttonous to come quickly!) encourages visitors to quickly buy this vendor’s epicurean delights.  Anybody thinking it might mean anything else has their mind in the gutter.  (For many more amusing Chinglish examples, check out the Wikipedia entry)

It’s not surprising that many Chinglish signs advertise food.  Most tourists must eat several times a day.  And food is a defining cultural element whether you’re touring Beijing or California wine country.  Such "food as culture" observations (along with his enviable writing skills) have kept Calvin Trillin in best sellers for decades.  Understand a nation’s relationship to food and wine, and you have a pretty good sense of who they are.

Tovlogocolor_transp_backFor example, I spend a fair amount of time working with Tastes of the Valleys wine bar in Solvang, California, at the epicenter of "Sideways Country."  This area is home to some of California’s best wines, and I’m continually excited by the region’s vinous endeavors.  But the food?  Hmmm, not so much.  With a few very pleasant exceptions!

Where to find a "Slobbering Good Nosh" in Santa Ynez Valley

  1. Let me begin with a rumor.  I have heard wonderful things about the new Cabernet Bistro in the heart of Solvang.  But since I’ve yet to eat there, I’ll withhold an actual recommendation until after I’ve had a chance to sample their food anonymously.  Reliable sources indicate it to be worth trying.
  2. The long-tired Meadows Restaurant at the Royal Scandinavian Inn is undergoing a massive renovation.  The entire hotel is enjoying a multi-million dollar face lift, and the restaurant is newly redecorated and has a new chef working on a new menu.  The fresh wine list is being designed by Bobby Moy, the Manager of Tastes of the Valleys, so it’s sure to be good.  And restaurant veteran and visionary John Martino is driving the renovation.  I hold great hope for this location, but will again withhold a recommendation until it’s renovation is complete.
  3. A great place for Sunday brunch, daily lunches or dinner (on Thursday only, according to their website) is the Chef’s Touch.  Owner/Chef Kurt Alldredge provides a fun and funky environment with a few tables surrounded by his shop and open kitchen.  His hand-picked cookbooks, olive oils, wines, and kitchen gadgets surround guests in an environment less cozy than many prefer, but the quality of his food is sufficient to encourage repeat visits, though I regularly lament the limited dinner schedule.
  4. For those seeking good wine-friendly food in an historic building, the nearby town of Los Olivos provides the Brother’s Restaurant at Matteis’ Tavern, known locally as "The Brothers".  Visitors can easily imagine this setting during its days as an old stage coach stop, some 150 years ago.  And while the food is good, I usually find myself there towards the end of the shift, when the waitstaff is eager to leave and the wine steward (if there is one) is long gone, leaving the wine knowledge unequal to the quality of the list.  Good news though – the corkage fee is only $15.
  5. While the Los Olivos Cafe has been crowded ever since its appearance in "Sideways", the kitchen is struggling to remain equal to its peers, and their wine prices are quite high.  The Cafe is a good place to visit when seeking a little bit of the "Sideways" experience, but I prefer the food and service around the corner at Patrick’s Side Street Cafe, where diners will enjoy a nice wine list, food made from fresh ingredients, and Patric’s ebullient personality (it’s been said he makes a drunken sailor seem shy).
  6. A few steps down the road in Los Olivos is the Fess Parker Wine Country Inn and Spa, home to the new Marcella’s Restaurant.  This space has struggled to find a winning formula, and I hope that this latest incarnation is the ticket.  Againi, I’ve not yet had a chance to sample their food, so will withhold a reccomendation.  But I like the fact they offer a BYOB night, for those lucky enough to be in town on a Tuesday.
  7. We hear rave reviews from those who have dined on the food of Chef Budi Kazali (who has kindly designed recipes to accompany one of our Sideways Wine Club shipments).  Budi runs heard over the kitchen at the Ballard Inn.  Unlike a surprising number of chefs, Budi has studied wine.  This knowledge has served him well as he designs menus and wine lists that work together.  The downside?  Limited seatings restrict the number of people able to sample the fruits of his labor.  Call ahead!
  8. Last but far from least is Trattoria Grappolo.  The staff of Tastes of the Valleys is likely to find themselves gathered for their after-hours nosh next to the blue-shirted staff of Trattoria Grappolo.  Following a great Italian Trattoria tradition, the staff eat together before clean-up begins – this is but one of the practices that impact the impressive food and staff longevity at this favorite restaurant.  TrattoriagrappoloRun by Leonardo Curti and Daniele Serra, Grappolo serves Tuscan-inspired dishes that work nicely with many of the area’s wines.  A strong wine list balances new and old world selections, and forces diners to struggle against the temptation to bring in an old favorite from their cellar (or the day’s tastings), either of which the restaurant will open for a corkage fee of only $15.   Chef Leo just completed a guest appearance on the Food Network with Giada Delaurentis, and is soon to release his own cookbook, produced in conjunction with well-known photographer, James Fraioli (buy it here).  Star gazers may be thrilled by the site of a favorite TV or Hollywood personality, though I suggest the real attraction here is Chef Leo’s "slobbering good nosh", AKA mouth-watering food.


Dave Chambers, Wine Merchant

Today’s Quote is from Calvin Trillin

Marriage is not merely sharing the fettucini, but sharing the burden of finding the fettucini restaurant in the first place.  (though we’ve made it easy to fine the wine at!)



. Help me continue this free blog by taking 5 seconds to vote here!

Is "Sideways" Dead?

Sideways_picnic "Sideways Country" listed among top five wine-tasting weekends by Women’s Day online.

I’m sometimes asked whether it makes sense to operate a wine club under the "Sideways" brand, almost three years after its release. 

Detractors (usually those who hated the movie) are quick to tell me "the buzz is so over".  Or that it was a poor idea in the first place. 

Proponents (usually fans of the movie) believe the story resonates with our emerging food and wine culture, and will be forever linked to wine the way "Field of Dreams" was linked to baseball.  Well not exactly in the same way, but you get my point.

Then an email like this shows up in my in-box today.  It’s from Laura Kath, who manages P.R. for Santa Ynez Valley Visitor’s Association (Sideways Country).

"The "Sideways" effect keeps on giving! This article is now online – a "photo travelogue" featuring Santa Ynez Valley and Solvang as one of the top 5 wine-tasting weekends in the USA."

Click here to view the entire article or scroll down for the text/slides for our area.

Continue reading “Is "Sideways" Dead?”

Burn Baby Burn!

Rookeyes2007-08-08, Solvang – I’m writing today from the Bulldog Cafe – my wireless outpost and office away from home, conveniently next-door to Tastes of the Valleys wine bar.  The Bulldog is usually a haven for wired road warriors jacked on Java, ear buds in place, fingers flailing.  But today it’s a haven for wildfire refugees – the unshaven and unshowered, evacuated from home or office by one of California’s largest wildfires.

The Zaca fire has been burning since early July.  With containment anticipated sometime around September 7th, it is definitely not a small fire.  Over 72,000 acres have been consumed so far.

But firefighters have miraculously managed to minimize damage to a single structure.  Cold_spring_tavern To keep it that way, the historic Coldstream Tavern (pictured) has invested $80K in a fireproof wrap to protect the historic structure, dating back to the 1860’s.  That’s ancient history, by California standards.  Too bad such measures can’t be extended to our nearby vineyards, though so far, none of them have been affected.

But the acrid smell of smoke that greets each new breath is worse than a poker hall after a bachelor party.  Cars are covered in ash every morning, and asthma sufferers are gasping all over town.  The late hours at Tastes of the Valleys has made it a welcome respite for bleary-eyed firefighters and tourists alike, where cool and refreshing summer wines have enjoyed an understandable increase in popularity.  Fortunately, inconveniences such as poor air quality and highway closures have not deterred California’s intrepid wine pilgrims destined for Solvang and our surrounding wineries.

Our summer fire season may be the only time a wine’s popularity is commensurate with its ability to cleanse the palate of the lingering taste of ash and smoke.  Now, if it would only work on our clothes…

Swclogogs3x3 Be safe.  Enjoy your summer.

Dave the Wine Merchant and



. Help me continue this free blog by taking 5 seconds to vote here!