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Early To Rise….Santa Barbara Part 1

BEEP…BEEP…BEEP… slowly I opened one eye to look at my alarm clock, 3:30 am, time to get up and head for the airport.  An unfortunate side effect of a more secure flying world is the exorbitant amount of time we now spend at the airport when catching a flight and the public’s lack of understanding with the system.  This lack of understanding often leads to needless fights with airline personnel that basically ruins everyone’s day.

Generally, I try and arrive at the airport an hour before the boarding time, not the departure time.  When you book an airline ticket you are presented with the wheels up or departure time.  What many people fail to realize is that boarding actually takes place at least 30-45 minutes prior to that time and at wheels up time, well…you should be wheels up.  How many times though, do we find our selves sitting at the gate watching everyone board as the departure time clicks on by?  If more people realized that they had to get to the gate on time, we may not have the amount of delays that we currently experience.  But I digress…

So, with a boarding time of 6:00am, I needed to be at the airport by around 5:00am, hence the early wakeup call.  I had been looking forward to this trip for a long time, so there wasn’t much sleep to be had the night before.  I was running on about an hour of sleep and a lot of caffeine as we pulled into the airport.  We had already checked our bags on the internet so it was just a matter of dropping them off as we walked through the ticketing area. As we rode up the escalator I saw the line at security and I knew we were in for a long wait.  The line stretched completely through the maze of security ropes, out of that section and down a hallway behind another set of makes shift ropes.  Beyond the front of the line, there were 5 security lanes set up, but only 1 was being utilized. The lack of personnel at the TSA this early in the morning led to the back up of passengers.

We stood online until almost 6:00, when the shift change occurred and more lanes were opened.  Finally, we were able to get through and headed right for the gate as the boarding process was beginning.  Our flight to Los Angeles was just over 5 ½ hours.  The plane was packed, but thankfully Continentals new 737-900’s have Direct TV, so with a swipe of my credit card for a $6.00 charge, I was able to watch TV throughout the flight and it didn’t seem nearly as long. 

After we gathered our bags it was off for some site seeing in Los Angeles.  First stop was Hollywood Blvd and Grauman’s Chinese Theater.  The theater is located along Hollywood’s Walk of Fame and has almost 200 actors and actress’s footprints and autographs carved into the concrete in front of the theater.  After some pictures at the theater we walked down Hollywood Blvd to where the Academy Awards red carpet was set up.  We were able to walk along the red carpet and right up to the entrance of the Kodak Theater where the Academy Awards would take place a few days later.  After Hollywood Blvd we headed over to Rodeo Dr., then over to Beverly Hills to take in the sights.  Later that afternoon, we headed out Sunset Blvd and jumped on the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) headed toward Santa Barbara.

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From Los Angeles, the PCH takes you through Santa Monica, Malibu, Oxnard and follows 101 through Ventura before arriving in Santa Barbara.  We arrived in the Santa Barbara area just in time to hit happy hour at the Beach Side Bar & Café and watch the sunset.  The views from the Beach Side Bar & Cafe are beautiful and the seafood is amazing. 

If you are interested in stopping by visit http://www.beachside-barcafe.com/index.htm 

Following some Margaritas, steamers, seafood shish kabobs and ahi tuna, it was off to the home of my in-laws in Goleta where we started a fire in the pit and enjoyed some wine late into the evening.

Being a resident of the east coast and therefore used to getting out of bed at an east coast time, I found myself wide awake at 4:00am the next morning.  While my wife and I were showered and ready to go by 5:00, the rest of the group was not as ready.  Following breakfast later in the morning, we headed out to the wine country. From Santa Barbara there are a few ways you can get to the wine regions of Santa Ynez, Santa Maria, Los Alamos, and Sta. Rita Hills. The first option is 101 which will take you parallel to the Santa Ynez Mountain range along the coast and then eventually through a tunnel which is the gateway to the region.

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The second is the San Marcos Pass Rd. (154), which will take you directly over the top of the Santa Ynez Mountain range and bring you down into the Santa Ynez Valley near the Cachuma Reservoir.  This is a beautiful drive which provides some great scenery.

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Finally, the North San Marcos Pass Rd. is another option, but this route is not for the faint of heart.  The road is very narrow and winds its way steeply up the Santa Ynez Mountains before connecting with the San Marcos Rd. (154) above the reservoir and cold springs bridge.

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We decided to take the San Marcos Pass Rd. Once we made our way over the mountains and found ourselves in the beautiful Santa Ynez valley, it was time to start visiting some wineries.  The first one we came to was the Blackjack Ranch Vineyards and Winery.  The proprietor of the Blackjack Ranch is Roger Wisted and as you will see on the Blackjack website, he has a very interesting life story.  The name ‘Blackjack,” was a tribute to the game California Blackjack, which Robert invented.  In 1873, the standard game of Blackjack “21” was outlawed in California. The only place you can legally play 21 is in an Indian owned Casino, which is governed by the Federal Indian Gaming Act.  In California Blackjack, you play to “22”, not 21 and therefore, it was legal to be played outside of Indian owned Casinos. The success of California Blackjack allowed Robert to pursue his dream of building a winery.   

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The Blackjack Ranch is located on a beautiful piece of property between Solvang and Los Olivos.  You may recognize Blackjack as the second winery Miles and Jack visited in the Movie Sideways, where they taste the Maximus Syrah.  To taste at the Blackjack Ranch the cost is $12.00 per person and they will allow you to split a tasting. 

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Below is a partial list of wines we tasted while visiting Blackjack Ranch:

 Chardonnay Wilkening Vineyard Reserve 2006

“Just released, the 2006 Reserve Chardonnay from Laura Wilkening’s hillside vineyard overlooking Ballard Canyon Road completes our first decade of production of this beautiful fruit. As always, the dominant features are honeysuckle, pineapple, and tropical fruit. Well structured and complex, enjoy it over the next 5-6 years.”

Pinot Noir Alex de Vergy 2005

“Big, thick, chewy, earthy, black fruit pinot noir with Burgundian characteristics. Velvet comes to mind immediately so this could be La Tache.  Raspberry, violets, vanilla bean, smoke.  Acidity perfect for food. Old vine fruit, La Colline Vineyard, Arroyo Grande.  Experienced tasters quickly note this very, very special and score it around 96 points.”

We purchased the Pinot Noir, it was exceptional!!

Maximus Syrah 2005

“The Sideways wine, exhibits a deep ruby/purple color in addition to subtle, but sweet aromas of barbecue smoke, blackberries, cassis, licorice, saddle leather, and earth. It is a powerful, layered, ripe wine with moderately high tannin as well as admirable purity and persistence. Give it another 12-18 months of bottle age, and enjoy it over the following decade.”

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If you’d like to visit the Blackjack Ranch, it is located at 2205 Alamo Pintado Road, Solvang, CA 93463, you can also visit their website at http://www.blackjackranch.com/

The next Winery we visited was Firestone Vineyards.  The Firestone Vineyards are located in the heart of the Santa Ynez valley, near the town of Los Olivos.  The Firestone website states that the Vineyard was founded in 1972 and was Santa Barbara counties first estate winery.  The vineyard includes a barrel cellar, fermentation cellar, crush pad and bottling line for full production from the vine to the bottle. A tasting at the Firestone Vineyard includes 7 wines and is either $10 or for an extra $5 you can keep the glass. 

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 Below is a partial ist of wines we tasted at Firestone Vineyards:

Central Coast Chardonnay 2007

“This beautiful Chardonnay is a show of what the Central Coast has to offer. Sourcing grapes from both Monterey and Santa Barbara Counties, the fresh fruit shines through alongside a lovely, lightly oaked nose.”

Gewurztraminer Santa Ynez Valley 2008

“An ideal sipping wine, our Gewürtz charms with alluring notes of lychee, mandarin orange and nutmeg on the nose. Citrus flavors of grapefruit and bergamot emerge on the mouth, which is enlivened by a quenching acid backbone.”

Ambassador Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

“Classic Bordeaux-style blend that incorporates our most prized estate blocks, chosen for their potential to yield a wine of extraordinary depth, complexity and character. This wine is named in honor of Ambassador Leonard Firestone, who planted our first vineyard in 1972. Only vintages of superior quality are deemed worthy of The Ambassador designation.”

We purchased the Ambassador Cabernet; it was one of the best we tasted on the whole trip.

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If you’d like to visit the Firestone Vineyards, it is located at 5000 Zaca Station Rd., Los Olivos, CA 93441; you can also visit their website at http://www.firestonewine.com/

Following a brief lunch stop we visited Sunstone Vineyards and Winery.  Sunstone Winery was founded in 1989 by the Rice family.  Today it is one of the largest organic vineyards in Santa Barbara.  The wineries tasting building is one of the most beautiful you will find in the whole valley.  The building is built on the site of an old horse barn and includes over 5,000 ft of stone barrel aging caves.  A tasting at Sunstone Vineyards is $10.

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Below is a partial list of the wines we tasted while visiting Sunstone Vineyards:

2006 Merlot Estate

“The 2006 Estate Merlot has a ripe cherry scent, with dark chocolate, and tobacco aromas. Upon tasting, this wine has a delicate beginning and subtle spice that lingers with the ripe cherry flavors. Soft integrated tannins and balanced acidity provide for an enjoyable mid-pallet and long finish of vanilla, sweet oak and subtle spices. Our 2006 Merlot Estate is enjoyable now and will continue to age well through 2011.”

Doce de Alma (Syrah Red Dessert Wine) 2006

“The 2006 Doce Da Alma (“Sweet of the Soul”), is made from 100% Syrah grapes and 2-year aged brandy. This amazing Syrah red dessert wine is produced from 100% organically farmed grapes grown on our Estate vineyards farmed to California Certified Organic Farmer (C.C.O.F.) specifications. This wine has a deep cherry aroma along with black pepper, fresh plum, Tahitian vanilla, honey roasted almonds and cinnamon. The rich flavors of black curren, fresh figs, black cherries, soft caramel, roasted almonds, anise seed, eucalyptus, chili peppers, dark roasted coffee beans, cocoa bean, and boysenberries make the characters meld together. Enjoy this rich Syrah Port with molten chocolate cake and French vanilla ice cream.”

We purchased the Doce de Alma, it was fantastic.

Viognier SBC 2007

“The Sunstone 2007 Santa Barbara County Viognier is very light in color. On the nose it has notable characters of freshly sliced apricots, along with lemon zest and a distinct aroma of honey-suckle. Its light bodied character reveals flavors of ripe Asian pear, juicy green apple, and a zesty lemon finish. Enjoy this crisp Viognier with an assortment of cheeses and Italian meats, such as prosciutto and grilled sausages on a warm summer day.”

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If you’d like to visit the Sunstone Vineyards, it is located at 125 Refugio Road, PO Box 1747,  Santa Ynez, CA 93460, you can also visit their website at http://www.sunstonewinery.com/

Gainey Vineyards was our final stop for the day.  The Gainey Vineyards website states that the land the Vineyards sit on was purchased in 1962.  The winery itself was opened in 1984 and today the land covers over 1000 acres and everything from grapevines, to cattle, to Arabian horses can be found on the property.  A tasting at Gainey Vineyards costs $10 and includes a logo glass to take home. 

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Below is a partial list of the wines we tasted while visiting Gainey Vineyards:

Sauvignon Blanc Limited Selection 2007

“The nose of the 2007 Limited Selection reflects this purity, bursting from the glass with vivid aromas of white grapefruit, sweet lime, guava, honeydew melon and mineral, with subtle spring flower, vanilla and spice scents completing the olfactory panorama. On the palate, the wine initially is sleek and streamlined, then expands dramatically in mid-palate to deliver rich, concentrated, honeydew melon flavors that resolve in a long, crisp finish dominated by mouthwatering mineral and pomelo tones.”

Chardonnay Limited Selection 2007

“The superb 2007 vintage ripened this special fruit to perfection. An indication is the wine’s deep golden color, which introduces lavish butterscotch, crème brulee, toasted coconut and vanilla aromas. After a few minutes aeration, lovely ripe apple, mango and toasted pineapple scents emerge, supported by baking spice and mineral tones.  On the palate, this luxurious, unfiltered Chardonnay offers a wonderfully supple, creamy texture and luscious, remarkably concentrated, yellow apple, mango, pineapple and nectarine flavors. Lively underlying acidity provides structure and vibrancy to the wine’s opulent fruit, while the Santa Rita Hills’ distinctive minerality adds a refreshing note to the long, crisp finish. Although this sumptuous Chardonnay is delicious now, it will develop further complexity with another 2-3 years of bottle age.”

Syrah Limited Selection 2006

“The nose is full of deep concentrated, red currant, black raspberry and blackberry fruit embellished by a perfumed medley of secondary scents, including sandalwood, wildflowers, roasted earth, white and black pepper spice, light bacon fat and, especially, lavender and sage. Unlike many California Syrahs, this is not a super-extracted, prune-y monster. It boasts lavish, notably spicy black raspberry and blackberry flavors, but it’s also fresh, elegant and beautifully structured.”

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If you’d like to visit the Gainey Vineyards, it is located at 3950 East Highway 246
Santa Ynez, CA 93460, you can also visit their website at http://www.gaineyvineyard.com/index.html

After leaving Gainey we headed back down the San Marcos Rd. headed toward Santa Barbara.  On the way home we made a pit stop at the Cold Spring Tavern, which is located in the San Marcos Pass.  Founded in 1865, the Tavern was used as a rest stop for Stage Coaches heading over the Santa Ynez Mountains on their way to the Santa Ynez valley.  On the weekends there is live entertainment and on Sundays you can purchase their famous Tri-Tip sandwich.

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Following the Cold Spring Tavern we headed back to the house to sit out front of the fire and enjoy a bottle of wine among friends.  The next day we would set out along the PCH to Cambria, CA. check back soon for part 2.  Until next time, Salude!

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