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Two Women on Wine: Central Coast wineries

Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Paso Robles

Posted: August 20, 2010 6:00 a.m.
Updated: August 20, 2010 6:00 a.m.

Lil Lepore and Shari Frazier

 


In our last column, we encouraged you to plan a trip through California's lush wine country and we offered a few suggestions to enhance your experience. We paid particular attention to the northern wine country wineries of Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties.

Today we're staying closer to home and focusing on what is quickly becoming a popular day trip destination for Southern Californians, the Central Coast: Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Paso Robles.

To review, one of the most important things you'll want to do is plan your destination.

The drive through wine country, navigating the scenic back roads, is all part of the experience. So as you would have a map to guide you through these roads, you also need a guide to the wineries that dot the countryside. Plan out which wineries you want to visit before you start your trip.

Many wineries and tasting rooms do not require reservations, but keep in mind that some do. Most wineries charge between $10 and $50 per person for tastings. We have found that with a little advance planning, you can get the times, tours and special wineries you want to visit. Mix it up by considering cave and cellar tours, library wine tastings, barrel tastings, and food pairing demonstrations.

If you want to beat the crowds, we suggest starting your wine tastings as early as 10:30 a.m. Yes, we know this is early, but remember you just "taste" a small bit of each wine presented. Make sure to plan time for lunch or a picnic at one of the wineries. While on your trip drink plenty of water throughout the day, allow time between tastings, and think about hiring a car service.

In our travels to the Central Coast we have discovered that wineries offer a patchwork of amenities: From lush gardens and art exhibitions to concerts and weekend barbeques to surroundings set on everything from estate-like grounds to garages converted into tasting rooms, it all makes your wine tasting experience special.

Regardless of size or notoriety, the main attraction for all is the tasting room. The ritual of tasting wines can often be a little overwhelming to a novice, but with a few tips even a first-timer can enjoy the experience. After all, the point of tasting is to enhance your knowledge by learning the differences among varieties of wines, styles of winemaking, and appellations. Remember, this is all about "tasting" the wines, not "drinking" them.

So with all this being said, we'd like to introduce you to "The California Directory of Fine Wineries: Central Coast." (www.californiafinewineries.com).

We covered the northern wine country directory in our last column.

The book is written by K. Reka Badger and Cheryl Crabtree, and photographed by Robert Holmes, who is regarded as one of the world's finest travel photographers. Tom Silberkleit is credited as editor and publisher.

Like its Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counterpart, the Central Coast edition is an easy-to-follow, comprehensive visitor's guide to Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Paso Robles wine countries complete with maps, exquisite photographs and must-know details profiling 58 unforgettable destination wineries. It's a must-have if you are planning a trip to these areas.

Santa Barbara County wine country is an extraordinary geographical region. Its mountain ranges run east-west, rather than the typical north-south orientation. Its peaks and hillsides funnel cool winds and fog through its valleys from the Pacific Ocean, resulting in an incredible environment for growing premium wine grapes.

Prior to the 1960s, only a handful of vineyards existed here; now more than 23,000 acres of vineyards are planted, producing exceptional wines, often in small lots (more than half of the county's wineries produce fewer than 2,000 cases per year).

San Luis Obispo County is divided into two distinct growing regions separated by the Santa Lucia Range: the volcanic soils and mild, maritime climate of its southern region - and the fossil-studded soils and 50-degree temperature swings of its northern landscape. Wine production has exploded in this area since the early 1980s, especially in North County, where 75 percent of San Luis Obispo County's 230 wineries reside.

Halter Ranch Vineyard (Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County): Rich history, old world charm and sustainable farming are just some of the characteristics that you'll find at Halter Ranch Vineyard. Farmers have worked the vineyard's soil since 1880, leaving behind evidence of the site's long agricultural history with its barns, bunkhouses and silos.

The Victorian farmhouse, which serves as the vineyard's visual centerpiece, was built in 1885 by Paso Robles pioneer, Edwin Smith. On the ranch you'll also find a restored barn, repurposed bunkhouse serving as restrooms, and a cabin-sized carriage house converted into an elegant tasting room. It's very rustic and very charming; a treasured piece of old California.

From a newly designed, state-of-the-art winery, Halter Ranch produces world-class Bordeaux and Rhone varieties as well as Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Tannat, Syrah, Tempranillo, Malbec and blends like GSM (Grenache, Syrah Mourvedre). Located 11 miles west of U.S. 101 in Paso Robles, a registered champion coast live oak, one of the two largest specimens in the U.S., stands in the middle of the vineyard.

We've only touched the surface of all that's available to learn, see and taste in California wine country. We are pleased to announce that Tom Silberkleit, award-winning editor and publisher for Wine House Press in Sonoma, will travel to Vino 100 on Friday, Aug. 27 as part of a national book signing tour and wine tasting event. Acclaimed as the essential winery guide for tourists, "The California Directory of Fine Wineries" has been featured in USA Today, People, and on "Good Morning America." We know you'll enjoy listening to Tom's behind-the-scenes stories and learning about the hidden gems of California wine country over a glass of wine.

We're also excited to introduce Halter Ranch Vineyard on Aug. 27. A representative from the winery will join Tom to pour some of their exceptional wines and share the history behind the vineyard.

With a book in one hand and a glass of wine in the other, we're sure you'll want to start planning your next adventure to California's pristine wine country destinations right away.

So when you go off on your adventure, our final thought is: Pace yourself, drive carefully and enjoy the journey of discovery.

Lil Lepore and Shari Frazier are owners of Vino 100 in Valencia, a unique specialty wine store offering boutique, handcrafted wines from small, artisan vineyards, as well as a large selection of gifts and accessories. Daily tastings, weekly specials and monthly events. Visit Vino 100 located at 28112 Newhall Ranch Road in the HighRidge Crossing Center at the corner of Copper Hill Drive in Valencia. (661) 294-6886, www.vino100valencia.com.

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