So much wine. So little time. Kongo’s monkey troop headed up to the wine country north of Santa Barbara yesterday. Snuggled in his son’s new family van, the Kongos went adventuring as the grand girls tend to say. Kongo’s son, a UCSB alum, knew the area well. (Of course he did!) Perhaps too well and his detailed knowledge of the area (including back road short cuts) made Kongo wonder what was really going on during those formative college years. Oh well that train left the station a long time ago.
In the area around Santa Ynez and Los Olivos there are dozens and dozens of wineries. Not to say that the monkey was overwhelmed…that would never happen…but he did accept some fundamental truths about visiting this many wineries. You really need a guide and the monkey was happy to be led.
You may remember the movie Sideways that came out in 2004 about two men in their 40s who head to the Santa Barbara wine country to basically drink all the Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir they can get their hands on while eschewing poor old Merlot. After the movie Merlot sales actually dropped on the West Coast and Pinot Noir became a best seller. Anyway, the Kongos didn’t have all the weird adventures the two characters in Sideways but they did sample a lot of wine and they did happen to stagger into a couple of spots where scenes were filmed in the movie. Kongo was happy not to be driving. By the way, Sideways is the correct way to store a bottle of wine. It keeps the cork moist. Hence the name of the movie. Kongo thinks it also has something to do with going sideways in life somewhere in middle age.
Speaking of going sideways, Mrs. Kongo moved slowly through the vineyards. She sprained her foot playing pickle ball a few weeks ago (don’t ask) and got around well but she couldn’t be rushed. Not that you would want to. The grand girls were basically bribed to be good. They got $5 each for good behavior at each stop. It worked.
Four different wineries with five flights at each stop equals a lot of wine sipping. By the third stop Kongo couldn’t really remember the difference between the 2013 Pinot with a rush of floral scents, a bit of chocolate, fresh watermelon, and the 2012 Cabernet with an oaky, tart dash of black currant and cherries. If this blog thing doesn’t work out the monkey might be able to get a part time gig writing adjectives for wines.
At the El Rancho Marketplace halfway between Solvang and Santa Ynez the monkey troop swarmed the deli section to get picnic lunches that would be eaten under a shade tree at the Fess Parker winery. It’s a pretty cool market and Kongo is thinking of driving back up there just to get some of the fresh, handmade tamales. By the way, at the Fess Parker winery you can get yourself a coonskin cap. Many gentle readers will not remember it, but in the mid-1950s a mini-series about Davy Crockett (Fess Parker starring) was pretty much the rage. Kongo had a cap and he wore it constantly and still remembers the song….Davey, Daaaveeee Crockett….King of the Wild Frontier!
The grapes are heavy on the vines in the valley. Harvest is in late August to early September and Kongo imagines that would be a great time to head back up there. There’s even an Indian casino in Santa Ynez so there are a wide range of adult activities to keep you happy if you get tired of wine tasting. (Like that’s going to happen!)
The scenery in the Santa Ynez valley is beautiful this time of year. Grassy hills are golden brown. Live oak trees dot the countryside. Vineyards are everywhere.
The inside tasting room at the Gainey Winery is cool. Better to age the wine in the cooler temperature. Daughter-in-Law #1 samples some Chardonnay (or was it a Riesling?) in front of oak wine casks. French oak is best according to some. Others say American Oak is just fine. Then there was the winery that kept touting their Hungarian oak…like really?
Take time to visit the area when you have a day to kill in Southern California. You may hit some traffic coming out of LA (duh) but no wine (whining) you’ll be happy when you get there. Most wineries open at 10 AM and close between 4 and 5.
Travel safe. Have fun.
Kongo visited Gainey, Fess Parker, Zaco Mesa, and Firestone wineries. He came home with 26 bottles of wine, two “club” memberships, and a scented candle.