In the February 2013 issue of Aircraft Owner Magazine I wrote about flying into Santa Barbara Municipal Airport (KSBA) and satisfying one’s hunger at the Beachside Bar and Café. Santa Barbara does not begin and end with the coastline. There is a world beyond the sand, surf, fish n’ chips and beach volleyball.
The Santa Barbara wine country may not have the caché of Sonoma or Napa Valley but it is the stomping grounds of Miles Raymond and Jack Cole from the 2003 movie Sideways. Over 360 wineries, scores of microbreweries and a number of craft distilleries dot the 90,000-acre landscape. The Central Coast contains the Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Rita Hills and Santa Maria Valley American Viticulture Areas (AVAs) along with the Los Alamos Valley growing area. They produce some of the most sought-after and most expensive wine grapes in California almost half of which are sold to wineries based outside the county.
Farther north, Paso Robles’ hotter climate produces Zinfandel and Rhône-style blends. South of Santa Barbara the Temecula Valley AVA, sandwiched between San Diego and LA, produces Mediterranean varietals like Viognier, Syrah and Pinot Gris. In contrast, the Central Coast is an enigma. The area produces some of California's finest Burgundian varietals such as Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays. They also excel with aromatic whites such as Albariño, Riesling and Pinot Gris as well as Rhône varietals Syrah and Grenache and Bordeaux varietals Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Everything to everyone: yes. A plethora of microclimates: definitely.
To satisfy your yearning for the grape, grab a crew car at Atlantic Aviation and head north on Route 101. Just off the Highway 246 exit, thirty-five miles from KSBA, is the Danish town of Solvang. Sunset magazine named this laid-back community one of the "10 Most Beautiful Small Towns in the Western United States." It’s recognized as the center of the Central Coast wine region. As Las Vegas foodie extraordinaire John Curtas wrote, “… over the past decade the entire town has developed a food and winey vibe that matches the excellence of the unique wines surrounding it.”1
Modern winemaking began with Pierre Lafond’s Santa Barbara Winery founded in the city of Santa Barbara in 1962. The southern Central Coast wine industry has grown up since then, but as Christian Garvin (founder of the new Avelina Winery and former owner of Oreana Winery) said in Food and Wine Magazine, “Santa Barbara is where Sonoma was 15 years ago.”2 One way to experience all this ambiance is to winery hop, driving from vineyard to vineyard, tasting room to tasting room. Another is to pull into the centrally located The Good Life Craft Beer and Wine Cellar on Route 246 and sample what the area has to offer. Owners Alfred and Lisa Mesa specializing in microbrews and small production wines from Santa Barbara to Paso Robles.
Red wines lean more toward the black fruit spectrum with a hint of spice. Even before Sideways, the public demanded Santa Barbara Pinot Noir. Owner and winemaker Jenni Bonaccorsi’s Bonaccorsi Wine Company produces “limited quantities of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah rendered in the style and spirit of a small Burgundy domaine.” Her pinots have power and finesse. As Jenni says, “concentration with delicacy.” The Bonaccorsi Fiddlestix Vineyards Pinot Noir ($45) typifies her complex style. This Wine Enthusiast Magazine “Best Choice” is ripe and voluptuous. It’s full of bright raspberry and cherry flavors with a touch of white pepper, vanilla and toast. It all wrapped in a silky, sexy texture.
Winemaker Lane Tanner only made 350 cases of Lumen Sierra Madre Vineyards Pinot Noir ($42) so grab a bottle while you can. The grapes come from a single hillside vineyard located in the Santa Maria River Valley, which has one of the most nurturing microclimates in California. This Pinot Noir exhibits a terrific balance of acid, lush red berry and earthy minerals. Paul Wilkins also sources juice from Santa Maria River Valley for his Alta Maria Reserva Pinot Noir ($42). It is a gorgeous, deep ruby color. This wine is Central Coast in a glass. It’s all about dark, blackberries and pumpkin pie spice. It finishes silky and long, with a lingering sweetness and soft tannins.
Santa Barbara whites exhibit tropical fruit character balanced by fresh, crisp, tree fruit acidity. Rajat Parr, the wine director for Michael Mina Restaurants, and Charles Banks, the former owner of Jonata and Screaming Eagle Winery and Vineyards founded Sandi (collaboration) in 2010. Winemaker Sashi Moorman calls the Sandhi Santa Rita Hills Chardonnay ($38) “our village wine”. The wine has aromas of lemon curd, pineapple and smoke. It’s soft and creamy with a structured, zesty finish.
The late Fess Parker was once known for his portrayal of Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone. Now he’s known for making some of the regions best wines. Fess Parker Winery Ashley’s Vineyard Chardonnay ($37) is a study in balance. It’s untraditional firm, elegant and complexity. It has a tart Meyer lemon acidity with pear and apple sweetness. Liquid Farm exudes the new world, Californian philosophy of ripe, fruit-focused, somewhat alcoholic winemaking. Nikki and Jeff Nelson’s Liquid Farm White Hills Chardonnay ($40) is earth and mineral driven with a bit of oak. It’s lean and a little racy with Asian pear, candied ginger and lavender flavors.
The Foxen Boys, Bill Wathen and Dick Doré, are sustainable winegrowers backed by a solar powered winery and tasting room. Their dedication is to small production, sustainably farmed, vineyard, terroir focused wines using a minimalist approach to winemaking. Foxen Estate Grown Dry Farmed Tinaquaic Vineyard Chardonnay ($37) is a mellow mélange that’s dry, crisp, rich and complex. It’s full of caramel, toast, honey and peach essences.
Luckily, not every bottle produced is in the $40 range containing Pinot Noir or Chardonnay. Winemaker Kyle Knapp’s Press Gang Cellars Savanna Rhea Grenache Rosé ($20) is a fresh, crisp and playful rosé. It has mouth-watering acidity that’s perfect for sipping on a hot summer day. Archium "Dissident" Rhone Blend ($29) combines the body and structure of Syrah with the refined brightness and spice of Grenache. Graham Tatomer gives Tatomer Kick-on Ranch Riesling ($20) the full "Austrian treatment” - some skin contact and aged in neutral wood. The resulting wine contains floral and mineral notes with a dry, salty, citrusy finish.
Unfortunately, most of the food around Solvang is barely one notch above Applebee. There are a few finds. Breakfast at Bent and Susy Olsen Olsen’s Danish Village Bakery is a breakfast pastry lover’s nirvana. A cup of coffee and a sweet carbohydrate made from Brent’s grandfather’s recipes will get you ready for a day of wine tasting. Their Almond Custard Kringle and the Seven Sisters Butter Ring are decadent coffee cakes filled with an amazing almond paste flavored custard.
The Ostini Family is the proprietors of The Hitching Post in Casmalia and The Hitching Post II in Buellton. HPII is known as the place where Sideways was filmed. They are also known for their Hartley-Ostini Hitching Post Wines and BBQ. On the Central Coast, BBQ refers to grilling over wood and the Hitching Post grills just about everything. Even though it’s their specialty, stay clear of the Midwestern, corn-fed beef. It may be prime but it’s far from sustainable and flavorful. Look it up, cows are not made to eat corn. The Turkey Steak ($23.95) is sourced from the family-owned Diestel Ranch. The turkeys are humanely and sustainably raised and feed a 100% vegetarian diet. The eight-ounce breast meat is tender and juicy. The cold oak wood smoke and slightly sweet and sour apple-red pepper chutney balances the natural poultry richness.
You’ll want a glass of the juice to go with that protein. The Hartley-Ostini Hitching Post Cork Dancer Pinot Noir is the safe way to go but as Miles said “Quaffable, but uh... far from transcendent.” The Hartley-Ostini Hitching Post Generation Red is the far better choice. The wine is a rustic, full-bodied, food friendly, red blend that has a smoky, dusty nose and fresh, fruit on the palette.
The Succulent Café is a bistro and wine bar with an upscale vibe and prices to match. They change their menu weekly in order to capture the best of locally sourced products. The perfect example is their ever-rotating house-made charcuterie platter (3 choices for $16.50). One day duck and bison salumi is served with pickled vegetables. On another visit peppery pancetta and truffled salumi is accompanied with cured olives. The restaurant’s logo is a fatted pig so the Pork Belly Porchetta with chili buttered white beans, cippolini onions, wild arugula and chili oil ($27) seems to be a good choice. The pig melts in the mouth and is the perfect foil for the picante, rich accompaniments.
Crispy California White Seabass & Pancetta ($26) with mustard braised leeks, tomato jam and pinot noir-shallot sauce showcases chef-owners and husband-wife Brian Champlin and Cynthia Miranda’s passion and talent. The dish combines the flavors of house-cured pancetta, sustainable fish, seasonal tomatoes and local wine in a way that works – it simply tastes good. If you happen to visit during weekend brunch, the bacon Bloody Mary is a requirement.
Santa Barbara and the Central Coast is a distinctive environment. The ocean is south, not west like most of the California coast. The mountain ranges run east to west, not north to south. The topography allows valleys to run perpendicular to the coast. The grapes benefit from one of the most diverse grape growing regions in the country. Most wineries and businesses are locally, family-run operations that buck the corporate mentality. Well worth a day trip, a weekend excursion or a weeklong fly-in to eat and drink.
1 Curtas, John A. "Sipping and Savoring Santa Barbara County." Virtual Gourmet. John Mariani, 13 Apr. 2014.
2 Brown, Chip. "Santa Barbara Wine Country: Behind the Scenes." Food & Wine Magazine, Apr. 2008.
Santa Barbara Municipal Airport (KSBA)
Elevation: 13.4 ft.
Sectional chart: Los Angeles
ARTCC: Los Angeles Center
FSS: Hawthorne Flight Service Station
Pattern altitude: 990 ft. MSL for small aircraft, 1,490 ft. MSL for large aircraft
Runway: 7/25 - 6,052 x 150 ft.
15R/33L – 4,184 x 100 ft.
15L/33R – 4,178 x 75 ft.
ATIS: 132.65 (ASOS Phone 805-681-0583)
Santa Barbara Ground: 121.7 [0600-2300]
Santa Barbara Tower: 119.7 [0600-2300]
404 Moffett Place
Santa Barbara, California 93117
Phone: (805) 964-6733
The Good Life Craft Beer and Wine Cellar
1672 Mission Drive
Solvang, California 93463
Phone: (805) 688-7111
Sunday through Thursday Noon – 9:00pm
Friday and Saturday Noon – 11:00pm
Olsen’s Danish Village Bakery
1529 Mission Drive
Solvang, California 93463
Phone: (805) 688-6314
Open daily: 7:00am – 6:00pm
The Hitching Post II
Hartley-Ostini Hitching Post Winery
406 East Highway 246
Buellton, California 93427
Phone: (805) 688-0676
Cocktails and wine tasting 4:00pm – 9:30pm
Dinner 5:00pm – 9:30pm
The Succulent Café
1555 Mission Drive
Solvang, California 93463
Phone: (805) 691-9444
Breakfast: Saturday and Sunday 8:30am – 12:00pm
Lunch: Monday, Wednesday through Friday 11:00am - 3:00pm
Saturday and Sunday 12:00pm - 2:30pm
Dinner: Monday, Wednesday through Sunday 5:30pm - 9:00pm
Charcuterie Bar: Monday, Wednesday through Friday 11:00am - 9:00pm
Saturday and Sunday 9:00am - 9:00pm
Bonaccorsi Wine Company, www.bonawine.net
Lumen Wines, www.lumenwines.com
Alta Maria Vineyards, http://altamaria.com/
Sandi Winery, http://sandhiwines.com/
Fess Parker Winery & Vineyards, www.fessparkerwines.com
Liquid Farm, www.liquidfarm.com
Foxen Winery & Vineyards, www.foxenvineyard.com
Press Gang Cellars, www.pressgangcellars.com
Archium Cellars, www.archiumcellars.com
Tatomer Wines, www.tatomerwines.com
Chef Stuart Stein is a graduate of the University of Illinois Business School and the culinary arts program at Chicago’s Kendall College. He has worked in France and the all over the US as a cook, executive chef, culinary instructor and restaurateur. Chef Stein is the writer of the book, The Sustainable Kitchen: Passionate Cooking Inspired by Farms, Forests, and Oceans (New Society Publishers), and has written in countless culinary and aviation publications. Stuart is also a private pilot flying in southern California.