Solvang And Los Olivos

Over the weekend Peter and I joined my brother, sister-in-law, her sister and a couple of friends on a trip to Solvang and Los Olivos – the setting of the movie Sideways.

Unlike the original, our version of the film had:

  • zero drama
  • an absence of violence
  • lots of laughs
  • much better food
  • excellent wine (even some Merlot)

Our first stop was Andrew Murray Vineyards. Thanks to the membership of one of the friends in our group, we enjoyed a wine tasting – complete with an incredible box lunch – in the stunning Wine Club Member Tasting Room.

Andrew Murray VIneyards Club Member Wine Tasting Room

Folks, this is why people join wine clubs.

Not unlike frequent flier clubs, wine clubs reward loyalty with special perks and discounts that can really make a difference in the winery experience.

We arrived at Andrew Murray Vineyard on a busy, noisy holiday weekend Saturday. Instead of fighting for elbow room at the tasting bar, we were treated to this:

Andrew Murray Club Member Room

Here we spent a leisurely 90 minutes or so tasting Andrew Murray Vineyards current releases including my personal favorites: the lovely 2013 Santa Maria Valley Viognier, the yummy 2013 Enchanté Curtis Vineyard White Blend and the rich and luxurious 2013 Tous Les Jours Santa Ynez Valley Syrah.

The perfect beginning to our trip.

The next stop was the nearby Fess Parker Winery.

Fess Parker Winery

I have to admit that the first time we visited Fess Parker, I didn’t have high hopes. I thought this might be another “capitalize on the name recognition and we can get away with mediocre wine” places.

It most definitely is not.

We tasted a wide array of wines ranging from the 2013 Santa Rita Hills Chardonnay (which has made a convert of this previous Chardonnay-hater) to the 2011 The Big Easy Red Blend (Wine Enthusiast and Wine Advocate 91 points).

Our fabulous wine hospitality host, Adrianne, treated us to a pour of the 2010 Rodney’s Vineyard Crockett. This red blend was created by the Parker family as an homage to the winery’s namesake upon his death in 2010.

2010 Fess Parker Crockett

Our group agreed that this was the best wine we tasted all weekend. At $80 per bottle is was also the most expensive, but so well worth the price!

We made our way back to our hotel for the weekend, The Hadsten House in Solvang.

The Hadsten House

Located on the edge of the charming Danish town of Solvang, this great hotel is within walking distance of about a million bakeries, some delicious restaurants and some wine tasting rooms.

Walking to dinner we stopped at The Good Life Wine Cellar. Peter and the waiter conspired to come up with a variety of wines by the glass for our group to try and share. We wrote the name of each wine on a cocktail napkin that was passed along with the corresponding glass so we could keep them all straight.

This wine tasting thing is serious business.

Every one of the seven wines was a hero but our collective favorite was the 2013 Cane and Fable Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon.

2013 Cane and Fable Cabernet

I don’t love the insect on the label but I sure do love the price. The wine retails for about $25 but I’ve seen it online for as low as $15.99.

Dinner was at The Succulent Café. We started with the gorgeous and delicious cheese and charcuterie platter.

The Succulent Cafe

Every single dish was extraordinary. I’d put this place on the “must visit” list for any trip to the Solvang and Los Olivos area.

Sunday morning we enjoyed brunch at Mattei’s Tavern. Although not a huge menu, each item sounded intriguing and delicious. We started with an order of the breakfast sausage corndogs because, seriously, how could you NOT order something like that?!?! Scrumptious!

Mattei's Tavern breakfast sausage corndogs

Everyone loved their main course – a wide variety of dishes ranging from fried rice to cornmeal pancakes. I ordered the belgian waffles: sourdough waffles with bananas, whipped mascarpone and dulce de leche.

I’d show you a photo but I had cleaned my plate before I could get out my camera.

After brunch we walked around downtown Los Olivos, visiting several in-town wine tasting rooms and shops.

We visited Dragonette Cellars because some of us had enjoyed their wines before and were interested to see what else they had to offer.

Dragonette Cellars

We tasted a variety of wines including Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Syrah blends – both the 2012 Seven and the 2011 MJM (named after the wives of the owners). The wine was great and lived up to our expectations.

Based upon the description in the Touring Guide published by the Santa Barbara Vintners, we were all very curious to try the wines at Blair Fox Cellars.

“The ultra-boutique winery produces hand-crafted bottling of small-lot, limited production, 90+ point wines of exceptional quality.”

from Santa Barbara Vintners 2014 Touring Guide

Blair Fox was named the Andre Tchelistcheff Winemaker of the Year at the San Francisco International Wine Competition. In addition to making wine for his own label, Blair Fox just happens to be the winemaker for Fess Parker Winery and their sister label, Epiphany Cellars (more on Epiphany later).

Blair Fox Cellars

This 2013 Paradise Road Vineyard Viognier is incredible. With a wine like this kicking off our tasting experience we knew we were in for a treat.

Let’s just say that by the time we left, two of us had joined the wine club and we had collectively purchased about a case of wine to take with us.

We decided to take a little break from wine tasting and walked over to the Olive Hill Farm shop for some tasting of flavored olive oils and balsamic vinegars. For a mere $3 visitors can try any combination of 5 oils or vinegars. My personal favorites were the blood orange olive oil and the blackberry balsamic…although the bacon olive oil, rosemary olive oil and strawberry balsamic were close contenders.

Our tasting day wrapped up at Epiphany Cellars, Fess Parker’s sister winery. The tasting room is beautiful. While Fess Parker’s tasting room is rustic and warm, Epiphany’s tasting room is hip and modern. A nice counter point that reflects the difference in the wines as well.

Epiphany Cellars

We strolled through some shops as we walked to dinner at the Los Olivos Wine Merchant and Cafe. This spot has a ridiculously huge selection of wines to buy by the bottle. As far as the food on the menu, we loved the scallops, pasta bolognese, gnocchi and pizza.

By the way, each member of our group brought a bottle from their home collection along on the trip and, rather than buying wine off the menu at dinner, we paid the $20 per bottle corkage fee and enjoyed our own wines.

The final stop on our tour was at Foxen Vineyards. Peter and I have been fans of Foxen (and wine club members) for a while and we were thrilled to host the rest of the crew at Foxen’s beautiful “7600” tasting room.

Foxen Pinot Noir

See the “Mr. Bill” doll sitting on the shelf? It was a gift from the winery staff to Bill Wathen, one of the owners.

Our host, John, made sure we had a chance to taste all the yummy wines that would be included in our upcoming club shipment along with many of the other current releases. We all agreed that we would be hard pressed to pick a favorite from among the spectacular wines we tasted.

We were also big fans of this bit of wine art on display in the Foxen tasting room.

Foxen Vineyards

The trip was a huge success – so much so that we are already planning our next travels: a pilgrimage to the Paso Robles area of California. Count me in, I’m ready to go!

Have you ever been to Solvang and Los Olivos? Tell the truth, did the movie “Sideways” color your opinion of Merlot? Have any recommendations for us in Paso Robles?



Do not drink and drive!


No one paid me to say this.

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