After the winter rain, super blooms are transforming California’s landscape into pastures and hills blanketed with Spring wildflowers on full display. In the charming town of Buellton in Santa Barbara County, the verdant green hills offer vibrant yellow mustard flowers.
Buellton in Central California is an idyllic getaway for tasting some of the state’s best wines and culinary fare. It also offers some unique experiences that you won’t find anywhere else.
We stayed overnight at the renovated Santa Ynez Valley Marriott offering spacious wine county designed rooms. What makes this property desirable is its sparkling swimming pool. It’s the largest swimming pool in the region. This hotel also is the only property in the area with complimentary Tesla Supercharger stations. There are 9 in the parking lot, making Marriott the most popular charging spots for road travelers driving from Southern to Northern California.
The key to wine tasting is to start with a great breakfast. You don’t want to start sipping on an empty stomach, so we first enjoyed omelets, French toast and eggs Benedict at Marriott’s Gate Restaurant while mapping out a day of wine tasting. With over 80 wineries and tasting rooms, we chose the nearby LaFond Winery and Vineyards in the picturesque Sta. Rita Hills.
Driving down the driveway, we passed corrals of miniature goats, donkeys, sheep and turkeys to the one-story tasting room. Picnic tables were scattered on glassy bluffs overlooking 150 acres of vineyards. This winery offers a charging station for electric cars too.
An informative LaFond staff member named Diane greeted us and invited us over to the tasting counter. She presented a five different types of wine tasting menu and a 16 ounce souvenir glass, included in the $15 tasting fee.
Diane has worked at LaFond for 12 years pouring Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah wines. She first gave us a package of breadsticks to neutralize our palate before tasting five different wines, She informed us “It takes three sips of wine to know if you like it or not.” The 2016 Sta. Rita Hills Chardonnay was a real crowd pleaser with a nose of lemon, hazelnut and honeysuckle aromas. On the palate there is a Meyer lemon zest, with richer hints of browned butter and toasted almond.
We learned winemaker Bruce McGuire is a pioneer in the development of Pinot Noir and Sarah in the Santa Barbara County and in California. He has been making wine for over 30 years.
The 2015 Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir offers spice, a pleasing trait in Pinot Noirs. This elegant Pinot Noir offers earthy fruit forward dark berries, with a streak of earthy minerality. Next the 2014 LaFond Vineyard Pinot Noir has more oak offering a smoother and creamier finish. This is the winemaker’s favorite. The 2014 Sta. Rita Hills Syrah is ideal to pair with lamb, steak or chocolate. “No white fish or salad with this wine,” said Diane. Last we finished with a 2014 LaFond Vineyard Syrah that is from grapes on an older vine with 55 days of skin contact and barreled longer for more mouth feel.
After the equivalent of one glass of wine, we thought we better eat lunch and chose the iconic restaurant The Hitching Post II. It gained popularity after the hit movie Sideways premiered in 2004. This culinary destination is known for its traditional Santa Maria barbecue. Pulling into the parking lot, we noticed the owner, chef and winemaker Frank Ostini opened a tasting room, and culinary annex across near his famous restaurant.
It’s ideal for lunch and early evening fare before, during and after wine tasting Hartley-Ostini Hitching Post wines. Tri-tip sandwiches, burgers and the famous grilled artichokes are prepared in the main restaurant and delivered by a three wheel bicycle to outdoor tables underneath ancient oak trees.
Winemaker Gray Hartley came out to our table with bottles of three of their famous Hitching Post Pinot Noirs – the Fiddlestix, Perfect Set and Hartley-Ostini Hitching Post Highliner. Hartley was an Alaskan fisherman for 28 years, before he met Ostini and helped him make award winning wines. “Highliner is one of the best fishermen in the fleet, and this name honors the great men of the Alaskan Salmon Fishery,” said Hartley It was also one of the featured wines in the film Sideways.
While sipping wine, Hartley pointed out a flock of ostrich roaming in a pasture next to the property. He shared that for $6 we can enter OstrichLand U.S.A. to stand close to these tallest and largest birds in the world. Besides herds of ostrich, there are flocks of emus to admire. It’s one of the many unique immersive experiences visitors can enjoy while in Buellton.
We drove back to the Santa Ynez Valley Marriott to rest and relax, before a spirits tasting at Dorwood Distillery and dinner at the nearby Industrial Eats. Dorwood Distillery uses locally grown Chardonnay wine grapes to create creamy and smooth Vodka, G7 gin, Habapeno, White Hawk Malt Whiskey and Limoncello. Tastings are available daily except on Wednesday.
To plan a trip to Buellton, go to Discover Buellton.