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Harvest fun 

Discover new wines at two excellent Central Coast wine festivals

I’ve attended these excellent wine festivals in SLO County and in our southern neighbor Santa Barbara County for almost two decades and found both multi-day events appealing on many different levels. Now, there’s plenty of information online at their websites— or, respectively—where you can buy tickets, make reservations, and learn everything you need to know about attending one or both festivals. But come to Cuisine for insider’s advice, and I can help you get to the locals’ favorite wineries that only open for events twice a year. That’s where you’ll always find me, hobnobbing with my fellow food and wine zealots. It’s a great time of year to be in wine country when the delightful aromas of fermenting wines just might make you want to stomp some grapes.

TAKE YOUR PICK: :  This detail from the Paso Robles Harvest Wine Weekend poster provides a misty glimpse of the raw ingredient that goes into making delicious bottles of wine—and the events celebrating the same. - IMAGE COURTESY OF PASO ROBLES WINE ALLIANCE
  • TAKE YOUR PICK: : This detail from the Paso Robles Harvest Wine Weekend poster provides a misty glimpse of the raw ingredient that goes into making delicious bottles of wine—and the events celebrating the same.

Santa Barbara County Celebration of Harvest Weekend

My first tasting of Santa Barbara County-grown wines was in San Francisco. I lived there from 1986 until 1996, and spent the last seven years working as the tasting coordinator at Wine Spectator magazine. It was the greatest job of my life until I relocated to the Central Coast. While at Wine Spectator, I was invited to every trade wine tasting happening in the City, which took place more often than they do here on the Central Coast. There was a lot of sipping and spitting. Among my favorites was the trade conducted by the Santa Barbara Vintners Association. Because of it, I would travel to the Santa Maria and Santa Ynez valleys to attend their annual wine festivals.

This year’s event is Friday through Sunday, Oct. 12 through 14. I still love the main event on Saturday at Rancho Sisquoc Winery in Santa Maria Valley, an easy 30-minute ride from South County. On Saturday, you’ll find most of the wineries at this beautiful, historic ranch. The celebration features more than 100 wineries, live music, and delicious eats from some of the finest restaurants and caterers in Santa Barbara wine country, including Ballard Inn, Far Western Tavern, Full of Life Flatbread, Hitching Post II, Root 246, Sides Hardware and Shoes, Trattoria Grappolo, and more.

From Friday until Sunday, there are many wonderful open house parties. I always start in the Santa Maria Valley at Au Bon Climat/Qupe winery event, which only opens to the public twice a year. The entry fee includes a myriad rare and collectible wines and lunch, some or all of it prepared by winemaker Jim Clendenen, who would certainly be a chef if he wasn’t otherwise gainfully employed. There are many other excellent events on their website, well worth checking out. The tiny towns of Los Olivos and Lompoc offer many great wineries, all within walking distance of each other.

The Paso Robles Harvest Wine Weekend

It wasn’t until I relocated to South County February in 2006 that I came to appreciate this annual harvest wine event. Then, of course, there were around two dozen wineries in Paso Robles. Now there are more than 200 wineries producing more than 40 different winegrape varieties from 2,500 acres of vineyards. Paso Robles blossomed with excellent new wineries.

While that makes it appear difficult to choose a few wineries to visit, the task becomes easier if you focus on exactly what you hope to experience at each winery. If you prefer Rhone wines to Burgundy or Bordeaux varieties, that simplifies your choices. Or, if you don’t care about the wine varieties, perhaps the food and entertainment appeals more, most wineries are offering good eats and wine tasting. It’s gets much easier if you focus on a specific area, say the wineries along Hwy. 46 East, in San Miguel, Templeton, near Hwy. 46 West, or the “Far Out Wineries” out near Lake Nacimiento. I like to cut down the travel distances between the wineries I want to visit each day.

The Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance (PRWCA), the winery advocacy group that creates the events and wine country maps, invites you to “design your own Paso Robles wine country getaway.” They provide an extensive list of events that include wine, food, entertainment, and usually throw in a few educational tastings. Don’t let the long list of PRWCA members and their open house events intimidate you; you’ll be sure to zoom in on some select open house parties that appeal to you for a number of delicious reasons Friday through Sunday, Oct. 19 through 21.

During the Harvest Wine Weekend, one of the oldest wineries in Paso that rarely opens for tasting, Fratelli Perata, will offer their Italian-style wines and hospitality Friday through Sunday. While you’re in this neighborhood, stop by Grey Wolf Vineyards to sip their fine wines and pet the wolves (WHAR Wolf Rescue brings them to visit). Another good stop in the area is Lone Madrone tasting room, shared with Kenneth Volk Vineyards, where you’ll find chef Jeffrey Scott’s famous burgers available on Saturday and Sunday. For those itching to take their shoes off, visit Castoro Cellars for grape stomping, barrel tasting, live music, and foods that can be purchased on Friday evening and Saturday afternoon. At L’Aventure, French winemaker Stephan will share his winegrowing and winemaking philosophies, and at Windward you’ll sip multiple vintages of Pinot Noir by winemaker Marc Goldberg. Nearby at Treana and Hope Family Wines, they’re also offering Firestone Walker fine brews and teaching food and wine or beer pairing, but reservations are necessary.

The Far Out Wineries will hold their “best of the west” seminar at Opolo at 10 a.m. And while you’re way out there, visit Tablas Creek for wine tastings paired with complimentary tastes of food by chef Jeff Scott. A stop at Thacher Winery will feature their wines and Rangeland, wines with Haute Skillet Food Truck selling appetizers and sandwiches. And don’t forget the great wineries alongside Hwy. 46 East, like Eberle, Robert Hall, Hug Cellars, Vina Robles, Broken Earth, and Tobin James. I hope you kept that list of limo services I provided last week.

Contact Cuisine columnist at [email protected].


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