The Reason for the Weekend

When I went to Santa Maria last week, it wasn’t, surprisingly enough, just for wine. I had made it to the finals of the District 33 Toastmasters International Humorous Speech Contest and that was my primary focus.

Okay, I’m lying just a little bit. One of the reasons I was there is because when I discovered that the fall conference was going to be in Santa Maria – and therefore in the middle of one of my favorite wine countries – I knew I had to be really, really funny and win all of the levels of contests so I could go there without some hackneyed excuse about an unscheduled visit. Going to compete in the finals sounded like a really good reason to go. Well, I was funny through all levels and made it for the finals! Who knew that talking about my dating life could be so hysterical.

And then there’s wine.

It took me forever to get to Santa Maria because Siri sent me on a truck route. Actually, to tell the truth it wasn’t just Siri. Google maps sent me on the same route, so I think that they both basically conspired together to lie to me and me intimately acquainted with the middle of nowhere. It took me nearly 8 hours – that’s not a typo – to get from Vegas to Santa Maria. There were no stops other than for gas in my rented Kia Soul. I had left at about five in the morning and did not arrive till nearly 2 PM. I was tired, cranky, and really ticked off with GPS “technology.”

Lobby of the Santa Maria Inn
Lobby of the Santa Maria Inn

However, I didn’t let a little thing like an overlong trip to stop me! I was happy to check into the Historic Santa Maria Inn, and was very pleased to have a room in the old section. The old section, I’ve been told, is haunted. I was so happy to hear that! Unfortunately, except for one very strange experience, I didn’t see a single solitary ghost. I stayed in the same room that Marilyn Monroe had once occupied, but she didn’t visit me.

The customer service was outstanding, the hotel was beautiful, and I loved every minute I was there. It was so nice that I’ve decided that I could easily stay here on one of my future visits to the Central Coast. Santa Maria is centrally located and the Inn has enough beauty (and a mini fridge and micro in each room) to make staying worthwhile.

Oh, by the way, I did not win the contest. When you are at that level, you have to be really spot on. I was spot on until the microphone and my glasses got tangled up and I finished the second half of the speech with my hand on my ear trying to hold everything together. I knew that would kill me, even though I was quite funny. The good thing about being at that level is that your competition is really good, too. There were nine of us competing, and any five of us could have gotten first place and nobody would have questioned it. Yeah, it was fun! And believe it or not, I can be a good sport, especially when the competition is that good.

And now the wineries

It was during the long Thanksgiving weekend of either 2008 or 2009 where a bunch of friends and I went to explore the entire Central Coast wine country. We started in Paso Robles and we ended up in Santa Barbara. It was so much fun! While we were there, there were several wineries that really stood out for me. Although it had been some time since I’ve been there, I wanted to make sure that I visited at least a couple of these wineries. The Toastmasters events prevented me from going to all that I had hoped to visit – I’m the President of a local club and have certain responsbilities – but I did get to visit a couple that I had liked. And one that I knew that I’d like although we hadn’t visited it before.

The first place I stopped was Riverbench. Just as I had remembered, the wines were spectacular. Despite the complaints from The Budget™, I bought a half-dozen bottles. While the Chardonnay and Pinot Noirs were all delicious, I have to show off the Pinot Noir Rosé, which was pretty great. This wine easily settled in as one of my top three Rosés. Pale with surprising Pinot Noir character, it was luscious.

Riverbench Rosé
Riverbench Rosé

Other wineries I visited included Kenneth Volk, Tres Hermanas, Foxen (both “The Shack” and the new tasting room), Fess Parker, and Koehler. I missed Cambria, Byron, and Lucas & Llewellyn, although they were on my “must visit” list. That means that the next trip will have to be just for wine. I will be highlighting Foxen and Fess Parker in later posts.

The quality of the wines ranged from almost ethereal, spectacular, and life-changing all the way to simply okay. I did not buy “simply okay” wines. Not that it would have mattered; my budget complained the entire time. It shouldn’t have; I was very careful and very thrifty in my wine purchases and had already budgeted a certain amount that I was willing to spend. I didn’t break that ceiling (see me pat myself on the back)! And because I decided to really show some self-control, I only joined one wine club. That said, there’s a second that is fluttering around my head that I’m still thinking about.

Going home

On the way home, the fun continued. First of all, the ride home, while it took more time in hours, was actually shorter because I did not take a truck route. However, I did make a few side trips because it was wine country!

My first stop on the way home was at Industrial EATS, a miraculous small restaurant in Buellton that I reviewed here. I explored the Buellton industrial complex and visited another winery/restaurant, took a few photos of a new brewery, and saw where other wineries, breweries, and restaurants may be popping up soon. Looks like Buellton is getting in on the Lompoc Ghetto/Santa Barbara Funk Zone vibe.  That can only mean good things for the region!  I also stopped at Alma Rosa winery which was next door. It has its own special story that I’ll share later.

I had to go to Refugio State Beach on my way to Santa Barbara. As you may recall, I stopped there in the spring while on the way to the Paso Robles Wine Festival, and a few weeks later, there was a disastrous oil spill.  I’m happy to report that the beach is again clean, and the water was very warm! Well, it was warm for November as I walked down the beach in my bare feet enjoying the waves. Wondrous.

I went to the downtown tasting rooms in Santa Barbara where I visited Au Bon Climat and Grassini to sample some of their wonderful wines. Actually, I went in for specific purposes – I stopped in Au Bon Climat specifically to purchase their Nebbiolo which is bottled under the Clendenen Family label, and into Grassini Family Vineyards tasting room for their miraculous Sauvignon Blanc. By the time I walked out of Grassini, the hills were starting to take on a peach glow which told me that I needed to wrap up and head home. This confirmed that I need to make a trip that doesn’t involve being with a group that has varying agendas.  I need to go to, um, *study* more carefully by myself. Yeah! That’s it!

Enjoy the photos! And yes, everything, including the video, was done on my iPhone 6s Plus. It really rocks.





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