By Lena Katz
September is California Wine Month, and from Sierra Nevada Mountains to the Santa Barbara valleys, vintners are throwing open their doors for sips and stomps and harvest parties galore. Though there’s never a bad time for a California vacation, harvest season might be my favorite — an opinion shared by foodies and wine drinkers from around the globe.
Because of its proximity to LA, Santa Barbara is Southern California’s favorite weekend wine destination, and one of the state’s most dynamic. This season welcomes new tasting rooms from several of the county’s favorite winemaking families: One of the founding fathers of the Santa Barbara wine industry, Bob Lindquist debuts an official Qupe tasting room at 2963 Grand Ave. in Los Olivos. Also in Los Olivos, HOUSE is a “modern vintage tasting lounge” owned by Sarloos & Sons. And finally, in the town of Santa Barbara, longtime local fave The Wine Cask reopens after a brief closure — still a restaurant with tasting room adjacent, and now affiliated with the Santa Barbara Urban Wine Trail.
Santa Barbara’s declared October to be its official epicure.sb: a month to savor Santa Barbara. (Seriously SB, why all the funky punctuation in this name?) More than 90 food and wine events are currently on the schedule, with more to come. The annual Celebration of Harvest at Rancho Sisquoc on Saturday, October 10 is the best-known, but not necessarily the best …
If you’re tasting close to town, consider staying at one of these Santa Barbara hotels: the recently remodeled Santa Barbara Inn, the budget-friendly Inn at East Beach or the charming Mediterranean-inspired Canary Hotel. Fess Parker has two options, the Fess Parker’s DoubleTree Resort in Santa Barbara and Fess Parker’s Wine Country Inn and Spa in Los Olivos. The Santa Ynez Valley Marriott is actually in Buellton (home of the Hitching Post II and Andersen’s Split Pea Soup), equidistant from Santa Ynez and Santa Rita. And in the north county, heart of Spanish Mission and land grant heritage, small but serviceable hotels like the Historic Santa Maria Inn welcome wandering wine travelers.
The next county north up the 101 is San Luis Obispo, where the American Rhone renaissance thrives in the former cow town of Paso Robles. This funky, friendly California vacation destination still has traces of its Old West roots, but it’s seen some serious investment from major wine conglomerates and private investors. Mondavi and Australian-owned Fosters both own vineyards throughout the county.
As for the private investment, may we point you to newcomer Villa San Juliette, a 168-acre vineyard/winery owned by two blokes from Liverpool named Nige and Ken. Or to be more formal, Nigel Lythgoe, co-creator and resident judge on “So You Think You Can Dance” and Ken Warwick, executive producer of “American Idol.”
Paso Robles celebrates Harvest Wine Weekend October 16 – 18, with plenty of activities at wineries and restaurants. While this is by far the busiest weekend of the season, Paso remains in spirited, social form from now through October. Visit during the week to get better rates and availability at unique Paso Robles hotels like Hotel Cheval and La Bellasera. Or opt for a known name: Courtyard by Marriott, or Holiday Inn.
Known as much for its parks, its fine arts and its golf as for its wine industry, Monterey County is a well-rounded California vacation destination. Its fall festivals bear this out: first, the 52nd Annual Monterey Jazz Festival September 21-23, then the Monterey Sports Car Championships October 9-11, then the 25th Anniversary of the Monterey Bay Aquarium October 17-18, and finally the annual Great Wine Escape Weekend November 13-15. This is the latest autumn wine festival in California’s calendar year.
There’s no shortage of great hotels in Monterey County, but two properties that have recently undergone major renovations are the Hyatt Regency Monterey Resort & Spa and the Quail Lodge Resort & Golf Club in Carmel.
And that’s all for Central Cal…stay tuned for more wine country news from Napa, Sonoma and the Sierras.
Lena Katz is the author of SUN: California and SIP: California, part of the Travel Temptations series published by Globe Pequot Press.