Saturday, November 25, 2006

Tipsy Roadtripping: Wine-Tasting in Solvang For Only $75.25!

I recently acquired a fulltime job. So, naturally, the first I thing I did after celebrating the return of a regular weekly paycheck--and mourning the end of my immensely enjoyable 15 month ride of my non 9-6pm freelance writing lifestyle--was look into a quick pre-"start of work" vacation.

With limited time to plan and limited resources (unfortunately, I still have to work for two weeks first before getting paid), I decided on a quickie wine-tasting roadtrip to Solvang. This was also my first roadtrip with Ugly Shoe Boy so hopefully any potentially awkward 'first roadtrip together' moments would be softened--or forgotten--under the tipsy haze of a trip dedicated to the consumption of alcohol...because, let's face it, isn't 'wine-tasting' just a sophisticated and more acceptable form of day drinking? (For those who missed reading about my first encounter with him, Ugly Shoe Boy is not ugly, but in fact quite enough to distract me into buying a pair of ugly running shoes--and consequently, go out on dates--with him.)

Solvang is an almost creepily quaint Disneyland-esque Danish town filled with tudor architecture, fudge shops, Danish pastry bakeries, wine-tasting rooms and a Best Western adorned with a giant windmill facade, as seen in the movie Sideways. Solvang's helpful official website, lists a bunch of hotels, including Wine Valley Inn, which had rooms for $120 but let me book their manager's special for $62 which I found on directly with them instead; making the Dutch-style Inn cheaper than even the chain motels in the area (Vagabond Inn and Best Western are in the $80's range). Plus, they include free breakfast and about $30 worth of free wine-tasting coupons when you check in! Score! Our 'clock tower' suite with a queen was really spacious and came with a cozy wood-burning fireplace. (Each room is different with different amenities and sizes so make sure to ask for exactly what you want; our room was #216.)

Although there's not too much to do in Solvang except wine taste, eat Danish pastries to absorb some of the alcohol and then wine taste some more, so you feel better about doing another activity which doesn't involve consuming vino, it's worth it to wake up a little earlier to check out the nearby Nojoqui waterfalls (about a picturesque 10 minute drive along Alisal Rd and then an easy 10 minute stroll to get to the falls.)

There are 12 tasting rooms within Solvang's 4 block radius town ($5-7.50 per tasting). Our game-plan was to hit up the ones we had coupons for free tastings first.

Our first one, Royal Oaks on Copenhagen Drive, was so-so, but they had a fun strawberry/cotton-candy tasting Rose and our wine pourer had great recommendations for which other tasting rooms to hit and also her preferred wineries in nearby Santa Ynez (Rideau for it's historic tasting room and English gardens, Galney Vineyards for their in-depth winery tour, Buttonwood for Sauvignon Blanc and Sunstone for its 'Under the Tuscan Sun' gardens and setting.)

We got side-tracked by our original free-only drinking tour when we came across the Olive House, a wine & olive tasting spot. It was $7.50 to sample both but you're allowed to share one tasting between two. The wines, which included a selection of Pinot, Merlot and Syrahs, were good but our palettes were clearly more fine-tuned for olive tasting; ("Ooh, this pepperjack cheese stuffed olive has some kick and I like how that almond-stuffed olives give a good unexpected crunch". "I thought the blue-cheese stuffed one would be my favorite but the garlic-stuffed spicy cajun was way tastier don't you think?" ). Despite the stingy, light-handed pours, the wine-tasting stop was well worth it just for the olives.

We took full advantage of the tasting rooms opening right at 10am so were already quite tipsy at 10:45am. Our last stop before lunch was Presidio Winery, which ended up being our favorite tasting room; there were snacks and our wine-pourer had a way with words to describe the wines to the non-wine savvy ("yes, so many layers in this wine, it's a party in your mouth! It's a party in your mouth!") and was informative with what food each wine should be paired with. Both Ugly Shoe Boy and I liked their slightly sweet white wine, Gewurztraminer--which really was a party in your mouth. ($12)

We stumbled into the Solvang Restaurant to sample their hyped-up Aebleskivers (Danish versions of beignets covered with raspberry jam) and wait out our growing tipsyness so we could drive to the nearby wineries. The Abelskivers were ok and a good deal at $2.50, but I was expecting more of a crispy coating and doughy beigney consistency inside than its soft, bready texture.

Back on the road and taking our own mini-Sideways tour, our first stop was the Fess Parker Winery. We were still too buzzed to taste any wine so just checked out the pretty picnic grounds and stately looking wine-tasting room filled with bottles and Daniel Boone/Davy Crockett paraphenalia.

Next up was the Firestone Winery, which felt very commercial and impersonal. Our pourer was on auto-pilot with his recited info that really wasn't that informative at all "2002 Syrah: aged 14 months in French and American oak barrels" and would walk off between each pouring to repeat the same info to other wine-tasters before returning to ask if we wanted to purchase the bottle. Maybe the Firestone wines are also more fullbodied, which I'm not a big fan of, but their slightly harsh-tasting wines were also my least favorite of the trip. For the $10 tasting fee, we also got a Firestone souvenir glass and complimentary wine-tasting at the winery next door.

Solvang is perfect if you're looking for a quick and affordable LA getaway on the fly. We planned it only a few days advance, spent minimal $$, had plenty of time to stop off to walk around and eat at Santa Barbara's downtown State Street and UCSB's Isla Vista on our way back to LA and we were pleasantly drunk for about 80% of the trip--all for less than $100!

And, I didn't even get a hangover on my first day of work the next day.
Do the math:
Wine Valley Inn for two: $68 inc. tax
Wine-tasting for two: $17.50
Royal Oaks, Presidio ($0), Olive House ($7.50), Firestone ($10)
Solvang Restaurant: Abelskivers & lunch $15
Dinner at Joe's Cafe in S.B.: $35
Burritos at Freebirds in Isla Vista: $15
Total: $75.25 each


Anonymous said...

thanks for the tips. my boyfriend and i are planning a trip next weekend and booked the wine valley inn based on your info.

Anonymous said...

hi, i came across your site, it's a fun read. that's a cute story about meeting "ugly Shoe Boy". i love how you have a label for him.

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