A couple of weeks after our Bay Area trip we kicked off the start of what would be almost two solid months of travel by meeting friends from Charlotte, Ann and Doug and Diane and Keith, in the Central California wine region near Santa Maria.
But first we drove out to Sheila and J.B.’s new place in Wildomar to spend the night, enjoying quality time with folks just far enough away from our house on the west side of Los Angeles that a casual drop by is logistically impossible given the distance and Southern California traffic conditions. After dinner, J.B. and I indulged in our passion for cognac, sampling in the vicinity of five different brands or levels of quality, including but not limited to Courvoisier VS and VSOP and Hennessy Black and White options
Not long after a vicious and unfounded rumor circulated that the two of us might have consumed more than was healthy for senior citizens, but as the cognoscenti can attest, fine cognac rarely produces a noticeable hangover. We left their house in fine shape the next morning for our drive to Sanford Winery just outside of Lompoc.
Normally a four-and-a-half-hour drive, a large fire in the Porter Ranch area, which shut down the 405 in both directions in the north San Fernando Valley created a traffic nightmare as we made our way towards the coast on the 101.
We stopped for gas just outside of Woodland Hills, watching large pieces of wind-borne ash sprinkle down on the car as we filled the tank. From there we turned up the coast at Oxnard and sailed north, stumbling in the usual traffic tie up outside Santa Barbara, and then making the sweeping bend at Gaviota to land in Buellton, where we got off on Santa Rosa Rd to land at Sanford Winery.
We all met up outside the tasting room at a table setting reserved for us to enjoy a picnic lunch and a bottle of Sanford Wine, then moved inside for our tasting. Besides keeping us fed all weekend at our stops, because Diane and Keith have a number of wine club memberships in the area, at most of the wineries we visited the tastings were free. At $20-$30 per person, this is a not insignificant benefit. We enjoyed engaging with our tasting room host there, a knowledgeable young man who once played quarterback at a D-3 college in Texas, but overall the bottle pricing there was not in our wheelhouse.
We left for the Kessler-Haak tasting room, whose host was also knowledgeable, as we would find nearly all of our tasting room hosts to be, and after our session there, bought a bottle of their Pinot, fully $20 less than at Sanford and equal in quality to our uneducated palettes. The afternoon drawing to a close, we all departed for the Firestone Walker Brewery in Buellton, Joanna and I stopping on the way to check into our lodging for the night, the SureStay Plus Hotel by Best Western Lompoc.
Selected as it’s rates were half of what we would have paid to stay in Buellton (something big must have been happening that weekend) we couldn’t quite figure out why Best Western, which has multiple quality levels of its branded properties (Plus, Premier, Signature, etc.) would want to create a different sub-brand. But for an older property it was well maintained and completely adequate for our needs.
At the brewery, the group made a beeline for the Sour Room, many present having a predilection for that style (not this Cisco though) and we enjoyed a few beers while chowing down on the good food offered there, remarking that it was funny that we would eat off the menu (they are the same at both brewing operations) twice in a little over two weeks.
Joanna and I split an order of the consistently good French Onion Soup and the Short Rib entrée, which while rich in flavor was a bit drier than a good short rib should be. Three of the group ordered the 805 Tri-Tip Sandwich that we had enjoyed before and we watched them consumed with gusto. After eating the friendly barkeep gave us a tour of a part of the brewery operation including the large barrel rooms, which contain the highly imaginative options they age for later consumption.
The next morning dawned bright and clear, blue skies and moderate temperatures providing the perfect backdrop, still warm enough during the day and evening to wear shorts. We drove to Solvang to meet Diane and Keith at Solvang Restaurant for breakfast and Aebleskivers, the ubiquitous Danish pancake ball that can include a variety of items cooked inside them (jam, fruit, savory, etc.) or drizzled on top.
Joanna and I split a veggie omelet and an order of Aebleskivers as we all discussed the various methods for making the doughy balls. Diane and Keith proud owners of their own device to produce these, Danish not quite delicacies, debated the fine points of dough consistency, density and other critical elements of producing their creation. Critical in their mind was that the ball size of their pan was smaller than the ones used at the restaurant, and that this might have an effect on how the final product turned out.
The rest of the day would be devoted to more wine sampling, most of it spent out of doors on a brilliant afternoon spent sharing satisfying times with good friends. All of it a simple pleasure and yet sometimes life just doesn’t get any better.
Sanford Winery: https://www.sanfordwinery.com/
SureStay Plus Hotel by Best Western Lompoc: https://www.bestwestern.com/en_US/book/hotels-in-lompoc/surestay-plus-hotel-by-best-western-lompoc/propertyCode.52049.html
Firestone Walker: https://www.firestonebeer.com/visit/buellton.php
Solvang Restaurant: https://www.solvangrestaurant.com/about-aebleskiver/