Santa Barbara Sights & Paso Robles Retreat – Jan 2017

Welcome to our 2nd post for our Santa Barbara stay!  We are enjoying the area and our place (despite some issues of the commode kind!), the weather has marginally improved since early in the month.  But who are we to complain given the tundra we are used to in Jan??!! ha ha!

This post covers some additional SB sights, Carpinteria Bluffs, Arroyo Grande, Pismo Beach, Paso Robles, and San Luis Obispo.

The Boathouse at Hendry’s Beach (Sun, Jan 22)

A former co-worker Monte recommended we visit the Boathouse and so glad we did!  It’s a special little enclave right on Hendry’s Beach that puts you in that ‘vacation’ mode.  Lots of tourists and locals with their dogs flock here on the weekends, so if you go, prepare to wait!  Bloody Marys, seafood omelets, and a view of the dolphins playing in the Pacific. As Larry David would say “prett-ay, prett-ay, pretty good!”

Shoreline Park

After brunch we took an Uber to Shoreline Park and walked ourselves home, while enjoying many pretty views along the way!

Loved this palm – and so does a local who told me it was her favorite palm.  I can see why!

Santa Barbara Harbor

The harbor is a must-stop on any visit to Santa Barbara – we’ve been here a few times, primarily to eat at Brophy’s (thanks to Mike’s friend, one of our go-to places), but it’s also nice to walk the breakwall walkway for some exercise and great views of the harbor and mountains.  It was a treat to see some seals hanging out there too!

After all the exercise, what else would you expect to do but go wine tasting?
DV8 Cellars Wine Tasting: Sparkling viognier – who would have thought?  Not bad.
Kunin Wine Tasting: We had great service at Kunin’s and it was a fun and lively atmosphere.  The wine however didn’t impress so much. Dave and I had 2 different tastings and really only liked 1 wine – their most powerful, the syrah from the same Alisos Vineyard as the one I got from Andrew Murray. While it seems to be one of the more popular tasting rooms, we wouldn’t recommend it.  Too many other good places to enjoy!

Carpinteria – MLK Day (Mon, Jan 23)

I was off for Martin Luther King Jr Day and we decided to go walk the Carpinteria Bluffs, as we were told it was a must-do.  We walked for awhile taking in the views

and then checked out the Seal Sanctuary (there were only a few there, the ‘fishing’ was good that day!) The seals should start birthing pups soon – will have to come back and check that out!

We walked down to the beach next to the tar pits:

There is a big state beach park there with tons of campers and RVs – a great place to setup shop, and easy walking distance into town.  Carpinteria is definitely small town quaint with some nice shops and restaurants. We had lunch, browsed around a bit, hit their big candy store, and headed back.

On the way back I saw the sign for Santa Barbara and its population – only about 90,000 people.  I expected a much bigger number – it’s got a lot to offer for that number!

Sat 1/28 – visit with Nancy! Was lucky to be able to spend Sat with Nancy (Chicago friend who I went to Argentina with in 2006, one of my top vacas!) who was in town visiting a college friend!  We hit Brophy Brother’s, the Courthouse Tower, State St, and a little wine tasting!

Our long weekend in Paso Robles!!  Sun 1/29-Tues 1/31.
Our mini vacation was focused on visiting a few wineries, checking out Paso, and San Luis Obispo.  One of the biggest highlights was where we stayed – CaliPaso Winery and Villas – so luxurious, relaxing, and unique. We enjoyed the pretty views en route – our first stop was Talley Vineyards.

Talley Vineyards:  Situated in Arroyo Grande (San Luis Obispo – or SLO County), Talley is a 3rd generation 193 acre vineyard specializing in chardonnay and pinot noir, as it takes advantage of its relatively cool climate. Talley is THE business here – not only do the own and operate the vineyard (producing a sizable 32,000 cases/year), they also have a huge produce farm nearby. In fact, they are the largest grower of bell peppers in the US and the largest cilantro growers in CA.

We had a great tour with Terry. He took us to the historic Rincon Adobe, Rincon means corner in Spanish. We could see the straw from the adobe on the inside wall of the closet.

Next we moved onto their barrel room where we saw a brand new bottling machine just flown in from Italy.  They also have the distinction of using original European rootstock (this is very rare as most European rootstocks were destroyed by the insidious phylloxera disease in the late 19th century. We had a few laughs as there was a also a little airplane bottle of vodka on the line (hmmm….) and we asked if the new equipment could fill box wines! Terry loved it! He also had this amazing ‘movie trailer’ voice that you noticed from the get-go – and sure enough we found out he does voice overs on the side. He told us about a voice coach who years ago, when cigarettes were in, told the students to smoke some Cool cigarettes before a gig because it would give you a good rasp – funny!

Talley has high quality wines at reasonable prices, with quite a few high ratings from Robert Parker for some of their single vineyard designates. It’s a bit of a hike to get to, but we’re glad we did. They have a nice outdoor seating area with a few bag games. The tasting room has a gorgeous view of the vineyard. The only odd thing was that they actually finished the tasting with a variety of low quality wines – some blends ‘on tap’ and a line that they created for a charity – a shame that the charity wine was no good! normally most wineries work you up to their best, not the case here.  Oh well, different strokes!

We seriously enjoyed all of the wines on our ‘main tasting’ and took most of them home! Our favorites: 2014 Talley Vineyards Estate Chardonnay, 2014 Talley Vineyards Rincon Chardonnay, 2014 Edna Valley Pinot Noir, and 2013 Bishop’s Peak Elevation (Bordeaux blend.) We also tried their chardonnay from their Bishop’s Peak (SLO County, not Estate) and loved that too!

After our tasting we detoured into the town of Arroyo Grande and were greeted by roosters!  Is this a sign of good luck as the Chinese New Year of the Rooster has just started?  We shall see! Cute little town, much smaller than my hometown of Sag Harbor.

Pismo Beach – where bringing your car on the beach is encouraged!

Turley: Turley is legendary in our world.  I tasted their wines years ago, thanks to a friend Kevin, who I met with Eileen years ago.  Kevin frequents Jeff and Eileen’s parties and can always be replied upon to show up late in the evening with incredible wine in tow (Turley Zin, Two Hands Shiraz, etc.) In fact, just enjoyed some Turley zin this past Dec at Jeff and Ei’s, thanks to Kevin! Dave and I have purchased a few bottles through the years (when we could find them) and we were heartbroken that Turley did not have any tasting rooms in Napa or Sonoma (although they do have their Turley Estate in Napa Valley/St Helena where Larry Turley lives.) Suffice it to say we were both pretty pumped about this tasting….

A bit more about Turley:  The company makes 34 wines, the vast majority of which are single vineyard designate zins and petite syrahs. This is a huge number, vary rare and typically only for a limited number of ‘reserve’ wines. Check out their list here. Their farming methods are dry (no irrigation), organic, and the vines are ‘head trained’ – not trellised.

We learned that Larry Turley used to be an ER physician – what do you know?!  He gave it up to focus on his wine business and passion.  This is also unique in that I understand from Dave most docs do end up practicing into their golden years, even if it’s very part time. Given this we had to buy their ‘white coat’ white blend!

The tasting room was fine – we stood next to the bar in a nicely decorated room, enjoyed some bread with their own olive oil and were hosted by a pleasant woman who knew quite a bit about the business and their wines, and she introduced us to some off-menu wines to try (Cedarman Howell Mountain Zinfandel, followed by Dragon Vineyard on Howell Mountain). She also recommended Brecon Estate which we ended up loving! For you wine geeks, we also learned from her that Helen Turley (one of the pioneers of wine making, right up there in the early days with Merry Edwards and before Heidi Barrett) is actually not part of this establishment.  We just assumed…  They had an outdoor area that no one was sitting at, that was quite pretty though the views were primarily of the parking lot.  I would say that I think we both expected more given our love of these wines.

Our favorites included: 2013 Pesenti Vineyard Paso Robles Zinfandel, 2013 Uuberroth Vineyard Paso Robles Zin, 2006 Hayne Vineyard Napa Valley Petite Syrah.

In summary, go for the wine, not necessarily the experience. If you see this brand, drink it, drink it good!

After enjoying our complimentary wine and cheese at the clubhouse, we had an overpriced dinner at Aristan in downtown Paso Robles.

Our Hotel – CaliPaso Winery & Villas: what a treat!  The room was huge, the bathroom is about half the size of our place in AZ, the fireplace worked, and mornings were made better by waking up to the vineyard view!  I didn’t want to leave!  Oh, and if you have a group, rent the Winemaker’s Suite – its basically a large house with 2 king bedrooms, 2 1/2 baths, full kitchen, huge living room, dining area, and a private hot tub on the wrap around balcony. Price is reasonable too – double the rate of a single room. The service was also top notch – we made friends with Ruth at breakfast, she told us some funny stories about working there, and also showed us the Winemaker’s suite!

Hearst Castle, San Simeon Mon, 1/30

We debated about making the drive to visit and so glad we did. I didn’t know what to expect, the setup was very professional and well-managed, a bit of a Disneyland experience in that you had a huge selection of tours to choose from, etc. We chose the recommended Grand Rooms tour, which takes you to a few of the ‘grand’ socializing rooms that a guest of William Randolph Hearst may have enjoyed during a visit.

In 1919 Newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst hired San Francisco architect Julia Morgan to build a hilltop house on what he called his “ranch at San Simeon.” Their collaboration on the project lasted from 1919 to 1947. Morgan designed this Mediterranean Revival estate and filled it with art and antiques from Hearst’s vast collection. Hearst formally named the estate “La Cuesta Encantada” (The Enchanted Hill).

You take a bus up through 5 miles of a windy road with lots of switchbacks to get to the top, with its massive castle appearing (and disappearing from view – the road was designed for this visual effect.)  The audio recording en route is narrated by Alex Trebek (no I’m not kidding).

The castle is so over the top, no detail overlooked, and sounds like it was the party place to be in WR Hearst’s hey day! Great Gatsby of the west coast!

William Randolph Hearst was a behemoth publishing baron in the history of the United States, starting with newspapers and then magazine and other media. He adopted a sensational brand of reporting later called “yellow journalism,” with stories considered frivolous, and many based on speculation and half-truths. He also elected into the House in 1902-1904, attempted a run for the Presidency, and founded the American Boy Scouts. Is that all?  lazy! ) He is the person whom Citizen Kane, widely regarded as the greatest film ever made, is primarily based on.

Some staggering stats on Casa Grande, the primary home (Hearst’s bedroom occupied the entire 4th floor): 165 rooms, 38 bedrooms, 14 sitting rooms, surrounded by 127 acres of gardens. The home clocks in a staggering 68,500 sq ft!

We arrived on the North Unfinished Terrace – which was supposed to be a grand entrance for the guests. Hearst inherited more than 250,000 acres of land – extended for more than 35 miles – out to the mountain peak you see in the distance from the center of the bottom picture below – incredible!

He wanted to build a ‘weekend house’, a retreat if you will to entertain friends and associates. Yes, yes, I think we can all relate to this, can’t we?  🙂

We walked the esplanade outside admiring the 3 very large “cottages” (which are mansions in their own right – 2 with 8 bedrooms, 1 with 4.) Each cottage is names for its view, which Hearst considered a great feature of the hilltop. We learned that the gardens were of the utmost importance to Hearst that they be beautiful and a place for guests to relax and enjoy.  Most days guests were outside of the home, enjoying the gardens, going swimming, sailing in a nearby harbor, etc. etc. Must have been rough.

Our favorite view and statue – The Fairy Princess About To Kiss A Frog:

Next up is ‘Casa Grande’ – the design has a cathedral type appearance, with bell towers that came from a cathedral in Spain. WRH’s quarters occupied the entire top floor, just under the pitched roof.

Inside we go to see:

Assembly Room – Grand social room on the ground floor where guests would mix and mingle over cocktails. Has incredible walnut paneling,  Renaissance and Baroque tapestries, and masterpieces of neoclassical sculpture. Our tour guide said that normally Hearst would pop in for just a few minutes to greet everyone, and then leave.

Refectory – Mr. Hearst and architect Julia Morgan named the dining room after the word for a monastery’s dining hall. Its high windows, bright silk banners, and gleaming silver candlesticks convey the atmosphere of the Middle Ages, but the mustard and ketchup bottles show that Mr. Hearst liked to keep things informal at his ranch.

Sitting Room – one of 14 in Casa Grande. You can see where they are cleaning part of the ceiling in the last picture.

Billiard Room – The Billiard Room was a popular spot, where guests could relax and play both billiards and pool. This room is decorated with a variety of gaming themes, but it also boasts a 15th century Spanish ceiling painted with scenes of courtly life, in addition to a Flemish tapestry from 1500.

I didn’t know that there are many different types of pool games and that billiards is very different from pool.  As you can see in the pics there are no holes on one of the tables. The most commonly played version of the game is to use your cue ball to contact one of the other two balls on the table, at least three rail cushions, then the remaining ball in order to score.  Supposedly can take a very long time to get through a game, bring beer!

Theater – The Theater is where W. R. Hearst and Hollywood film star Marion Davies joined guests every night to watch a full-length movie and newsreel. We saw footage of Hearst and his guests as the guide narrated. Interesting but sad to see these images from the past, of people long gone from this Earth.

Neptune Pool was closed for refurbishing:

Roman Pool – would love to have hung out there! Modeled after ancient Roman baths, this meticulously detailed, majestic pool is tiled from ceiling to floor, and features marble copies of eight ancient Greek and Roman deities and athletes.

More about Hearst: Hearst and his wife were estranged, but never divorced. He had a serious girlfriend, actress, who lived with him and it was quite scandalous at the time. My how times have changed! The stock market crash of 1929 and the ensuing Great Depression took a major toll on Hearst’s fortunes. As his health deteriorated, he still wanted to remain at the Castle. However its remote location didn’t lend itself well to Hearst getting treatment for his illness.  He asked his doctor to move into the home, but was refused and relocated to Beverly Hills. He died on August 14, 1951, in Beverly Hills, California, at the age of 88.

The drive down – first pic below is one of the animal enclosures where Hearst kept some animals in his private zoo:

In 1954 it became a California State Park. Ironic that an estate that was once so lavish and over the top, now asks for donations for preservation.  We missed the IMAX movie back at the main visitors center as we were starving and we had a winery to hit before 5pm!

Coastline between San Simeon and a quick visit to Cambria:

Beautiful coastal views en route back to Paso:

Tablas Creek Vineyard

This, in addition to Turley, was one of my top reasons for going wine tasting in Paso Robles. Have only tasted these wines at the Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta last fall, and fell in love with them at that time!

I think I loved their wines a little more than Dave, surprising given that I’m more into the bold fruity CA wines and he’s a bigger fan of the more subtle French style wines – go figure!  Tablas specializes in Rhone style blends and varietals and was created as a joint venture between the Chateaunuef du Pape estate Chateau de Beaucastel and its importer in the US.  Robert Parker, the god of wine ratings, is a fan of Tablas Creek and in particular the Panoplie, a limited production Mourvedre based wine.

Lucky for us, we didn’t rush through our tasting to try to make it over to Brecon Estate as a woman named Katie who Dave went to grade school with (and whose backyards practically touched!) was being served with her family right next to us!  Really, such a small world!  They were visiting from St Louis as her daughter is planning to become a wine maker, she worked a harvest in New Zealand is about to go back to do it again.

While we didn’t join their full wine club, we joined their VINdepedent program which requires a 6 bottle minimum purchase per year and you get 10% off all wines, free tastings, access to special wine offerings, etc. etc.  Sounds easy!

Our favorites: Grenache Blanc 2015, Esprit de Tablas Blanc (white blend) 2013, Mourvedre 2014, Syrah 2013, Esprit de Tablas 2014 (red blend), Full Circle 2014 (pinot), and the Tannat 2014 (which is Paso’s answer to Cabernet Sauvignon.)  Everything was good.  Not as crazy about the Cotes de Tablas Blanc 2015 with viognier.

After our outings we enjoyed another complimentary wine and cheese hour at the Clubhouse.  We met a fun group of Canadians who now live in TN and had a good time chatting about our Vancouver and Montreal experiences. We also talked winery recommendations. Added bonus – we got to take the rest of the wine back to the room (we didn’t finish it until we were back in SB 🙂 BTW, in case it sounds like we are constantly drinking wine, I can see how you would think that!  However, when we wine taste we normally taste and spit, if we are driving and visiting multiple wineries. We learned that this was the only way to survive the 121 wineries we did in Napa! I love how you can really taste each wine – they tend not to run together, taste the same, etc.  And, we can drive sober!

Dinner at Il Cortile – fantastic Italian, top notch service, and delicious wine (we did drink it)!

Paso at night: We only really saw downtown Paso at night – it reminded me of Healdsburg – a small upscale town with the majority of shops and restaurants centered around the square, very quaint!

Tues, 1/31

Brecon Estate

Boutique winery producing ~3,000 cases/year with no distribution outside of the winery – we like the small producers!  The couple who owns Brecon hails from Wales and Australia. They definitely have a sense of humor as it’s sprinkled in through their tasting menu – appreciated it!

Very modern and lux tasting room with an indoor/outdoor feel.  We sat outside enjoying the peace and quiet, vineyard views, a little music, and Dave made friends with the winery cat, Miss Kitty!  The host was very laid back and cool.  Just a great low-pressure atmosphere for enjoying wine and company!  Highly recommend! However, the wine is pricey.

Our favorites: 2014 Cab Franc (Adelaida District), 2014 Grenache (Central Coast), and the 2014 Reserve Petite Sirah (Monterey).  We also liked the Zin/Tannat blend.

My main takeaway from Brecon was that the experience actually does matter when you’re tasting wine.  I enjoyed this experience so much more than Turley, even though I adore Turley wines.  Makes sense that some of the newer, boutique wineries are taking that into consideration when they design their space.

San Luis Obispo: much larger than Paso and what we expected.

We also checked out the Mission, nice grounds, and a bit of a better museum than the Santa Barbara mission.  No admission either!

Laetitia

I had my eye on this place as I thought the reputation was solid and the rating on Trip Advisor was top notch too (we discovered that in Napa Trip Advisor was quite reliable and did a good job of highlighting lesser-known wineries, etc.) Trip Advisor was not as reliable this time however. Maybe it was because we just left a really cool, boutique winery and walked into more of a big corporation experience where you’re even a bit of a number. Or maybe I’m being too fussy – it just didn’t connect.  They did have a nice sitting area outside where you could take a bottle. I keep going back to this idea of wanting to wine taste outside instead of standing at a bar inside….

Dave tasted the whites and I tasted reds – I really liked the Reserve du Domain 2014 reserve pinot, the La Coupelle single vineyard pinot, and the Nadia Mesa Reserve Cab 2014.

While easy to hit as it’s right off the main highway, there are much better and more unique wineries to invest your time and money in.  Skip this one.

Our initial impressions on SB  County and Paso/SLO Grape:

As you know Dave and I have sampled more than our fair share of wine, especially in the state of CA. We both agree that Napa and Sonoma have it hands down.  While there are definitely some stellar wines to enjoy in Santa Barbara and Central Coast, they aren’t as plentiful as they are with their neighbors to the north. I guess it also depends on your preference, we do like more rich and robust wines found up there – the southern selections I find a bit more light due to cooler weather conditions.  But we of course won’t give up trying more! 🙂 I do like how much more laid back the wineries are – no appointments needed, the tastings are much more reasonably priced.

Random around-town shots – love the tile around the Paseo shopping area and can’t say I’ve ever seen a Surfing Museum!:

Dave and I enjoying our favorite harborside restaurant, Brophy Brothers!

Next up: A brief visit to Phoenix and our friend’s Paul’s visit!

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