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We were off to explore the Santa Maria Valley along the central California coast, and as I hopped into the backseat of my friends’ car, I was shown all the preparation they had prepared for the trip. There was a tablecloth, a napkin, a bottle of Bellini and wine glass, the New York Times, and some snacks just in case I got hungry on the way. This was like limousine service!
This time of the year is a magnificent time to drive from Southern California to the central valley area. The hills are still covered with an array of yellow flowers amid the vibrant green. Having never been to Santa Maria, I was excited because I had heard great things about the wineries, but I knew very little about the area.
After our long drive, food was very much on our minds. The Moxie Café awaited our group. The Tri-Tip, Tuscan
chicken and veggie sandwiches looked fresh, healthy, and delicious. This restaurant could be considered a health food restaurant because everything is antibiotic and hormone free with a motto of “Eat well, be well.” Each of us tried a cup of their famous chili as well as to-die-for mashed sweet potatoes and a bowl of fresh veggies. Caleb Granski, catering and special events manager, explained to us that Moxie Café was started by Hardy Diagnostics for their 250 employees. Company president Jay Hardy wanted a healthy place where both he and his employees could eat a healthy lunch. Today, Moxie Café is employee owned and after six years, employees are completely vested, something not offered very often to employees. Our meal was complete after we each took a trip to the gelato bar for a scoop of creamy and refreshing delight.
We boarded the Gold Coast Limousine bus, a luxury line for touring which we very much appreciated. We were eagerly anticipating our first winery on this trip. After all, we are food and wine writers, and we had to see what all of the hubbub was about with these wines.
It was Sunday afternoon, a time when wineries often have music for their guests. That’s what we found at Riverbench Winery, named after the Santa Maria Bench, the bank along the Sisquoc River where Pinot Noir and Chardonnay were first planted in 1973. Surrounded by mountains and meadows with trellises of wisteria and lots of sunshine, relaxing with tastes of wine could not have been more delightful. Winemaker Clarissa Nagy produces some of the finest wines in the valley.
We had the opportunity to sample some other wines produced by Clarissa Nagy at Nagy Wines in Orcutt (a short distance from Santa Maria). Not only did we find Clarissa knowledgeable and welcoming, but we loved her small tasting room and were delighted by her elegant and sophisticated wine style. Pinot Noir, Syrah, and Viognier grapes are her focus right now.
Cherries and Chinese Five-Spice Pinot Noir filled our palate with a sip of the Pinot Noir and left us with a rounded mouth feel. The Viognier welcomed us with flavors of peach, pear, and orange zest, but there was a touch of crème brûlée, too. I am a Pinot Noir fan, so I had to take a few bottles back with me. Viognier is a varietal about which I am not always enthused, but Clarissa knocked it out of the ballpark with this one. That came home with me, too.
On to Ca’ Del Grevino EstateWinery! We were in luck, because we were welcomed by Jon Karlo Macias, tasting room manager at the estate, located in Orcutt among rolling hills with mountains in the background and an amazing mansion complete with iron gates and an Italian fountain in front. This beautiful Tuscan-inspired estate is available for corporate events and weddings. On the grounds, summer concerts take place on the sloping lawn. As we toured the estate, I heard echoes of “aws” from our group. This place is truly a palace.
Looking out from the home, you can see 100 acres of six varietals. We sampled a Syrah replete with flavors of cocoa, pepper, and berries; a Grenache with hints of raspberry jam which would be a summer delight, and an amazing Dolcetto with a full-mouth feel of white chocolate and mocha.
Currently, Ca’Del Grevino has three tasting rooms—Orcutt, Santa Barbara and Los Olivia. Massive plans are underway (to be completed in 2018) of a 35,000 square foot, $25 million new winery and banquet hall with a glass floor so that you can look down into the production area. There will be 10 guest rooms on the property when it is finished. Keep an eye on this fine winery! This will be a place to enjoy both the beauty of the facility and fine wine.
Just a couple of miles down the road from Ca’Del Grevino, another spectacular winery, Presqu’ile Winery, sits atop a hill showing off its contemporary clean lines and glass walls. After stepping inside, your eyes are drawn to the massive arched doors leading to the lengthy wine cave. Members of this winery also have access to a private outdoor lounge where you can see the ocean on a clear day. Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Syrah grapes are raised on the property using sustainable practices. To create wines with complexity, the vineyard was designed as a mosaic of blocks of handpicked clones of each variety. You will find luscious Pinot Noirs here with all the flavors one expects—berries, rose petals, and earthiness with a silky-mouthed feel. We also loved the Rosé of Pinot Noir that reminded us of strawberries and summer. Both the beauty of the winery itself and memorable wines make this a must when in the area.
Several of the restaurants besides the Moxie Café that we enjoyed on this trip were Rooney’s Irish Pub and Shaw’s Steakhouse.
At Rooney’s Irish Pub we met the charming owner, Timothy Patrick Rooney. As he explained, the beer is brewed right there at the facility, and at least six varieties are available at all times. We had to try a flight which was fittingly served atop a tray shaped as a four-leaf clover. I highly recommend the Shepherd’s Pie with a short rib on top or the traditional corned beef and cabbage. Rooney’s has hearty and delicious food and oozes with charm and friendliness.
Shaw’s Steakhouse & Tavern offers some of the best of Santa Maria BBQ. As we entered the restaurant, that famous barbecue was on display behind a glass window. Tri-Tips, Filet mignons and baby back ribs are just some of the amazing cuts offered. Of course, since it is Santa Maria style BBQ, everything is served with a freshly made salsa and pinquinto beans, specialties of the area.
We were graciously hosted by the Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites Santa Maria. I will attest to amazingly comfortable beds and pillows, as well as attractive accommodations and a welcoming staff. The Holiday Inn is in a great location and perfect for a long weekend exploring the wineries and restaurants of Santa Maria.
For further information in planning a trip, contact the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce at www.SantaMariaVisitor.com.
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