A trip down the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail…Solo.

I’ve never planned a wine tasting trip alone, but today seemed like the perfect day to try it. I woke up early and headed up towards Santa Maria, CA – a relatively quick and easy 2 hour drive north of Los Angeles.

Solvang, CA

My first stop was the little Danish town of Solvang for some coffee, snacks and water. The picture-perfect downtown area of Solvang is a great place to grab a bite and stroll around either before or during a day of wine tasting.

By the time I left Solvang, the last little remnant of early morning fog had burned off and the sky was a sparkling shade of turquoise. I was ready to start my journey down the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail. I decided I would visit three wineries during my trip, taking my time at each to really learn about the wineries and the wines they produce while soaking up the beautiful day.

The first winery on my list was Curtis.

Curtis Winery

While I’ve visited the wineries of Santa Barbara County more times than I can recall, I had never been to Curtis and was excited for the new experience. I was particularly excited because in an area that tends to be dominated by Burgundy styles like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, Curtis focuses exclusively on Rhone varietals (Granache, Syrah, Mourvedre, & Viognier). In fact, the Curtis tagline is “We live for Rhones”. Winemaker Chuck Carlson recently held the position of president of the Rhône Rangers, “an organization dedicated to the appreciation, enjoyment and advancement of Rhône-style wines in the United States”. I had a feeling I was in for a treat.

Curtis Winery

Vineyards at Curtis

When I first pulled in to the parking lot, I immediately noticed how beautiful the grounds were. The winery is surrounded by vines that were full of grape bunches in the stage just before their skin becomes saturated with color. Assorted plants and flowers added splashes of color around the vine-covered building and a couple of signs noted trailheads with paths meandering up into the hills.

Grapes in the early stages of ripening

One of the trailheads adjacent to the parking lot

I walked into the tasting room and was fortunate to be one of only a few tasters – one of the benefits of starting the day a bit early. Nancy in the tasting room poured the current releases for me and explained each one (6 wines for $10 including a logo glass). The line up included a ’08 Viognier, ’08 Heritage Rose, ’06 Mourvedre, ’06 Grenache/Syrah blend called The Crossroad, ’06 Syrah, and ’06 Cabernet Syrah.

Curtis Winery tasting room

I was pleasantly surprised as each wine I tasted exceeded my expectations. They were well made, nicely balanced, reasonably priced, and just plain tasty. After chatting a while with Nancy and a couple of fellow tasters, I walked out with two bottles of Rose ($14/bottle), one Mourvedre ($25/bottle) and one Syrah ($22/bottle). Curtis was the perfect way to start my day. It’s a must-try for anyone who enjoys great Rhone wines.

Next, I was on to Foxen.

Foxen 7200 “the shack”

Obviously Foxen isn’t a new place for me and it has already been a topic on my blog, but I was on a mission. Just days ago, Foxen released a couple new wines and I was very eager to try them. I also wanted to try their ’09 Rose of Mourvedre as I’ve been stocking up on Rose for the summer.

Foxen Winery & Tasting Room

Foxen's solar powered tasting room

I ended up doing a split tasting at Foxen (3 wines at the new tasting room and 3 wines at the Foxen 7200 “the shack” for $12). I won’t spend too much time on Foxen, but once again, they’ve proven they can do no wrong in my eyes. The newly released 2007 Grassini Family Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon was fantastic, the ’09 Rose of Mourvedre (also referred to as “The Watermelon”) was fruity but not overly sweet – perfect for a warm day, and if you like Pinot Noir, the ’08 Block N – Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir is an absolute must try. But hurry… it was produced in such small quantities and is so delicious, they only had a case or two left as of today. You will not be disappointed.

View from the deck at Foxen 7200

After lingering in the sunshine on my favorite back deck at “the shack”, I headed to my final destination for the day – Rancho Sisquoc.

Rancho Sisquoc Winery

Rancho Sisquoc Winery

Rancho Sisquoc has been a long-standing favorite of mine for a few simple reasons: a wide variety of really good wines at great prices. For 30 years, Rancho Sisquoc has been hand crafting small batches of estate wines from grapes grown on their 37,000 acre ranch. I also love the rustic and cozy little tasting room nestled far off the beaten path where lucky travelers might spot a group of deer roaming around in the fields or a few hawks flying overhead. It’s a great place to spend the afternoon relaxing on their outdoor tables.

Rancho Sisquoc Winery tasting room

Visitors to Rancho Sisquoc can sample any 6 wines from their list of many for $8. The list includes everything from Chardonnay to Riesling to Malbec and many more in between. I usually walk away with a few bottles of two wines unique to Rancho Sisquoc – Tre Vini and Sylvaner.

Tre Vini ($20/bottle) is a blend of 58% Sangiovese, 22% Malbec & 20% Syrah that goes perfectly with Italian food. Sylvaner ($14/bottle) on the other hand is a white blend of the Sylvaner grape with 16% Riesling. Rancho Sisquoc is the only producer of this varietal in California. It’s another great wine for summer with hints of light lime, apricot, sweet pear and roasted peanuts on the nose and a crisp, slightly sweet finish. It’s very unique and loved by many – including those who don’t typically enjoy drinking white wine.

So, with a great day of tasting behind me and a full trunk of wine, I started my journey back to Los Angeles. While I had reservations about my day of solo wine tasting before I left, it ended up being a wonderful day and a fun new adventure. Instead of feeling like the strange girl standing by herself in the tasting rooms, I met so many warm and friendly people both pouring the wines and tasting them. Best of all, I was able to go at my own pace, relax, and see where the day took me. Until next time!

5249 Foxen Canyon Road
Santa Maria, CA 93454
Phone: (805) 686-8999
Tasting room hours: 10AM – 5PM Daily

(business address & tasting room)
7600 Foxen Canyon Road
Santa Maria, CA 93454
Phone: (805) 937-4251
Fax: (805) 937-0415
Tasting room hours: 11AM – 4PM Daily

(foxen 7200 “the shack”)
7200 Foxen Canyon Road
Santa Maria, CA 93454
Phone: (805) 937-4251
Fax: (805) 937-0415

6600 Foxen Canyon Road
Santa Maria, CA 93454
Phone: (805) 934-4332
Fax: (805) 937-6601
Tasting room hours: 10AM – 4PM Monday through Thursday. 10AM – 5PM Friday through Sunday.

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