Mar 2, 2007

55 bpm and a coonskin cap

Even though we weren't feeling 100 per cent today,we decided to drive down to Los Olivos and meet up with our friends from Michigan. Judy fixed our morning meal of oatmeal, adding some flax seed for good measure. We were on the road by 8:30 and after a wonderful drive down the central coast we arrived in Los Olivos just before 10am.

We met Chris and Teresa and their daughter Audrey at their hotel and then drove a short distance up one of the canyons. Within a short 5 mile span are some of our favorite wineries. Firestone, Curtis, Fess Parker, Koehler and Zaca Mesa to name a few. We decided to start at the upper end at Zaca Mesa Winery. We visited here last year and really enjoyed our visit, not to mention the wines.

One nice thing about going during the week is there are no crowds. The young man who poured for us was great. It turns out this is his part time job. His full time job is owning and running a cheese shop with his wife in nearby Solvang. Unfortunately, time did not permit us to visit his cheese shop but we definitely want to the next time we're out here.

Due to changes in the law, some wineries are finally shipping directly to Michigan. We took advantage of this by joining their wine club. We'll get 4 shipments a year at very attractive prices. And these are wines you would never find in Michigan.

As we were finishing with the paperwork ,our wine guide mentioned that they were bottling wine that day and we were welcome to watch. What a surprise. It turns out that smaller winery's like Zaca Mesa don't have their own bottling facilities but contract it out. We thought that meant that they shipped the wine somewhere else to be bottled. Instead, the bottler comes to them. We walked out back and saw there was a semi tractor and trailer parked there. Inside the trailer was a full bottling line capable of bottling 55 bottles per minute. It turns out “The Bottle Meister” mobile wine bottling of San Luis Obispo owns 2 rigs, each costing 1 million dollars and they travel from vineyard to vineyard. They had been set up at Zaca Mesa all week and were going to be finishing up on Friday. What amazed us is that they welcomed us up into the truck to watch the production. We have never met more friendly guys who seemed so proud of their work. The bottling company provides 2 men and the vineyard supplies 6 other workers to keep everything running smoothly. As you can see in the pictures this is a highly automated process. Nitrogen is used to purge all the air out of the bottles and the bottles can be sealed with a natural cork, synthetic cork, or screw caps. The line then applies labels and then the bottles are returned to cases. A case of wine is 12 bottles which or roughly 2.4 gallons. Over the course of year Zaca will sell approximately 35,000 cases or 84,000 gallons of premium wine. And this is considered a small winery. This was a rare experience that we just happened to stumble upon and what makes this trip so special.

We then went back down the road to the Fess Parker Winery. If you are my age you might remember him as Daniel Boone,on the tv show by the same name, who traveled with his trusty companion Mingo, played by Ed Ames. Ed Ames' role as Mingo led to an infamous tomahawk throwing demonstration on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. You know, the guy that hosted before Jay Leno!!! What many people don't know is that Fess and his family live in this area and have a wonderful winery and hotel in Los Olivos.

Once again we were able to sample some new wines that aren't even on the market yet. If I look rather loopy modeling the coonskin cap it was my cold not the wine. I promise!!!! While I didn't buy the cap, Judy did talk me into buying a cheese board. Fess Parker also produces a wonderful fig balsamic vinegar that we like a lot. We bought several bottles of that along with a new balsamic vinegar containing black cherry. If you saw the movie 'Sideways', some of the tasting room scenes were filmed at the Fess Parker Winery.

It was now time for lunch so we drove back into Los Olivos for lunch at the Los Olivos Cafe (also shown in the movie 'Sideways'). We shared a small pizza and some great bulghar vegetable soup. Simple food, prepared well, with excellent service.

After lunch, we then drove over to the Lincourt Winery. The tasting room there is in an old farm house. Sitting out on the porch looking over the valley a certain peace swelled over me. Like my good friend and business partner Stan says: “This is how man was meant to live”. Unfortunately, in this area, living this way requires a lot of money. That's one of the advantages of traveling by RV. We get to taste the local culture without all the baggage, or in this case mortgage and taxes. One thing I have discovered on this trip. When you get away from the big cities, even in the blue states of Oregon or California, the people are pretty conservative, just like in the Midwest. But I digress. Once again we were the only ones in the tasting room and a retired school teacher was doing the pouring. Judy was surprised to see her knitting a scarf as we entered. After discussing knitting, log cabins, chamberpots and wine, it was time for us to move on. Lincourt produces some excellent wines and we were tempted to join their wine club. But frankly, I think we have already spent our wine allotment. We did leave with a bottle of young wine which we are going to hold onto for a few years.

Our last stop of the day was at Koehler Winery. I must confess that I wasn't really into it at this point. My cold had reasserted itself and I found myself dreading the 90 minute drive home. It is a beautiful winery, but I was so congested that I really couldn't taste anything. The highlight for me was seeing their herd of emu's. We said goodbye to our friends and headed back up to Paso Robles. So even though we weren't feeling well we're glad we made the trip.

Beautiful Scenery, Good Food, and Good Wine.

Yes Stan, “This is how man was meant to live”.