Written by and photos by Nadia Ibanez
As my time in Southern and Central California’s wine countries continues to grow, I’m learning that there’s more than just a couple of ways to master wine tasting. Sure, you can pick up a map and visit a few favorites or locally famous wineries. You can go on a guided tour ensuring that you never lift a finger or get behind the wheel. Or, you can just show up to a winery and hope that an employee willingly offers you a tour. When it comes to wine tasting in Solvang, patrons have quite a number of options.
The city of Solvang is surrounded by river beds, mountains and rolling hills where some pretty serious varietals are growing. Wine tasting in Solvang has been on America’s radar for several years and the movie Sideways continues to attract fans and movie buffs to the region. On my recent trip to this Danish town, I got an insider’s look at all of the different ways to wine taste. Here are my picks for the best options for wine tasting in Solvang.
Walk to a tasting room in Solvang
While Solvang may be small in size, this city really packs a punch in terms of the quality restaurants, hotels and entertainment offerings. You’ll find 18 wine tasting rooms in town alone so you’ll definitely find a place that meets your needs. (And did I forget to mention that there are 120+ wineries in the neighboring Santa Ynez wine country?)
Louis Lucas and Royce Lewellen of the regionally famous Lucas & Lewellen Vineyards kindly invited our International Food, Wine & Travel Writers Association group into their lovely tasting room in Solvang. The two families joined forces and have been growing delicious grapes on the 400 estate acre vineyard. Can’t decide between a French Pinot Noir and an Italian Sangiovese? Not only does Lucas & Lewellen grow 25 varietals from both countries, but they also have two distinct, regionally-based tasting rooms just a half block away from each other in Solvang.
We spent the evening at the Lucas & Lewellen tasting room and were treated to an enormous platter of gourmet cheeses, crackers, fruit and paté. While the gentlemen shared their stories, history and vast knowledge of their varietals, we sipped on an amazing 2011 Blanc de Noirs Brut Sparkling wine, 2013 Viognier, 2013 Goodchild High 9 Pinot Noir and so much more. All of the wines had their own special qualities and I highly recommend visiting the tasting room if you can’t make it to the vineyard.
Pick a few favorites and drive through Wine Country
Driving through any wine country makes for a beautiful day regardless. Solvang and its neighboring towns offer scenic views at every turn. Santa Barbara Vintners is your one-stop shop for details about all of the wineries and vineyards in town so make sure you do some research on their site before your trip.
We drove through the hillsides and visited Andrew Murray Vineyards, which specializes in rhône-style wines. Their tasting room is sleek and modern and you’ll definitely want to spend some time on premises. We also drove to Rusack vineyards, which offered views of the valley with their delicious wines. From Sauvignon Blanc to Zinfandel, everything I tasted at Rusack was superb so make sure they’re on your go-to list.
Stagecoach Co. guided wine tours with a wine expert
If you really want to hit the pavement, or lack thereof in wine country, sometimes the best way to see the wineries is with a tour guide. Since 2001, Stagecoach Co. has offered wine tours for small and large groups while giving an insider’s look into the valley. Kurt was our driver for the day and I was blown away by his wealth of wine knowledge. For the best experience, Stagecoach Co. selects the wineries you’ll visit based on the size of your group and winery availability.
One of the benefits of touring wine country with Stagecoach Co. is the intimate relationship the tour company has with local winegrowers. That being said, Kurt was able to take us to a private boutique winery not open to the general public. In order to visit Bella Cavalli Vineyards, you must be on a Stagecoach Co. tour or an existing member of the Bella Cavalli Vineyard Club.
Owner Jeff Lockwood poured his Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Tempranillo, Pinot Noir and so much more while also sampling some of the salsas, sauces and olive oil produced at the winery. The winery also butts up against Bella Cavalli Farms where horses graze on a 50-acre ranch while rehabbing or rehabilitating. I bet you won’t find too many wineries where you’re not only greeted by vineyard dogs but, also neighing horses.
Solvang is an outstanding destination if you’re an experienced oenophile, traveling with friends, or simply looking for a weekend trip with all of the attractions of a quaint and cozy town. For more information, visit www.SolvangUSA.com.