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TOURIST ATTRACTION

Wine Tasting in Los Olivos
updated: Nov 13, 2010, 9:45 AM

By the dedicated staff

Sideways is ancient history. But the irascible indie film's mark on Los Olivos is inerasable.

Wine tasters flock here every weekend, no matter what the month. There is no off-season. Wine tour limos have evolved from jeeps to stretch hummers and custom-tailored short buses. The price of the pinot went way up and never came back down (with a few exceptions). Locals sigh and remember the days before "that movie" and its avalanche-style aftermath. But there is a bright spot: the Santa Ynez Valley's wine industry has come close to surviving the recession. And Los Olivos is its heart and soul.

This piece focuses on some of the fun and quirky things you can find during an afternoon of wine tasting in Los Olivos, founded as a place where olives were produced. Had early settler Alden March Boyd owned a crystal ball, he probably would have called it "Los Vinos." There are a couple of olive oil tasting rooms in Los Olivos today, and you can find listings at the end of this piece.

We have a few wine value recommendations and also a disclaimer: We didn't visit every tasting room, because then we wouldn't have been able to drive home. (And we recommend that you don't, either. If you plan to do so, definitely designate a driver or hire a tour guide). A complete listing of tasting venue options for you and highlights from some of our favorites follows. Feel free to augment our selections with notes about your personal favorites in the comments section. We'll take on additional Santa Ynez Valley wineries in a future edition. Cheers!

Stolpman - 2434 Alamo Pintado. At best, going wine tasting is like spending time at the home of a good friend. You feel relaxed and welcome, ready to try some new things, and able to let your hair down and have a few laughs. Stolpman's tasting room in a little red house with a few grape vines out front feels that way at the white picket fence. If the tasting room is crowded, you might find yourself outside at the barrel-topped table underneath the persimmon tree. Inside, the knowledgeable staff will steer you toward the Stolpman specialty - syrah. They have eight types available right now, with the 2008 originals and Hilltops on the day-to-day tasting list. All Stolpman grapes are grown in nearby Ballard Canyon, just over the ridge from Los Olivos, and if you are looking for a beautiful scenic drive after your wine sipping is over the tasting room employees can give you directions.

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Coquelicot - 2884 Grand Avenue. If you want to put some French flavor in your Los Olivos day, Coquelicot is the place. The name means red poppy in French, and while Los Olivos' signature poppies are the bright orange ones, Coquelicot has managed to put a real Francophile spin on California wine. They also have perhaps the most impressive tasting notes glossary in town, with terms like Godzilla/racy/BBQ/date night/pen ink/masculine all characterizing flavors of wine. The tasting room is housed in the historic tin-front building that was the John Cody Gallery for years. On the day we visited, a Los Olivos street cat was curled up for a nap on one of the merchandise displays. (Photo below.) Best tasting bets: The Sixer, a syrah blended with viognier, and the Mon Amour Bordeaux, a big four-grape blend.

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Carina Cellars/Tensley - 2900 Grand Ave. Carina Cellars, which shares its tasting space with Tensley wines, wins the award for the coolest dogs in town. Lily and Ginger, the official greeters, love meeting new people, and you can do that all day long in Los Olivos. Lily, a 13-year-old border collie, even has a trick she does with rolling wine corks. (She's practicing with her tennis ball in the photo.) Carina is also known for featuring the work of local artists, and through November, you can see the work of area landscape photographer Rodger Dawson, focusing on Italian Imagery in Santa Ynez. A favorite tasting selection here is the 2007 Clairvoyant, a Syrah/Grenache/Mouvedre blend.

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Saarloos and Sons - 2971 Grand Avenue. We know wine goes great with high-class meals and certain chocolates. But how about cupcakes? Saarloos and Sons is also home to Enjoy Cupcakes, which has inspired a cult following among foodie cupcake lovers. They're only open Thursdays through Sundays, though, so plan your trip accordingly if you like sweet sugar with your favorite varietal. (The lemongrass cupcake goes especially well with a dry white wine, and the blackberry-syrah is great with a layered red blend or syrah as the name implies.) Owner Larry Saarloos and his sons are great people (Kirk Saarloos also happens to be a professional baseball player) and they've named their wines with tidbits from Saarloos family lore. If you happen to meet Larry and Keith at the tasting room you'll come away with some great stories. The oversized Adirondack chairs outside are a great place to while away the afternoon.

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Byron - 2367 Alamo Pintado. One of Los Olivos' most recently opened tasting rooms; Byron has a refined air about its sleek interior. Grapes are grown on the eastern edge of the Santa Maria Valley. All of their wines are good values, but we can't say enough about the 2008 Santa Maria Valley Pinot, a $26 bottle that tastes like a $50 one. Points for innovation: You can see videos about their wines and the winemaking process on the Byron website at link

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Daniel Gehrs - 2939 Grand Avenue. Gehrs is another tasting room in a little old Los Olivos house that feels cozy and cute even before you get in the door. The resident kitty cats and pumpkins on the front porch add to that homey atmosphere. This time of year, Gehrs' Fireside Port is tough to turn down. But he also makes a nice Pinot Gris that's refreshing in warmer months. You can also find Daniel's daughter Jenny's wines here under the Vixen label.

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Additionally, at home in Los Olivos you'll find:

Alexander & Wayne - 2922 Grand Avenue. Formerly Los Olivos Vintners. Focus: French style Burgundy and Bordeaux as well as Tempranillo and sweet wines.

Epiphany - 2963 Grand Avenue. Winemaker is Eli Parker, son of the late Fess Parker, whose heirs still own the only hotel in Los Olivos, the Fess Parker Wine Country Inn & Spa on Grand Avenue. Focus: Syrahs and Rhone blends.

Consilience - 2933 Grand Avenue. For bargain-hunters, Consilience has a good variety of wines under $20, both whites and reds.

Longoria - 2935 Grand Avenue. Acclaimed veteran winemaker Rick Longoria makes a fantastic pinot. Try his Blues Cuvee if you're looking for an everyday value.

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Tre Anelli -2923 Grand Avenue. Consilience's sister winery focuses on Italian and Spanish style table wines.

Artiste - 2948 Grand Avenue, Studio East. Relocated from Santa Ynez, Artiste gives you the chance to paint and draw while you swirl and sip. A totally different spin on wine as art.

Qupe/Verdad/Ethan - 2963 Grand Ave. The Lindquist family makes wine a family affair. The Qupe label has an especially dedicated following.

Los Olivos Tasting Room - 2905 Grand Avenue. Here long before the rest and founded when Los Olivos was an art town, Los Olivos Tasting Room carries 90 wines and the tasting selection changes weekly. If you can't find it anywhere else, they probably have it.

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Andrew Murray and Days Off Wine - 2901 Grand Avenue. Murray's blends, Esperance and Enchante, are equally excellent.

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Los Olivos Wine Merchant and Café - 2905 Grand Avenue. A great variety of California-style dishes here for lunch, dinner, or just a mid-afternoon snack. But they also have a huge wine selection, and you can taste and snack on a cheese plate or olives at the comfortable bar.

Evan's Ranch - 2901 Grand Avenue. An offshoot of Gainey Vineyards. These wines are not available at retail locations or restaurants.

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For food, best options include:

Panino - 2900 Grand Avenue. If you forgot to pack your picnic, countywide favorite Panino is the place to make up for it. Streetside seating will demonstrate just how little traffic there really is in Los Olivos.

Patrick's Side Street Café - 2375 Alamo Pintado. Chef Patrick has one of the most flavorful personalities in the local restaurant business and treats his customers with panache. BBQs on weekends.

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Los Olivos Wine Merchant and Café - 2905 Grand Avenue. The local buzz is that Los Olivos Café is better than ever lately. The restaurant, which had a cameo in Sideways, has a variety of Italian dishes as well as salads, fish and specials.

Brothers Restaurant at Mattei's Tavern (dinner) - 2350 Railway Avenue. For a special occasion or just to experience a little bit of history. Mattei's origins as a stagecoach stop between the end of the Pacific Coast Railway and the start of the San Marcos Pass Stagecoach Route to Santa Barbara are special and the building retains much of its historic charm. Brothers' acclaimed menu with mostly locally sourced foods is impressive, too.

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Olive Oil tasting

Hearken back to the good ol' days in Los Olivos with some locally produced olive oil, available at both of these tasting rooms.

Olive Hill Ranch - 2901 Grand Avenue (inside Evan's Ranch tasting room) - Grown on the outskirts of Happy Canyon, Olive Hill's Lucca olive trees press into some especially flavorful oil.

Il Fustino - 2923 Grand Avenue. Santa Barbara's Il Fustino is now open in Los Olivos, which is appropriate, since a number of their tasty oils are sourced from Santa Ynez Valley olive groves

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