Wine & Travel

Snooth User: Molly4006

Pick my destination - November 2012

Posted by Molly4006, Jun 18, 2012.

Hi all,

This generous group was so helpful during a previous post of mine about recommendations for my four-day trip to Sonoma this August that I'm taking advantage of that generosity again.

I have a week off work this November 11-18, 2012, and am having so much fun planning the Sonoma trip that I'm tempted to do another wine-oriented trip.  On top of that, I just took a  part-time job at my favorite local winery, so I figure it's all job-related learning, right?

So, here's my dilemma...for budgetary purposes, a flight to San Francisco, rental car, and lodging somewhere - Sonoma, Sierra Foothills, probably not Napa - will cost me the same as a flight to LAX and going to Santa Barbara which also costs me the same as driving my truck and toy hauler RV with my motorcycle along for the ride to and camping in Virginia's wine country, birthplace of my beloved Norton grape.  Literally, all are within a rough $20 of each other. I looked at Walla Walla and that area, but the costs are a little higher. And I'm open to any other ideas. I try to escape under $1000 for my upfront costs for a week (travel to and from, lodging, rental car if needed) not including food, wine, etc.

I'm a dry red fan, exclusively a dry to off-dry red drinker at home, and I have favorites among many varietals and blends ranging from Pinot Noirs to big Zins to Riojas to backwoods Missouri Nortons and Chambourcins. And as a single girl, budget and proximity/variety/density of tasting and learning experiences is key.

If I may be so bold and greedy...please, fire away!

Thank you - again and in advance,


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Reply by JonDerry, Jun 18, 2012.

How about Paso Robles?

It's about 2 1/2 hours north of Santa Barbara, but you could do them both and maybe even a peak at Ojai and others on the way back to LAX. Plus, driving up and down the 101 provides some great views and you'll pass by many towns worthy of a chance stop.

Reply by Richard Foxall, Jun 18, 2012.

I'm all for trying something new.  Of course, that could also mean driving south from SF to Monterey wine country.  But the weather in Paso Robles that time of year is likely to be more hospitable if we are getting rains farther north. 

I've got a brother in law in VA, but I haven't been back for a few years.  Still, CA is the domestic behemoth of wine, and the chance to compare your DCV Zins to Paso Zins, or Sonoma Pinots and Syrahs to Santa Barbara product is far more enticing.  I just wasn't wowed by VA wines. 

If you had such a wonderful time in DCV, then by all means go back, because there are still wineries to explore--I go up to Sonoma County pretty often, but I still haven't hit nearly everything I want to. I hardly venture into Alexander Valley, I haven't made time to visit Holdredge or Siduri/Novy, just to name two huge omissions.

So that's not much help, but when you pick a place, I will have ideas of places I've liked, or wines I like.

Reply by EMark, Jun 18, 2012.


I will also endorse the comments of Jon and Fox, although I would modify it by saying that there is a lot to explore between Paso Robles and Santa Barbara.  In a week you have a lot of time to look around.  Obviously, the Santa Ynez, Santa Maria and Edna Valleys have much for you to explore, but I also encourage you to look at the Sta. Rita Hills area near Lompoc.  If you want to try a flyer, check out Cerro Caliente in San Luis Obisbo.  This is a winery in an auto shop.  Ojai (southeast of Santa Barbara) is a no-brainer.  If you fly in/out of LAX, you should plan to spend a day in Ojai.  Most of the Central Coast area that I am talking about is building a strong reputation for Rhone-grape wines.  So, as a red wine partisan, you will have no problem finding Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedres to try.  Paso also has a good rep for Zinfandels.  Down in Sta. Rita Hills you'll want to check out their Pinot Noir, although I like the Syrahs from that area.

Also, as Fox indicates, after your August Sonoma visit, there is a very good chance that you may realize that there is more that you want to see there.  Nothing wrong with that.

On the other hand, if you go to VA, and check that out, and come back here to report to us, then we California guys will get to learn from your experience.

Have a good time, Molly and keep the questions coming.


Reply by jtryka, Jun 18, 2012.

If Walla Walla is too expensive, have you looked into maybe flying into Portland and visiting the Willamette Valley for some Pinot Noir? There would likely even be some time to drive out to Walla Walla from there, which could give you a 2-fer!

Reply by GregT, Jun 18, 2012.

Molly - single girl, likes wine, week vacation, has a motorcycle, and you're asking for suggestions on a public wine board?

Be still my beating heart!

Anyhow, in November, the crush in the Northern Hemisphere will mostly be done. Germany and middle Europe will be cold, but south France and Italy and Spain will be fine (for me a anyhow). And you're off-season, so why not see what you can come up with for Europe? It's actually a decent travel time.



Reply by Molly4006, Jun 19, 2012.

Thank you all for the great responses...and Greg, yours might be my favorite.  :)  Just for you, below is my bike on Lolo Pass. NO wine on that trip - 1800 miles in 2 1/2 days. And I just realized I parked it in an ADA spot to take the picture. Oops.

So...I'm leaning towards flying to LAX (significantly cheaper) and doing the Central Coast.  The LAX flight is the cheapest by far, and as tempting as it will be to go back to Sonoma right away - as I'm sure I'll be frustrated by how little of it I will get to see during my four days in August - I might save a return trip for next year and try something new. And the lure of the SB/PR blends...and last weekend's Wall Street Journal feature on the Paso Robles wines and wineries...and, the weather, as Foxall mentioned...are pushing me in that direction.

Washington was my early leader, but any of the flights there are significantly, significantly more expensive; of course, that changes a bit day by day. And it might be fun to do a new area of California back-to-back against Sonoma.  Virginia might be better saved for a time of year when I can more reliably take the motorcycle without the weather in the mountains playing a factor, but it's definitely something I want to do, perhaps including the North Carolina wineries around Asheville, including the Biltmore.

I note Santa Barbara really pushes the car-free experience, but I'm thinking that to really get out and do the area justice, I should rent a car...right?

And I'm saving overseas for next year...Stellenbosch in July!  Woohoo!


Reply by Richard Foxall, Jun 19, 2012.

The city of Santa Barbara is very easy without a car.  But the area surrounding it--wine country--requires one.  Of course, one of the greatest experiences you can have on a train--by yourself, anyway--is to take the train from San Luis Obispo to SB, because it goes on a stretch of coast otherwise inaccessible to civilians.  It's like ocean Eden, with whales breaching, dolphins spinning, birds skimming over the waves.  Because, other than the folks landing the shuttle at Vandenberg AFB, there's not any human footprint beside those train tracks there from SLO or so to Hollister Ranch, and even HR is limited access.

When you go to North Carolina, let me know:  My brother in law just started a NC Wine gifts website and obviously has some ideas about what he likes out there. He's in Asheville most of the year.

Poor GregT--timing is everything! Finding someone with all those attributes is pretty rare.

Reply by napagirl68, Jun 19, 2012.

Paso and santa barbara area are great ideas, since you will get your pinot in SB area (as well as other varietals, of course), and of the Rhones and Spanish varietals up in Paso (as well as big fruity cabs if you are into that)  and Zins of course.

I really like the Mourvedres, Grenaches, Cinsaults, Carignans, petit syrahs of Paso... they also have tons of great syrahs, but I am more partial to cool weather syrahs.

One area of SB I really liked was Los Olivos... one street, mucho tasting rooms... just walk to each one next door to the other.  Very cool vibe.  Mostly rhones there- some pinots.  Foxen canyon is cool too, as is Lompoc, which IMO, is SB's pinot country.

Another cool area to visit, but pretty heavy on pinot, is Willamette, Oregon.  I have tasted there and really like the pinot noirs, as well as their pinot grigios.

Sounds like a great trip, and usually good weather that early in November in central and southern california.

I also second Foxall's idea of the train....  gorgeous ride.



Reply by Molly4006, Jun 20, 2012.

Thanks, napagirl and Foxall.  Those are fantastic suggestions, and as a railroad museum director, that Coast Starlight trip is a must-do. I've ridden more trains than most, but that's one ride I've always wanted to take but haven't managed to do.

Where would you suggest staying for the trip, and should I stay in one spot for the week if I have a rental car? I've been looking at Los Olivos, Lompoc, and Santa Barbara.

And hit my favorites right on the head, and I'm finding I'm liking the cooler weather varietals as well, especially in the Syrahs. The Donelan tasting I did a few weeks ago of two of their Syrahs was especially luminating. The two vineyards reach the same average high and low temps daily, but the cooler vineyard took longer to warm and then cooled more quickly, and the difference in the two wines was amazing. I liked the more challenging, dimensional taste of the cooler Syrah.

Reply by Richard Foxall, Jun 20, 2012.

That train ride is amazing, but do it in the daylight, because you have to see the ocean life going wild.  It's inconvenient in many ways--the train is never on time because at other points in the trip, it yields to freights.  BTW, I met a guy last summer up in Ft. Bragg when I took my kids on the Skunk Train who was a firefighter (reached chief in his town in the midwest), then came out and worked as conductor on the historic trains, telling the story of the train and the logging in the area.  He said he had the best life he could imagine--having the two jobs he wanted most.  Sounds like you've been lucky, too, Molly.

But that train ride is problematic for you, unless you go to SLO and rent a car there, somehow, because you are going to have to go back the other way at some point, unless you take the train all the way from LA both ways to SLO.  Which is going to eat up too much time.  Just a thought.  Of course, you could rent a car, stay in SLO, take the train in the afternoon down to SB, spend the night there, then come back to SLO the next day on the train, but that's more than a whole day lost--but you get to do SB for one day.  Which is very walkable and very cute, and there are some decent wine shops and resataurants.  Pierre Lafond, who makes very nice cool weather Syrah for a decent price (and pinots, but I'm partial to the Syrah), has a bistro/winebar there so you could skip Buellton, where he has his winery (although as Miles and Jack showed in Sideway, Buellton is a good resting point for wine country touring).

I'm a train fanatic--went from Mexico City to Nogales one time in an old Pullman sleeper, one of the last places you can do that.  My friend Steve Yerkey (who wrote Kelly Willis's title track "Translated from Love") wrote this amazing song about the building of the train track through the Sierra Nevada and how modern "robber barons" don't give us the same value for our money, as it were.

I'll defer to JD and NapaGirl on where to stay, other than mentioning Buellton, since I have really different concerns with kids and their needs.  (I know NG has kids but their ages are different.) EMark and LingProf (and dmcker) should also weigh in on this, too, since I think they get to that area more than I do.

Reply by jtryka, Jun 20, 2012.

Wow you are a railroad museum director too?  I am somewhat frightened by our common interests!  I used to volunteer on the SP&S 700 crew in Portland when I lived there, and one of our engineers worked for Amtrak, though I think he was on the Cascades route rather than the Coast Starlight.  My recent vacation driving across country I balanced between wine, trains and national parks.  I went to the Museum of Transportation in St. Louis, then stopped by the Union Pacific Museum in Cheyenne on the way home.

I rode teh Coast Starlight from LA to Portland back in 1991 and it was a lot of fun.  I was still in college and took a trip on the train, at that time you could go anywhere you wanted around the country but the only stupilations were that you could only make at most 3 stopovers, you had to be done in 45 days and you couldn't backtrack.  So I took the train from Chicago to Las Vegas (I don't remember what they called it, but they don't even run to Vegas anymore), then from Vegas to LA, then LA to Portland on the Coast Starlight, then back home to Chicago on the Empire Builder from Portland.  It was a super fun trip, though we were delayed on the Coast Starlight by a 6.0 earthquake that hit the morning I was supposed to leave, so that delayed us a good 4-5 hours.

Last summer took the Algoma Central Railway from Sault Ste. Marie Canada to Agawa Canyon and for a day trip that sure was a lot of fun.  I'd still like to do some of the western tourist railroads someday as well, and maybe the Napa Wine Train, though I've heard that one was super expensive.

Reply by napagirl68, Jun 22, 2012.


As far as where to stay... I will give you some info, but I am by no means an expert on that area. 

Los Olivos is adorable and TINY.  It is basically one street.  When we visited there, we spent an afternoon, then stayed in Buellton which was about 10 min away.  Buellton is not fancy or picturesque, per se, but my husband wanted the Sideways (movie) experience (yawn).  It was, however, a good home base.  Close to Buellton is Solvang, a little Danish tourist trap. As you can prolly tell, I don't really care for Solvang, but many do, so look into it... it may be a place you want to stay or visit. In Buellton, we ate at the Hitching Post Restaurant (made famous by Sideways), which I found overrated and overpriced.  There were some cute tiny restaurants in tiny Los Olivos that I prolly would have preferred. 

This last time we went down, Dmcker recommended a stop at Jocko's steakhouse in Nipomo (north of the Los Olivos/Los alamos/Lompoc area) for some good santa maria tri tip.  As luck has it, we typically travel down on Easter sunday, and it was closed.  I take Dmcker's suggestions seriously, as I believe he lived in this area, and knows it well.  I hope he will also chime in here.

Anyway, last year, we stayed at a great place in Ojai after our Buellton experience.  It was the Blue Iguana Inn.  Lovely little property- great rooms, gorgeous grounds.  My only recommendation to someone going here is to ask for a room away from the road.  There is only 1-2 rooms near the road, but it is a busy highway, and can get a bit noisy at night.  But I LOVED this place.  And if you call directly and ask for deals/specials, they often beat or match or other brokers.  the thing is, Ojai is a bit far away to complete tastings in Lompoc, Los Olivos, Foxen Canyon, etc. over a few days.  If your goal is to explore this area wine-wise, I would suggest a bb in los olivos, or a motel in buellton, or Lompoc (which I know nothing about, accommodation-wise).  There are prolly other amazing bb's and inns, but I am not familiar with them.  I'm sure you've heard of it, but seems to have some honest reviews.

Santa Barbara is AWESOME and deserving of a visit; but again, it is ~40-45min away from that wine country, so maybe not the best base camp.

Paso Robles has SOOOO many wineries, you might want to consider two days up there.  I haven't stayed there myself, as I like to stay in Cambria (which is ~30-40min west) because I love Moonstone beach area  (I am an ocean freak!)  I hear there are some cool places to stay in Paso, and a look on tripadvisor or (a magazine site) might help.  I dare say, and someone correct me if I am wrong, that paso has MORE wineries/tasting rooms than SB county- which is why I recommend a couple of days here.

Maybe start in Paso- you may have to rent a car from SF or Oakland airport, or they may even offer some type of shuttle service there.  To find out about shuttles, the best places to call are the larger wineries in Paso.  I'm sure they would have that info.If you didn't have a car, you would need to look into hiring one once in Paso, as visiting the wineries here is a DRIVING thing.  Then train down to SB.  Spend a day or two exploring downtown, Stearns wharf, don't miss the botanical gardens either!  The mission is cool too, as is the zoo, much larger than I expected for SB. AND, I actually find SB's public transportation very good.  Rent a car in SB and head north... perhaps a day or two in Ojai if that's your thing.  Ojai is a new age-y little hamlet, where it is said that the air is "special" and is a healing spot.  my scientific mind laughs at that, but i have to say, that my 3 days there felt the most relaxing I've had in ages.  If you are into spa treatments, there is plenty of that in Ojai.  As well as gorgeous hiking.  Then head up to the Los Olivos/Los alamos/Santa ynez/ lompoc area for 2-3 days of tasting.   And according to Dmcker, a stop at Jocko's in Nipomo on your way back up north would be a good idea.

I can't wait to hear what you plan, and what your experiences are like.  I hope sometime after the trip, you can post some highlights here!

Reply by JonDerry, Jun 22, 2012.

Can confirm NG's point about staying north of Santa Barbara. I usually stop at Jaffurs and/or Whitcraft on my way up to the Buellton area. The motel in Buellton's also a good idea...whether you like Sideways or not the windmill days inn off the 101 works fine, though I'm sure nicer options can be found. 

Up towards Paso, here's my trip report from November, visited some of the better wineries. Central Coast is great, and pretty well under-populated.

Reply by Richard Foxall, Jun 22, 2012.

It's about 30 miles shorter from LAX to SLO than from Oakland, but the time is allegedly equivalent.  Except that driving in LA is so miserable, I'd do that trip because you go up the Ventura Coast and thru SB.  Not that Steinbeck country doesn't have its own charms, but driving the coast is more flashily beautiful.  I've done that drive as passenger or driver countless times over the last 45 years, and that's my take.

So, fly to LAX or Burbank if you get a deal there.  Drive north in a blitz to SLO, loop up to Paso Robles to taste for a day or two,then work your way  back south. I would not stay in Lompoc--it's a bit out of the way and not very pretty, mainly a military town.  (Chuck Berry did a little time at the prison there, FWIW.)  Those options in Buellton and Solvang are good and certainly SLO has some hotels right off 101.  Given the time of year, it should be possible to find decent accommodations at (for California) reasonable prices. If you want to do the train ride, you could set aside a day for that--train down, spend a night in SB, train back the next day in the afternoon/evening.

So that's just one more way to work it out.

Reply by napagirl68, Jun 23, 2012.

Foxall,  I luv you dude... but have to disagree with where to fly in....   I have done paso from both directions, and still would recommend heading down from SF or Oakland to Paso.   Yes it is an inland drive, but Molly can stop at some of the inland coastal wineries:

She may be toasted by the time she gets to paso tho! LOL!

It is all subjective, but I don't wish LA traffic on anyone, even my enemies.

I figured she'd get her coastal fix via that train ride, and since she isn't driving. 

BUT there is another idea.... she could amtrak from Oak airport/coliseum directly to paso robles.   Then stay there, hire a shuttle to taste.   then amtrak onto SB!...

It's all good... I wanna go!!!!

Reply by napagirl68, Jun 23, 2012.

BTW.... we stayed at Windmill inn..   ok if you can sleep on a rock!   the beds were granite and was very old and tired property.   I personally wouldn't stay there again.  Maybe I'm high maintenance...

Reply by JonDerry, Jun 23, 2012.

Depends on what time you're coming in to LAX. Also, price has to be taken into account...if a cheap flight can be had to LAX, it's really not such a bad drive, traffic or not, when wine country is such a short drive away. Something about heading north also...

That said, I am a fan of the Oakland airport, but LAX/ LA typically gets a worse rap than it deserves.

Reply by napagirl68, Jun 23, 2012.

JD... LAX is a decent airport... and I have flown in there many of times to head south to OC.  Traffic always a nightmare.

I can say that almost everytime/day, OAK to paso is ALWAYS 3hrs.  that's it  and normal roads, normal traffic. 

Whenever we leave OC to head back to bay area via car, the drive between OC and Castaic is ~2-3hrs, always with lower level traffic.   BTW, I once flew into LAX (early days southwest airlines) had shuttle take me to Newport Beach  I felt like I could've crossed the ALPS in that time!  Took 3.5 hrs.(shuttle only!!) my flight was faster :-(  John Wayne for me from now on, regardless of price!!!

Reply by Richard Foxall, Jun 23, 2012.

Last time I flew to LAX --JD and I met up during the tip-- I stayed right downtown on Pershing Sq. and took shuttle buses.  Wow, those bus lanes fly, but the traffic is horrible all around them.  That said, I also drove through LA a bit a year or two ago, and we timed it well and missed the traffic.  It is shorter to Paso from OAK, for sure, it's equal to SLO, but flying STL to OAK is probably not as convenient or cheap.  I like that you get into wine country earlier if you leave from LAX and go north, as JD pointed out.  The inland wineries along the Monterey Corridor are an attraction, but you can't go to Roar or Pisoni, which, for a huge fan like me, is a bummer.  (Molly, if you want a Roar tasting, I'm 15 minutes from OAK, so come on over.) Ventana, Paraiso and Hahn are all good and accessible wines--I was a big fan of Ventana before the founders sold, and even now the Rubystone is a GSM blend that kills some top Rhones. But driving thru San Jose or anywhere on 880 to get to 101 is dodgy--one accident and the whole thing looks too much like LA. Had exactly that experience going north by OAK on 880 yesterday.

That said, I knew, even as I typed it, that NG would have different, equally valid arguments.  However, I would not take the train all the way from Oakland to SB again.  Too much time on sidings, the route is not as nice as 101 inland even.  Yes, getting to throw in Monterey wineries is a bonus, and on the train, can't do.  Do the part of the coast that matters on the train until Amtrak gets right of way (never gonna happen) and the ride takes a reasonable amount of time.  This from someone who didn't even own a car for a dozen years in my 20s and 30s. 

Reply by JonDerry, Jun 24, 2012.

Can sympathize with the LAX to OC traffic situations that arise during rush hour and holiday weekends, heck that's my commute so I know it well...from Marina Del Rey-ish all the way down to San Clemente, all the way down the 405. Surprisingly, it's not so bad for me, granted I drive off-peak hours. Leave after 9am in the morning, and typically leave after 5:30-6:00 coming back. Also, that 73 helps a bit beating traffic and also makes the drive a lot safer - which I value making the drive four times a week.

However, the good news is Molly doesn't have to deal w/ LA - OC traffic. LA to Castaic can be tough, but somehow I don't it'll be so bad. There will be a little bit of rough traffic on the 405N leaving LAX (if during the day), but it should open up on the 101 if it's off-peak.

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