Before we get started, you may notice that I’ve changed the banner image for the blog. It’s not the best photo, my phone is very old, but hopefully we can change that soon. It should give you an impression of a “diagonal oenophile”–two people laying on a hill and contemplating a constellation that looks like a wine glass. You know, Riedelesus?
So, about today’s post: if you’ve been wine tasting in the Santa Barbara area, you’ve probably been to Los Olivos, a tiny, compact town with a lot of tasting rooms. You may have realized that it’s incredibly hectic, like a circus really, on weekends.
Or maybe you haven’t gone, but if you’re planning a trip to the area, you most definitely will go through Los Olivos. This list will give you ideas for how to avoid the crowds and make the best of it.
1. DON’T GET DRUNK RIGHT AWAY.
The most important tip. Los Olivos has dozens of tasting rooms, sometimes smashed right up against one another. It’s really easy to wander out of one into another, and before you know it, you’re slurring your speech. It’s a really easy way to embarrass yourself and lose credibility with the pourer, or your friends.
There are three ways to prevent this:
a) Plan out your route in advance–you can use wine books or Yelp to advise you where to go. The Wine for Dummies series and Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book are both excellent for finding suggestions. Yelp will point you towards places that are both delicious and friendly.
b) Spit or pour your wine–that’s what the spit buckets are for. Personally, I find spitting really awkward–I’m not a professional wine critic. You can do just as well to take one or two sips and pour the rest out.
c) Split a tasting with one or two other people. This has the advantage of also giving your wallet a break.
2. Get out early to avoid the crowds.
If you start your day right when the wineries open, you’ll be sure to get some personal time with the pourer, and get out of the first place with plenty of time to get to the rest of your list. If you only go to four places, you could be done by lunchtime if you were efficient, and take an afternoon nap.
Alternatively, you can go during a weekday. Some of our best tasting room experiences have been on a Monday through Friday, because we were the only ones there.
When it’s slower, you can get extra pours and really have a nice dialogue with the pourer. On that note…
3. Bend the pourer’s ear.
They usually know a lot about wine, and can teach you a lot about the climate and geography of the area. They can also tell you how a particular vintage was (rainy and crappy, hot and dry), and like I said, if you’re lucky, they’ll pour you a bunch of stuff not on the list. Pourers also know which other wineries are good, which brings us to:
4. Be willing to go off your plan…with discretion.
As I said before, if you hit every tasting room on the block, you’ll end up with a big hangover. But if you leave a little wiggle room in your plans, pourers (or other wine drinkers) can point you to a couple of great places. Sometimes, pourers have coupons for free tastings to pass out.
5. The secret bathroom!
A drawback of Los Olivos is that none of the tasting rooms have bathrooms. There is a large trailier with outhouses instead, which may or may not have toilet paper, and a line.
If you go towards the West end, out by Byron, you’ll find St. Mark’s in the Valley Episcopal Church. They have a free bathroom–a nice bathroom–for anyone who needs it. Probably less crowds, too.
6. If you’re visiting during the summer, bring a cooler.
This is to take your wine home in, if you’re driving. If you’re flying, and you have a cool hotel room, no matter. But I’ve ruined bottles of wine before by leaving them in a hot car. Keeping a cooler with some ice to put them on until you get home prevents that.
7. Buy lunch ahead of time.
Lunch crowds also get pretty thick. You can get sandwiches to go early in the day, then eat them in the park when you’re ready. Or, you can do like we like to do, and pack a picnic lunch.
8. Don’t forget to visit Los Olivos Wine Merchant and Cafe.
It’s a great way to see a piece of “Sideways” history (come on, admit it, you loved the movie). This is where Miles, Jack, Maya and Stephanie have their bacchanalian dinner. It’s a lot easier to get into than The Hitching Post, which is more famous, and it’s also friendlier to vegetarians.
You can also pick up a bottle of wine here that you may have regretted not buying during the day, since they have a wide selection of Santa Barbara wines.
See you in Los Olivos! (And I will not be slurring my speech!)