Wine country has a way of taking on the feel of how you choose to explore it. What I mean is that vineyards look a whole lot different from the tinted window of a limo than they do from the seat of a bicycle (both are good). But I think I just found my favorite vineyard view—“glamping” in the middle of one, with maybe a Jeep trip thrown in.
The vineyard in question was at Byron in Santa Barbara County’s cool Santa Maria Valley. We (a group of wine writers) were there on the invitation of Jackson Family Wines, owners of Byron and neighboring Cambria Winery, to take a deep dive into the history, weather, and soils of the region to get an up-close feel for why the Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs grown there—many, many of which we tasted (I’m told the 30 or so of us went through upwards of 2,000 glasses in a day and a half)—are special.
So they planted us in tents right on the soil, with full-on exposure to the foggy wind that whips up between 3:00 and 4:00 every afternoon, keeping the vines cool and therefore the acids high … But these weren’t just any tents. They were wired. Our comfy beds sported down comforters (and chocolates at night). Our feet hit silky cowhides on the floor when we crawled out in the morning.
Focused tastings and detailed clone discussions were interspersed with dinner supplied by local artisan food purveyors (ridiculously good sample menu below), a beef-cut lesson from a Santa Maria Barbecue legend, live music around the campfire—and yes, a Jeep vineyard tour.
Wines I loved:
Au Bon Climat 2010 Bien Nacido Historic Vineyard Chardonnay ($35)
A zippy balance of florals and pineapple around a core of lovely bruised-apple flavors (a good thing in Chard)
Cambria 2010 Bench Break Chardonnay ($32)
Bright, fresh layers of lemongrass, apple, pineapple, and stone fruit, with a touch of vanilla from new oak.
Foxen 2011 Sanford & Benedict Vineyard Chardonnay ($37)
Spicy quince and Asian Pear with an earthy underlining of minerally wet stones.
And a trio of Pinots, all from Julia’s Vineyard:
Cambria 2009 Julia’s Vineyard Pinot Noir ($25)
Dark cherry fruit spiced up with sassafras and perfumed with violets.
Foxen 2009 Julia’s Vineyard Pinot Noir (60)
Tart red cranberry fruit touch with cloves, cinnamon, and black tea.
Hartley Ostini 2009 Julia’s Vineyard Pinot Noir ($42)
A big, dark-souled wine, its black fruit coming in with a little cola kick on the finish.