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Trail Guide

Kristen Schott | June 27, 2017 | Story California Destinations

There’s a gem
of a place along California’s Central Coast that those in the know consider their little secret—despite a certain movie that took us sideways through the region and left us light-headed from too many pours. The Santa Ynez Valley has gained notoriety over the years. However, it has somehow retained its untouched aura, making any vacation here feel as if you’ve discovered a land of plenty—one ripe with small-production wine from the five American Viticultural Areas (pinot noir and chardonnay are king, though sparkling sips and gamay are on the rise), fresh fare (courtesy of the strong agriculture industry) and passion from the folks who deliver it (you won’t find a lackadaisical soul here).

Six communities dot the area: the eponymous Santa Ynez, where the ghosts of cowboys past stroll amid contemporary fixings; Ballard, but blink and you’ll miss it; Buellton, with its burgeoning, funky culinary scene; Los Alamos, home to Los Angeles expats and a few famous faces; Los Olivos, dubbed a snow globe by winemaker Keith Saarloos; and Solvang, a kitschy Danish town.

The best way to experience it is by staying at The Landsby (1576 Mission Drive, 805.688.3121) in Solvang’s downtown district. The playful boutique hotel pays homage to its surroundings with modern Scandinavian designs and punchy art from area artists. Book the trilevel Tower suite (from $499 per night); its two-person jetted soaking tub is worth it. Don’t worry; Solvang has much more than Danishes and clogs: It’s expected to get its first five-star hotel in the next two years. Settled in? Here’s what to taste next.

At Casa Dumetz Wines (tastings $15), lovable winemaker and owner Sonja Magdevski shares her penchant for grenache and wine-cider co-fermentation, the latter via her Clementine Carter label.

Stroll through Los Olivos (tasting prices vary) for sips from a cluster of tasting rooms (Crawford Family Wines and The Bubble Shack, among them). And at Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe, owners Sam and Shawnda Marmorstein pair their Bernat label with dishes crafted with produce from their farm.

A bucolic two-lane road gives way to a splash of history at the Terlato family-owned Sanford Winery (the first vineyard in the Santa Rita Hills was planted here in 1971). Book a private vertical tasting ($90) to sample different pinot vintages—ask about the limited-release sparklings too.

The brainchild of Jamie Gluck, the bustling Bell Street Farm is stocked with tchotchkes from local artisans and filled with friends lunching on the soup of the day; it’s always vegan and packed with flavor.

The recently revamped The Gathering Table at the Ballard Inn is a refined, welcoming destination where executive chef and owner Budi Kazali deftly blends new American flavors with Asian fare. The special spring rolls, with their peanut sauce, are based on his mother’s recipe.

S.Y. Kitchen dishes out an unexpected serving of contemporary Italian sophistication. It’s run by chef Luca Crestanelli, and Kathie and Mike Gordon of Brentwood’s famed Toscana; the octopus salad and off-menu Back Garden cocktail are the talk of the town.

Santa Barbara County’s first olive oil producer, Theo Stephan, leads curated tastings of EVOO and natural-fruit vinegars at her open-air Global Gardens (tastings $5, price for custom experiences upon request). Favorites include the Backyard and Lisbon Lemon.

If dining at Industrial Eats, a relaxed eatery frequented by notable wine-industry folks, isn’t enough, then take a two-day butchery class ($150 per day) with owner Jeff Olsson for the skinny on cutting, casing and curing.

Become a Monopole member at Pence ($400 to $600 per shipment) to be treated to an all-terrain vehicle tour (with founder Blair Pence) of the 200-acre working ranch’s vines—the team specializes in Burgundian wine and was among the first in the region to introduce gamay—multiple venues, peacocks and more. You’ll also gain access to the soon-to-be completed ranch amenities.

Originally published in the May/June issue of Silicon Valley

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