Matthew Moraca and Becky Lukas enjoy the wine tasting at Epiphany Cellars, one of a dozen tasting rooms in Los Olivos.(Photos by Marlene Greer / Correspondent)
35 miles north of Santa Barbara off Highway 154
Accommodations: Fess Parker’s Wine Country Inn & Spa, 2860 Grand Ave. (805) 688-7788; www.fessparker.com. $300-$495 per night, includes breakfast.
By Marlene Greer
Tom Olmsted has been pouring wine at Epiphany Cellars, one of a dozen tasting rooms in Los Olivos, for three years. He does it with style and a touch of humor.
“You can tell a good wine by its color; it should be clear,” Olmsted explained to a couple of tourists visiting this small town in Santa Ynez wine country 35 miles north of Santa Barbara and 5 miles from Solvang.
“First you sniff, then your swirl and sniff again,” he continued. “Take a sip. Swirl it around your mouth. Cover all your taste buds. Swallow. Then put down your glass and say, ‘Damn that’s good.’ “
His method works.
Visitors laughed as they worked their way through the seven wines uncorked that day. Everything from Marsanne and Grenache to Roussanne and petite sirah were available for sampling.
Los Olivos might be an upscale town, with a couple pricey restaurants and even costlier boutiques and art galleries, but it has a down-home spirit.
Across the street at the tiny Carhartt tasting room, proprietor Mike Carhartt entertains the packed house with tales of his family and life on the farm.
Carhartt grows 13 acres of grapes on the ranch he grew up on just a few miles from town. His bar is adorned with photos and T-shirts sporting his company brand.
One photo shows his son, Chase, at a young age (he’s now in his 20s) in a tub full of red grapes. He named his 2007 rose, Chase the Blues Away, after his son.
Wine tasting brings most visitors to Los Olivos. Fortunately, it’s priced for the average pocketbook.
Wine tasting rooms run from the elegant Andrew Murray Vineyards and upscale Consilience to the simple Longoria and cozy Carhartt.
All charge a fee of $5 to $12 per person to sample six or seven varieties. Some even allow guests to share and take home a souvenir glass.
At Los Olivos Home Grown, owner Paul Poulmer sells many varieties of organic garlic and onion.
“There are 60 different kinds of garlic,” Poulmer told a shopper who had never seen so many colorful bulbs.
Poulmer’s grandparents moved to Los Olivos in 1907. His grandfather opened a blacksmith shop, while his grandmother worked in the post office for 50 years.
Poulmer grows garlic on his three-acre farm. He sells his specialties for $10 a pound. Choices include Chinese purple, Tuscan and Xian garlic. Among the onions, the Southern bell red stands out as the most vibrant.
Located just down from Poulmer’s is Wine Country Home, a country store that sells everything related to wine. Here, shoppers can pick up an elegant picnic basket, wine glasses, wine racks and wine chillers.
And then there’s the town celebrity, actor-turned vintner Fess Parker.
Famous for his roles as frontiersmen Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone in the 1950s and ’60s, he owns Fess Parker’s Wine Country Inn and Spa in Los Olivos, as well as a winery only 10 minutes away.
A longtime resident of Santa Barbara County, Parker can often be seen walking around town or dining in the hotel restaurant.
“He’s here all the time,” said the desk clerk who checked us in at Parker’s inn. “He was just in here yesterday having dinner.”
Parker may effuse downhome charm, but his 21-room Victorian-style inn is all about luxury.
The rooms are spacious and plush. Each features a fireplace, king-sized bed, down comforter and sitting area. Wrap yourself in one of the comfortable robes for a trip to the outdoor hot tub and pool.
Parker bought the property, formerly the Grand Hotel, in 1998. Rooms are pricey, starting at $300 on weeknights. This include a sumptuous breakfast, which may be enjoyed on the hotel’s front porch or in a beautiful interior courtyard.
Much of Los Olivos, though casual, is on the pricey side.
Dinner for two on the wisteria-covered patio at Los Olivos Wine Merchant and Cafe runs $120 with wine and appetizer. Though we didn’t dine at the Side Street Cafe, a look at its menu suggested a similar cost.
Sandwiches and salads for $8 can be purchased at Panino for a takeout picnic or to dine at its sidewalk tables.
Be sure to check the beautiful art galleries. Prices range from a couple hundred to several thousand dollars.
At the Judith Hale Gallery, the “Turning Point” bronze by Victor Fisher costs $15,000, while Robin Cappon’s Patronus bronze is $8,000. But there are other beautiful pieces for much less. The sculpture garden in the rear is well worth a stroll just for the humorous and unique ironworks.
Another interesting stop is Gallery Los Olivos. The co-op gallery features the work of 40 local artists working in a variety of media, including oils, watercolors, pastels, photography, metal and clay.
Check out the wines bars in Los Olivos and learn how to sniff, swirl, sip and swallow.