How early do you start planning your vacations? If you’re like me, it starts a week before you want to get away. That’s exactly how I planned my Santa Barbara wine tour weekend. I like to call it spontaneous, not last minute. Hair done, nails painted, and of course, shopping for a cute outfit a day or two before leaving.
This trip was full of excitement, exploring, experimenting, celebration and love. I got to share it with some of my favorite Texans, which made it even better. Here’s a little recap, straight from the AshLee Frazier diary chronicles.
Wednesday, Day 1: Friends from Texas arrive. We drive early in the morning to Santa Barbara. One couple in the group, Garth and Kelly, is vegan, so we ate at Mesa Verde. I ate the California Salad, which was amazing. I also had a few bites of the BLTA. What’s that? Lemme tell you. Grilled flatbread, heirloom tomato, avocado, tempeh bacon, tahini, dijon, and pickles. That’s right, tempeh bacon.
For you vegans out there, you must check out Garth’s book. It’s all about how the obsession with meat is killing us. I am a happy meat eater, but I was still convinced by a lot of stuff he wrote about. It’s definitely worth a look, and I think in the future we’ll be seeing a lot more vegans.
For dinner we went to Bouchon. Not to be confused with the Bouchon in Beverly Hills. Then home to catch some zzz’s.
Thursday, Day 2: Vacation really begins. Today is Garth’s birthday. What a great day to celebrate. First stop, Melville winery. Melville is known for their cold-climate Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Syrah grown in their exclusive estate vineyards in the Santa Rita Hills. This was no ordinary wine tasting – Chad Melville himself, owner and head winegrower, was our personal tour guide and lead us through our private tasting. He’s one of the most passionate guys I’ve ever met. He clearly knows what he’s doing.
At one point he picked up a vine that was quite large and had broken off from the root. He picked it up and explained why and how the vine may have died, either by disease or freezing to death (not necessarily in California but in other wine countries). Chad walked us down the grape allies and talked about the soil, showed us how the vines lay, how far apart the vines grow and how the grapes are measured out to grow in a specific order to produce a certain amount. The older the vine, the less it will produce, which creates more expensive wine. Who knew? His vineyard is the definition of organic. More organic than even the government would label it as.
Honestly, I could go on forever about my Melville experience but I’ll leave you with this: you should go!
Next wine stop: Jonata (Santa Barbara’s Santa Ynez Valley). Here, we made a needed lunch stop. Instead of going to the winery itself we went to the winery’s estate in Ballard Canyon where we sat with Wayne Kelterer. Not only did he give us some unique information about wine, we learned the history of the company. Which I personally loved. The estate grounds were something out of a fairy tale movie. I didn’t want to leave.
Our final private tasting was at Gavin Chanin, (Proprietor and Winemaker) of Chanin Winery. Now this was a completely different experience than the other two. And it’s not because we were two wine tastings deep (trust me, 1 wine tasting is enough). Poor Gavin didn’t really have our full attention because we were so tired, and our energy was sparse. Nevertheless, I learned something new and fascinating: you know how you can get that overbearing buttery taste in Chardonnay? When you ferment wine in steal barrels versus oak barrels, you get rid of that taste. I had no idea. I thought all chardonnays were full of the butteriness. Fun fact: Gavin was listed under Forbes’ Under 30 Top Wine Makers. I’m impressed.
Dinner was at Stonehouse, listed in Wine Enthusiast America’s 100 Best Wine Restaurants in 2015.
Friday, Day 3: Today is a little different. We are taking a break form the wine all day private tours and having dinner at the house. Today is Vadim’s birthday. Yep, another birthday. I told you there was a lot to celebrate on this trip. This evening we have a private chef coming in. It’s an all-vegan menu, but I’m not nervous. Again, I love meat but I am not opposed to learning new recipes that I can take home and recreate. Every time I am around vegan food it inspires some artistic creativity in me.
The girls head to the town square, but I stay back at the beautiful house alone to catch up on some work and relax. Sometimes I have a hard time sleeping in beds other than mine, so I felt exhausted. Around lunch time I catch up with the crew and we all ate at Bella Vista at the Four Seasons. Bella Vista Restaurant is one of Santa Barbara’s most beautiful al fresco oceanfront dining experiences. OpenTable has bestowed Bella Vista with 2015 Diner’s Choice Awards in ten different categories. They weren’t kidding. This is stunning. Proving yet again why I decided to move to California. I’m a little over an hour away from my home and in Paradise. Houston can’t compare.
(sorry for the blurry image. Chef is a chef, not a photographer!)
Dinner is just as glorious as I expected. The private chef cooks some delicious food and he is a joy to be around. We also do a blind wine tasting of 8 wines total and pick our top 3 favorites. I like to close my ears off to everyone’s description of the wine. Once I hear the describing word, I can’t get the flavor out of my mind and it tends to overpower my own opinions. For example, if someone says they taste grass, then that’s all that stand out to me. So I took control and tried to not listen… you try that…it’s not easy. Ha.
Saturday, Day 4: The Oak Restaurant at Ojai Valley Inn. The Oak features locally sourced products, many of which come from our resort herb garden. Al fresco dining under the vine-covered pergola offers dramatic views overlooking 200-year-old Oak trees, golf course and sweeping mountain vistas.” This day was not only a special day just spending time with some of the sweetest friends I know but Doug proposed to his girlfriend, Melissa. He took her off to this sweet little tea garden and asked for her hand in marriage. He told her he had to check on the arranged surprised table for the boys birthday. Then he popped the question. Melissa’s ring is beautiful and she is so deserving of love. I couldn’t be happier for the both of them. Doug is lucky to have found her.
(left to right)
Dinner was quiet. This trip feels like it’s gone on forever. Maybe because it was so packed with food, wine and travel. It was a none stop pleasure but exhausting in the end. We ended up eating at The Lark. This was an amazing dinner. I was still full from lunch so that was kind of a bummer but trust me. I will be back. This place is one of these sharing style restaurants. Erica and I shared because we didn’t want to share with everyone else…love her for that. We had Deviled Eggs, Crispy Brussel Sprouts, Hamachi Crudo and Grilled Spanish Octopus. I did have a few bites of the Moroccan Spiced Chickpea Tagine. That would be my first choice next time.
As happy as I am to be heading back to pack for our early arrival I am ready to get home and see Bailey. I’ve missed him terribly.
Sunday it rained. The heavens cried to see us leave. The best part is I am not far and I am already making plans to go back to Melville and visit the wine bars of Santa Barbara.
Wonder if I could ever move there.
To be continued…