Yes, you can pair children with wine. Here is how! Take the kids to one of my favorite places in the world, The Alisal Guest Ranch in Solvang. Why is at the top of my list? Not just because the kids have free run of the place with nightly bingo, musical chairs and movies while the adults retire to the cowboy themed old-school bar, but more importantly because during the day as they search for frogs and play in the pool, we can hire a sitter for them and a car for us to explore the truly world-class wineries of the Santa Ynez Valley. Here is a round-up of some of my favorites and a few restaurants not to miss along the way:
While not exactly resort-adjacent, a drive through the sun-dappled hills will take you to the town of Lompoc, home to some of the most exciting up and coming small production wines. Get over the fact that you are in the middle of an industrial park and lose yourself in the tastings available at the following:
Jalama for Mark Cargasacchi’s traditionally-made small-lots wines, the Italian varietals at Palmina, Syrahs from Stolpman, Samsara for Chad and Mary Melville’s vineyard-driven Pinots and Syrahs (and Rose if you’re lucky) and finally Tyler for its delicate and gorgeously bottled Pinots. Just make sure you have room in your car for all the bottles, growlers and magnums that will make it back to the ranch with you.
An easy few minutes from The Alisal, this is one of my top places to walk and taste.
Favorite bites include a sandwich first at Panino to fuel you up or a dinner post-tasting at Sides Hardware & Shoes. And don’t forget bribes for the kids at Enjoy Cupcakes along the way.
As for the tasting:
Andrew Murray for his big, namesake un-filtered, un-fined wines.
Byron for Ken Brown’s delicious Pinots and Chardonnay.
Carhartt for the way-too comfy lounging chairs on the cozy back-patio. My pick for the best place to end your day and meet new friends.
Epiphany for the brand new, drop-dead gorgeous tasting room and impressive wines from Eli Parker of the famed Fess Parker family.
Refugio Ranch for the white and red Rhones in a room with classic Western flair and on occasion, cooking classes.
Tensley for Joey and Jennifer, a husband and wife team making some of the country’s most-applauded Syrahs (Joey) and one of my favorite Roses (Jennifer.)
And finally a few places I always make sure is in my car’s GPS for stocking up before heading home. They include:
Beckmen: Where you will find some of my favorite go-to wines from this region. And the kids love the tasting room because of the picture-perfect picnic table and duck pond. Not a bad place to propose either…
Cold Heaven: Morgan Clendenen is renowned for her Viognier, but doesn’t mean you should miss the Syrahs and Pinots.
Foxen: Sustainable wine-growers since 1989 in a solar-powered winery featuring stand-out Pinots found at the end of one of my favorite romantic drives.
And a final stop at the always-classic, always-delicious Hitching Post for a flight of their wines, kid-friendly atmosphere and a steak for the road. And don’t forget to feed the birds at OstrichLand USA but be warned, they are hungry not just for their feed, but for fingers too.
Here is reason to go soon, The Garagiste Festival is happening March 29th and 30th where you can taste the best from those breaking the rules and making new ones, as they turn-out some awesome small-production wines. But, in case your travels don’t find you there for a bit, here is one of my favorite desserts from The Alisal. Easy and a crowd-pleaser- just don’t forget the vanilla ice cream.
Chef Pascal Godé
Preheat oven to 350°
1 cup sugar
¾ cup oats
¾ cup corn syrup
1 cup melted butter
1 cup shredded sweetened coconut
1 Tablespoon vanilla
Dash of salt
Put in an unbaked pie shell and bake for 45-55 minutes.
Makes 1 pie