Los Olivos offers rustic allure as a wine country getaway

Rusack Vineyards produces pinot noir, syrah, chardonnay and more. (Courtesy photo)

Years ago, we discovered the charm of Los Olivos when it was still a hidden gem. The exposure from the 2004 film, “Sideways,” and the surrounding vineyards, brought it more visitors. But the authentic appeal remains as the culinary options have increased. Today, it offers a getaway for those seeking rustic charm and access to extraordinary wineries and restaurants.

With a population of just 1,000, Los Olivos is one of five small communities within the Santa Ynez Valley, 40 minutes north of Santa Barbara and a few miles east of Solvang. It sits in the middle of the warmer Santa Ynez Valley AVA (American Viticultural Area), east of Highway 101, but is a short drive to the cooler Santa Rita Hills AVA where pinot noir and chardonnay vineyards extend west from Buellton to the Pacific Ocean.

Historically a stagecoach and railroad stop, Los Olivos remained concealed within oak-studded foothills for decades, seen only from cars passing along Highway 154 that connects with Santa Barbara via the San Marcos Pass. Today, even with more tourists, the quaintness remains along with the old flag pole that sits in the middle of the town’s main intersection.

Where to Stay

Fess Parker Wine Country Inn is the only hotel in the downtown area. Actor Fess Parker, who brought Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone to life for many baby boomers, was a long-time resident, property and business owner in the Santa Ynez Valley and purchased this luxury hotel years before his death. Pricy, but

convenient, the inn is steps from everything the town has to offer. The Ballard Inn and Gathering Table is only a few minutes from town. And there are more than ample hotel rooms in the nearby Danish-style town of Solvang. Additionally, vacation rentals, some associated with local wineries, are readily available for groups, as well as of course, Airbnb and other similar short-stay rentals.

Where to Taste

The appellations of north Santa Barbara County are among the best in California and there are copious opportunities for wine tasting. Two of the areas finest producers of syrah, Tensley Wine Co. and Stolpman Vineyards, have downtown Los Olivos tastings rooms across the street from each other on Alamo Pintado Avenue.

Joey Tensley has earned accolades and recognition in recent years for his syrah and other varietals including the 2017 Colson Canyon Vineyard Syrah ($42) and the 2017 Syrah Santa Barbara County ($28) while Stolpman Vineyards, one of the largest in the region produces many fine wines like the co-fermented sangiovese/syrah blend, La Croce 2016 ($66) and the Hilltops Syrah 2016 ($42).

A few miles west of town, I recommend stops at Lincourt Vineyards, part of Foley Family Wines specializing in pinot noir and chardonnay, and Rusack Vineyards which produces pinot noir, syrah, chardonnay and other varietals in Ballard Canyon, outside of Solvang as well as on Santa Catalina Island.

Rusack Vineyards produces pinot noir, syrah, chardonnay and more. (Courtesy photo)

East of Los Olivos, along the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail, visitors will find a plethora of tasting rooms including the Fess Parker Winery estate and one of my favorite experiences, well worth the effort to find it.

The relaxed and hospitable Demetria Estate, on a secluded mountain top further up the trail, features fine Rhône and Burgundy style wines such as the “North Slope” Syrah ($44) with five percent viognier, the “Eighteen” Chardonnay ($49) and a grenache-based blend called “Pantheon” ($47).

Where to Eat

Although its reach was broadened, foodies discovered the Los Olivos Wine Merchant Cafe long before it was featured in the film, “Sideways”. A diverse menu, exquisitely prepared food, great wine selections, pleasant atmosphere and perfect location make it a must when visiting.

As the local dining scene has matured, Los Olivos Cafe has been joined by restaurants like Sides Hardware and Shoes (lunch only), the upscale casual Bear and Star, Greek cuisine in Petros and the historic Mattei’s Tavern, all located within steps of each other.

For a more casual lunch, try Panino, in the heart of town, the landmark Los Olivos Grocery minutes down the road or The Doggy Door, a sweet little stand that features both vegan or beef hot dogs plus gourmet sandwiches.

To work off the food and wine, I suggest a casual walk around town to enjoy the eclectic collection of garden sculptures at J. Woeste Home and Garden Treasures, classic western goods at Jedlicka’s Saddlery, the labyrinth at St. Mark’s-in-the-Valley Episcopal church and a refreshment at Corner House Cafe, set in a building that dates back to the 1880s. They truly reveal the genuine rustic charm of Los Olivos.

Lyle W. Norton is a wine enthusiast and blogger in Santa Rosa who has written a wine column for 15 years. Visit his blog at www.lifebylyle.com or email him at sfewine@gmail.com. He is a guest columnist.

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