Thursday, May 31, 2012

California Central Coast

When Alfred and I were driving up towards Big Sur in January, we cut across the state towards the coast about halfway between LA and San Francisco. It was cloudy and wet. The two lane highway was curving between hills we could hardly see and the lack of housing was stark compared to the millions in LA. Suddenly, all around us, there were vineyards and wineries. When I think of California wine country I think of Sonoma and Napa Valleys, greenery and lush hills. These wineries are in the middle, drier part of the state, clustered around the city of Paso Robles. (For the record there are also several wineries in Temecula, which is even farther south and even drier.) We reached the sea shore without even realizing it that January day - the fog was so thick. 

We decided to make a quick stop at Hearst Castle to see if a quick tour is possible, but thank god we didn't go that day! Not only were there not tours available that rainy morning, it would not have been worth the money to drive up the hill and not get the views. Plus we were trying to get to San Francisco up the 1 and we had a long way to go that day. We decided to return some day soon. 

Memorial weekend opened itself up as a good opportunity. The first goal was Hearst Castle, but the wineries were a close second. We found a little B&B in Cambira, the little sea-side town just down the road from Hearst, booked the last room available and spent a really nice weekend wandering the two sides of the village, perusing shops, eating good food and smelling the ocean. It was a warm, sunny weekend with hardly a cloud in the sky. 

On one side of Cambira is the ocean

And on the other are rolling hills

We stopped by a beach where Elephant Seals beach throughout the year. We were there during the molting and resting period of their cycles. Apparently all year long there are at leas some seals on this beach, resting just below the boardwalk.

Sunday afternoon we went Eastward, towards Paso Robles, where the wineries and vineyards are. It was my first time exploring a tasting room and doing any real "wine tasting", though I have been enjoying wine for a few years now. All the folks who worked in the tasting rooms were very friendly and opened about their wines, not acting like we were too naive (which we may have been). It was warm and sunny and the ground was drier than I somehow imagined it would be in a vineyard. Apparently, wines from the Rhone region of France grow best in this part of California, where the climate is nearly the same. We had several red blends that were really great. One of the folks told us that the best time of the year to come is September and October, when all the grapes are ripe and the hills look like fall leaves from other parts of the country.

One of my favorite parts of this area was the old growth oak trees that vineyard growers are not allowed to cut down. They add an ancient feel to the area.

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