- PHOTOS COURTESTY OF THE SLO VINTNERS ASSOCIATION
I’ve attended this great passport weekend event since I relocated here in early 1996, and I still look forward to it 15 years later. During the early years, I always toured Edna Valley and Arroyo Grande Valley wine country with a really fun group of wine industry women and men. One woman’s father, our designated driver, provided his RV to take our rather large group to each winery’s open house event. His designated driver (DD) ticket allowed him to enjoy food at each winery with non-alcoholic beverages, which typically included live music and special prices on wine purchases—not bad for a day of feasting that only costs the DD $30. For the imbibers like me who want to enjoy an array of wines with it all, a $55 ticket provides special wine and food pairings, tastings of future wines still aging in barrels, entertainment, and VIP discounts on bottle purchases. I swear, you can’t find a better deal for all of this.
I still have vivid memories of driving the long road out to Saucelito Canyon way out past Lake Lopez, where we’d see tarantulas crossing the dirt road. The vintners, Bill and Nancy Greenough, always provided a feast of delicious foods that we washed down with their fine ancient-vine Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon. At Edna Valley Vineyard, where they change the theme yearly, we always had the fun of joining in games, like the barrel-rolling contest. I was laughing so hard, I couldn’t roll the 55-gallon barrel (it was empty, of course) in a straight line. Obviously, that’s why it’s a good idea to have a DD. Not that we were drunk or wasted, but do keep in mind that driving high is still drunk driving and a one-way-ticket to jail. Please respect other people, as well as yourself, whenever you’re out wine tasting.
Roll Out the Barrels was created by the SLO Vintners Association, and its winery members throw fabulous open house parties, which is enough to draw most people in.
Perhaps even more popular than the passport weekend is the Barrels in the Mission Plaza event on Thursday evening, June 23, when the SLO Farmers Market is open. Mission Plaza becomes jam-packed with people who love great food and wine. There, you’ll find all of the SLO Vintners Association member wineries in one superb venue, along with local restaurants and food vendors, plus local musicians. This year’s theme is “perfect partners.” They’ve partnered the wineries with local chefs who created foods that complement the winery’s lineup. Some examples that have me excited are Baileyana/Tangent with Central Coast Seafood, Talley with Lido, and Tolosa with Meze. Of course, there are many more delicious pairings to choose from. You might try doing it like I do: Take just a bite and a sip of each combination so you have room to try most of the other combinations (I usually manage to try them all!). You can buy last-minute tickets at the plaza, and it is well worth the $30 entry fee.
On Friday night, June 24, this year’s winemakers’ dinners are some of the best they’ve ever dreamed up. Dinner at Ciopinot features five brands by the pioneering Niven family, including Baileyana, Cadre, Tangent, Trenza, and Zocker ($85 each). A dinner party with Chamisal Vineyards takes place at Ventana Grill, where guests love the extraordinary views of the Pacific Ocean ($60 each). There’s a winemaker’s stroll along the Shell Beach bluffs for a progressive dinner with Tolosa, with starters at Spyglass, the main course at Lido, and a sweet conclusion at Marisol restaurant ($100 each). For value lovers, Saucelito Canyon offers dinner with the popular local brand Cattaneo’s grilling up steaks and sausages among other treats ($55 each). By the way, Saucelito Canyon’s events are no longer held at the historic old vineyard I mentioned, but it is much more convenient now at the tasting room on Biddle Ranch Road.
The truly unique thing about this passport weekend is that it includes very special educational events rarely available to the public. Take the Riedel crystal glass seminar at Edna Valley Vineyard; it’s Sunday only, from 1 to 3 p.m. You’ll learn how dramatically different a wine can be when tasted from the appropriate wine glass. It’s a very good value at only $50 per person because you get to take the four Riedel wine glasses home with you, and they cost more than the price of admission. Unfortunately, this event is limited to 40 seats, so call now for reservations if you hope to land a spot.
You also get to visit South County wineries that rarely open to the public, like Sinor-La Vallee. I love the way winemaker Mike Sinor (also highly regarded for his wines at Domaine Alfred and Ancient Peaks) explained it on the slowine.com website: “For anyone who does not know, we rarely open our cellar doors. When we do, we keep it simple and straight to the point. No shirts, cookbooks, or those crappy pewter cork stoppers to put in a partially filled bottle of wine that you should have finished in the first place. Just authentic wines from world-class vineyards made in ultra-small quantities. Simple appetizers from local produce by chef Kim Frederick and wine by Sinor-La Vallee. Enough said.”
Contact New Times’ Cuisine columnist at firstname.lastname@example.org.