Solving the World in Solvang, One Glass of Wine at a Time!
California's Stand-In for Europe
Some say a vacation isn't defined by the length of the distance you go, but the ability to allow yourself to step into another world. And with Covid severely restricting airplane expeditions, the day-trip adventure has become the way to hack travel in 2020. Which is why Edible Skinny delighted in voyaging to the perfect Los Angeles Stand-In for Europe: Solvang, CA. The trip might have been just two hours north of the City of Angels, but it sure felt like a world away.
As Psychology Today reports, "vacations allow your body to "re-set' and to be more present in the moment." Even if we can't escape to Europe we still need to escape. "Worry ages a person and vacations, whether around the globe or around the backyard fire pit, allow you to turn off the worry and allow your mind to shift into neutral." A couple hours in the car and Kelly and I were overnighting to a drivable fantasy: exploring old-world European architecture, savoring Burgundy quality wines, and reveling in food experiences that rival the Food Halls of Italy.
Solvang is a little slice of Denmark in Southern California. Known as the Danish Capital of America, this tiny hamlet has the quaintness of Carmel, the wine quality of Sonoma, and the foodie experiences of Napa. The town, of course, is housed in the middle Santa Barbara wine country. This expansive wine region is composed of a patchwork quilt of micro-climates and terrains, resulting in one of the most diverse grape growing regions in the world. That's 275 plus wineries in the seven approved American Viticultural Areas (AVA) harvesting a total of 16,166 acres of land. If you close your eyes you'll think you're in the south of France.
So in preparation for your own great escape, the following are some places of note to explore when you want to discover yourself in your backyard. Here's to life being delicious, all your moments being postcard worthy, and power and love returning into your life.
THE HAMLET INN, http://www.thehamletinn.com
Upon arrival in Solvang we contactlessly checked-in to The Hamlet Inn. It's a simple hotel, but it's simplicity done right.
For a wandering traveler, a hotel space that incorporates specific individual distinctions will completely transform their time from a "hotel stay" into a "hotel experience." All of The Hamlet Inn's 15 Danish-inspired rooms are Scandanavian in design and decor from an offset sink allowing for easier access to your toiletries to the plethora of hooks to hang your clothes on to the red and white colored Danish flag bedspread. Instead of having these rooms just be a place to sleep, each space also includes a dining area, with a coffee maker and fridge, and a workstation/productivity area with lots of plugs. The free Wi-Fi was perfect for a traveling telecommuter like Kelly. On the entertainment side, the hotel offers free use of their bicycles providing guests with alternate transportation to nearby shops and wine tasting. And for those who just want to chill and drink some of the wine they bought during their day's tastings, there is an outdoor gazebo. Added bonus, vouchers at Olsen's Danish Village Bakery for a breakfast pastry the next day!
LUCAS & LEWELLEN, https://www.llwine.com
Louis Lucas and Royce Lewellen met in 1975. Louie was a third generation grape grower who had been supplying premium wine grapes for reputable Napa and Sonoma wineries for decades, while Lewellen was a Superior Court Judge who was a passionate wine enthusiast with a vision for the future of the Santa Barbara County wine industry. Over time their friendship blossomed into a 25 year old business, 400 estate acres, three major wine labels, two popular tasting rooms in downtown Solvang, and a state of the art winery.
Kelly and I sat down for some delicious wine with Michael Lewellen, Managing Partner, Sales and Marketing Director, and son of founder Royce Lewellen. 2020 was quite a year for Lucas & Lewellen. Besides the issues with the Vid, this summer was one of the hottest on record in Santa Barbara County (115, not ideal for grape growing). And then there were smoke issues from the fires in Napa and Sonoma (once again, not ideal for grape growing). But positivity prevailed and the harvest was successful! Plus the city of Solvang closed the street that their two downtown tasting rooms are located on. This allowed Lucas & Lewellen to create a patio experience tasting room so their wines could still be discovered in an al fresco environment. It's been quite a wild ride, but Lucas & Lewellan's steadfast focus has allowed their brand to have one of their best sales years to date.
Lucas & Lewellen have been crafting wine for generations, and you can taste it. All of Lucas & Lewellen wine is made with 100% estate fruit (which means the grapes are grown solely on their property) from three different vineyards from three of Santa Barbara County's separate and distinct climate zones. Each property creates a different style of grape, that when blended with an alchemist style of attention to detail create some fantastic wines for an amazing price point. And with 24 grape varieties, the permutations are endless. This is a brand where creativity is embraced.
One standout wine for Kelly and I was their "High 9" Pinot Noir. This is a limited vintage from the highest nine acre block of the Goodchild Vineyard, which also happens to be an outstanding location to grow the superior clone 667. The wine is then aged in French oak barrels, creating bright red fruit flavor and a lingering finish. As Kelly said, "It's like it's saying 'I'm here' with a lot of pucker; like it's the wink on a semicolon." An opinion that's echoed in the 91 points rating they received in the July 2020 edition of Wine Enthusiast.
Another amazing discovery was their "Cote del Sol" Cabernet. The "Side of the Sun" is Lucas & Lewellen's reserve level-Cabernet crafted from a combination of 92% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Syrah. This bottle toys with the aspects of time. The Cabernet grapes are first harvested from the "sunny side" of their Valley View vineyard. Once these grapes are grabbed, Mother Nature puts her time and effort into energizing the grapes on the more shaded side of the mountain. After a week or two these shadow grapes become more complex in nature, they too are then harvested. And while this is happening, the winery is also delaying the harvest of the 8% Syrah grapes for an extra 2-3 weeks. Even though these two varietals are not traditionally harvested at the same time, through the magic of creative farming Lucas & Lewellen make it so. Thus allowing for them to be crushed together so that the grapes, and their juices, can co-ferment. The result is a wine that hints at the secrets of dark plums and garden herbs with a subtle softness that begs for a sunset to toast to.
TOCCATA TASTING ROOM, https://www.llwine.com
Once we finished up at Lucas & Lewellen, Kelly, Michael, and myself crossed the street directly to their sister brand the Toccata tasting room. The old world meets the new world at Toccata, which pours estate-grown classic Piedmontese varietal wines. But there's no bad blood here. In the spirit of sibling harmony, if you purchase a wine tasting at one tasting room Lucas & Lewellen will take half off the regular tasting fee at the other tasting room.
All this attention to detail has created quite a following for these brands. In Santa Barbara wine country the average wine club retention rate is 2 ½ years, but for Lucas & Lewellen it's double that. Speaking about their wine club, it is a total steal at its price point. It includes bi-monthly releases of 2-3 wines to compliment each season. Wine club members automatically get 25% of the wines in the shipment and a 20% off savings on all non club wine purchases. And for those fussy drinkers, the brand will tailor your shipments to match your preferences. Their events include experiences such as the ability to prune a vine, opportunities to participate in (pre-Covid) wine cruises, and of course parties! You could say it's totally La Dolce Vita.
INDUSTRIAL EATS - RESTAURANT & BUTCHER SHOP, https://industrialeats.com
After sipping the high life, it was time for some Eats, Industrial Eats that is!
Industrial Eats is a quality focused dining experience tucked away in a repurposed warehouse on Industrial Way in Buellton, California. As its Instagram bio explains the restaurant was "born on december 9 2013 with one big ass fan and two wood fired ovens." Owners Jeff and Janet Olsson, who have operated New West Catering since 1998, said their intent with creating Eats was to open a restaurant that they themselves would want to frequent. The result was a foodie wet dream built on prices and flavors that speak to the masses.
Details matter here. The space is tattooed with graffiti of produce on its exterior walls, there's a craft butcher counter filled with house made treats, and multiple dishes unexpectedly involve caviar. Kelly and I started off with one of their "Get In My Belly," aka salads, which consisted of Smoked Pheasant, Basil, and Citrus. This lettuce had the Bliss Point perfection of the richness of a smokey gamey meat and the healthiness of farm to table veggies. One bite and we knew: this is the type of place where skilled chefs have just plain mad respect for honest ingredients grown in their backyard.
Eats' two wood fired ovens churn out thousands of seasonal dishes every year, all sourced from sustainable farms and food pioneers. So Kelly and I went for their best selling Fennel Sausage Pizza. This was no hum-drum pie, this was a lesson in gastronomy. The crust was thin and crispy, the fennel sausage was homemade, and the crispy basil on top was the piece de resistance!
THE GOOD SEED COFFEE BOUTIQUE, https://goodseedcoffeeboutique.com
The next morning, I rolled out of bed and strolled over to The Good Seed Coffee Boutique. This micro-roastery is owned by Brad and Leyla WIlliams, whose mission is to create coffee for a thoughtful life. As both a Q Grader (someone who ranks coffee quality similar to a wine comelier) and a roaster, Brad is intimately attentive to each new batch of coffee seeds for their coffee house guests and club members. The barista explained to me, "he's like a mad scientist when it comes to roasting." Dedication is what transforms dreams into a reality and when that dedication is directed toward the perfect cup of coffee the result is a cup of joe where just one sip can transport you to another universe. And just to add a bit more quickness to their tale, Brad's wife Leyla crafts and sells 8 different types of sourdough bread loaves made per pre-order, with a 3 day fermentation process beginning on Wednesday for Friday pickup. Swing by and sample one of their Superfood Lattes!
Kat Thomas is the Editor in Chief of Edible Skinny, a site dedicated to making your life postcard worthy. She is also the CEO of the creative media company This Way Adventures. You can find more about both brands at: http://www.thiswayadventures.com