Archive for category Central Coast

Day Trip – Avila Beach, CA

As winter draws to a close, I always start dreaming of warmer places.  So this seems like a great day to talk about one of my favorite “accidental” California wine country discoveries – the tiny coastal town of Avila Beach.

While poring over our map on a recent Central Coast trip, we spotted a small cluster of wineries on the coast that we’d never noticed before.  Given that we’d driven past it dozens of times on California’s 101 freeway, we were a little surprised at our oversight – how had we never heard of Avila Beach?Avila Map

Only a few minutes from the bustling Paso Robles/SLO wine region, Avila Beach is a popular, yet uncrowded destination for many California golfers and beach goers with a unique history.  In the mid 90’s, a ruptured oil pipeline had rendered Avila Beach uninhabitable.  The state of California sued, and the oil companies spent a record-setting $200 million cleaning up the mess.  In the process,  the entire town was literally razed and re-built. Today, Avila Beach is a clean, charming town bustling with shops, restaurants, wineries and hotels.

If you’re looking for a break from the usual wine country scene, Avila Beach is the perfect day trip.  Once you make the short drive from Paso, you’ll find plenty of free curbside parking.  Ditch the car because you can walk the entire town easily.  In the center of town, four wineries (a good number for a day trip) have tasting rooms to keep you busy: Alapay Cellars, Peloton Cellars, Morovino Winery, and 2nd Chance Winery.  There is a fifth – Kelsey See Canyon – that’s on your way into/out of town as well.  Tastings are reasonable – less than $10 per person – and always waived with bottle purchase.  Most also offer wines by the glass.

Photo Courtesy of Flickr

Photo Courtesy of Flickr

Avila boasts plenty of great restaurants, but I recommend grabbing some tacos from Taco Shack (it’s better than the name suggests) and have lunch on the beach.  Save the nicer places for dinner, where you can grab a table by the ocean an enjoy a more relaxing meal.  If you need a pick-me-up, there are a couple of great local coffee shops as well.  I’ve also been told that a soak in the hot tubs at Sycamore Mineral Springs is an absolute must.

Given the touristy vibe of the place, we didn’t have the highest of hopes for the wines.  Perhaps that’s why we were so incredibly thrilled with what we tried.

Alapay and Peloton both featured solid, well-made wines – a number of which came from high-profile vineyards.  Some crowd-pleasers, but also some fantastically complex wines as well.

Morovino offers a fun take on Italian varietals, while 2nd Chance is the second label for Cottonwood Canyon, should you happen to be a fan of their wines.

While we didn’t get a chance to visit Kelsey See, they look to be a worthy stop as well.  Along with the usuals, they also pride themselves on making apple wine – a gutsy move in this part of California.

So next time you’re in the Central Coast and need a break from the norm, take a day trip to Avila Beach.  You won’t regret it!

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Gift Basket Surprise

We just got around to opening our last bottle from a Wine Country Gift Basket that we received last Christmas.  The basket included a bunch of snacks plus a Chardonnay and a Cabernet Sauvignon.  The wines were from someplace called Kiarna Vineyards – a winery I’d never heard of.  Honestly, I’d expected the wines to be horrible, so I had been procrastinating on opening them.

Google revealed that KiarnaVineyards is owned by Houdini, Inc. – the parent company of Wine Country Gift – and is one of several house brands that Houdini owns to supply their gift basket business.  In other words, you won’t see these wines in stores.

According to Kiarna’s web site they produce five different wines.  Kiarna claims the wines come from Monterey, California;  however, the wines are only labeled as “California” which means the grapes could be from anywhere in the state.

2013-04-03 05.04.13Upon finally trying the wines, we were pleasantly surprised!  While neither of the wines were show-stoppers, they were both well-made with decent levels of complexity and balance.  The Chardonnay was crisp with lots of lemon and green apple flavors, hints of butterscotch and even some raw hazelnut.  The Cabernet was effervescent and tart, with notes of cola, strawberries and raspberries.  Both wines seemed  “sticky” which made be wonder if  there was some  extra sugar added to the mix.  Both also claim to be barrel aged, but unlike many California wines, the oak was subtle – a big plus if you prefer European wines.

According to Kiarna, both wines are medal winners at various wine competitions – a measure regarded by many as a better indicator of quality than the “100-point scale” reviewer ratings.

Wine Country Gift Baskets will ship the Kiarna wines to Kentucky, as well as baskets containing their other “house” wines, which is why I’m mentioning them on my Kentucky wine blog.  (Baskets containing wines from larger wineries are ineligible for shipment here.)

So if you happen to get one of these baskets as a gift, you can rest easy knowing the wines are perfectly drinkable, if not even enjoyable!


Gumbo Spirituality

I saw this posted on the wall at the Big Sky Cafe in downtown San Luis Obispo the other day.  I really like it.

Gumbo Spirituality
By Father Anthony Hemphill

In the house of the just there are
ample resources. –Proverbs 15:6

In the South one of the favorite
dishes is called “gumbo.” The ingredients
are commodities that are available and
cheap. Some cost nothing more than
the patience of shrimping and crabbing.
Each family over the years developed
their own recipe and styles.
True spirituality has characteristics
of gumbo. It takes advantage of what
is commonplace and available. It takes
advantage of everyday events and
every event. It sees the extraordinary in
the ordinary. God is seen in all events.
Each person develops his or her special
style of spirituality as each cook has an
individual style of gumbo.
The saints knew how to use the
ordinary to grow in extraordinary
virtue. They had the extraordinary gift
to see God in the ordinary.
Father, send us your Spirit to teach
us to use the ordinary to create the
extraordinary. Give us the wisdom to
see You in every event of our lives.