Exploring the Arroyo Grande Wine Trail
I am speeding along the breathtakingly beautiful Central Coast of California on my way to Arroyo Grande to discover wine. The Arroyo Grande AVA is comprised of six wineries and lots of grape growers. It is one of the coolest AVA’s growing primarily Chardonnay, Pinot noir, Syrah, and Zinfandel. As a wine region, it flies under the radar, which makes me eager to experience its charms. I am looking forward to discovering some new wineries and favorite wine. Twenty-four hours is too short to really explore this region, which only gives me a reason to return.
The adventure begins at Gather Wine Bar, where owner Kari greets me with a chilled glass of Chardonnay from local Center of Effort Winery. It is crisp, bright, and has lemon, verbena, and green apple flavors. While I ponder the menu of gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches she brings me a bacon-wrapped date, mouthwateringly delicious. I settle on the BLT grilled cheese, and she pours a Lucy Rose, dry and refreshing, perfect with the BLT’s warm melted cheese and house-made tomato jam. Gather features 30 to 40 wines from California’s Central Coast and local, handcrafted beer, as well as provides wine for sale and picnic accoutrements. The wine bar offers live music on the weekends and a spacious outdoor patio to enjoy wine and a snack.
While Center of Effort is only open by appointment, with a call from Kari they agree to fit me in. The winery is buzzing with activity, just weeks away from harvest. It is a relatively small wine producer, specializing in estate Chardonnay and Pinot noir. We sample Pinot noir from the current release and several barrel samples, all of it with bold, rich, black fruit characteristics enhanced by two years of barrel aging.
Talley Vineyards is surrounded by farms and has a beautiful courtyard and outdoor seating. In the bright tasting room they take me through a thorough tasting of Chardonnay and Pinot noir, for which they are best known. Tally Farms has been growing vegetable crops since 1948 and recently added grapes and wine to the mix. Of the three Chardonnays I sample they all have vibrant citrus flavors (lemon zest), some with a hint of pineapple and vanilla. The Pinot noirs taste of red fruit and minerals with notes of licorice and cola. If I didn’t have anywhere else to be, I would savor a bottle of wine on the shady patio, letting my cares slip away. Instead it is time to move along.
I am excited to visit Laetitia Vineyard & Winery for its array of bubbles. The Pinot noir grapes have turned a deep purple and are awaiting harvest. Laetitia has been producing award-winning sparkling wine for 30 years, first as Maison Deutz and more recently as Laetitia. Of the seven sparkling wines, two are widely distributed while the others are only available through the winery. They take me through a tasting of their array of sparkling wine, much to my delight: Brut de Blanc, crisp and dry; Brut de Noir, made entirely from Pinot noir grapes, delicious; Brut Cuvée, effervescent and sumptuous, a favorite; and the Brut Rose, a beautiful salmon color with rich fruit characteristics. They also offer Cuvée M and the XD, which is the least dry of all of the winery’s bubbles. The tour concludes with a viewing of the Coquard machines, traditional champagne presses and the only ones still in use in North America. It won’t be long before they are pressing the new harvest of grapes.
I make my way to the Casitas Estate where I will be staying, anxious to enjoy the pool and the waning afternoon sun. The beautiful Spanish-style inn is perched on a hill overlooking farmland and vineyards. Each of the four bungalows has their own fireplace and terrace and is accented with Spanish tiles. The pool is located below the Casitas, adjacent to the bocce ball court, perfect for enjoying the sun and unwinding from a busy day of wine exploration.
Before dinner I head back to the Village of Arroyo Grande to explore some of the shops. This is a cute downtown featuring mom-and-pop-owned stores and attractive storefronts with the feel of retro Main Street. Luxe offers women’s fashions with distinctive accessories, and I can’t resist the stylish clothes. There are several antique stores filled with treasures waiting to be discovered. I also make my way to Chocolate Sheep to browse the selection of chocolate and other treats.
Rooster Creek Tavern is a local favorite, offering a wide range of menu options and robust happy hour selections with both indoor and patio seating. After perusing the menu, I choose a Laetitia Brut sparkling wine to accompany the seafood paella. The presentation is beautiful, and the paella is spicy, savory, and delicious. After indulging on paella I find I have no room for dessert.
When I return to the Casitas the sun is sinking below the horizon. The fireplace takes the chill out of the air as I watch the flames dance across the walls. When night has fallen I wrap myself in a throw and sit on my patio to stargaze. There are so many stars cluttering the sky I can barely pick out my favorite constellations. I know I will sleep deeply, cocooned in my cozy bed with fluffy pillows and soft Ralph Lauren bedding.
The next morning, a carafe of hot coffee and a sumptuous breakfast are delivered to my room. The feast includes an egg soufflé with sausage, fruit, and scones. I gaze out over the valley from my patio and savor my brief, fun adventure in Arroyo Grande knowing I will have to return when I can spend more time indulging in the wine, food, and sights of the central coast.
In celebration of its 30th anniversary, Laetitia Vineyard & Winery is hosting a Winemaker Dinner on September 14, 2013, at 5 p.m. The dinner will feature library wines with winemakers Dave and Eric Hickey, paired with a sumptuous menu by chef José Dahan of Et Voilá Restaurant. Tickets are $145 per person and $125 for Laetitia Wine Club members. For more information about the 30th anniversary etched magnum or to make a reservation for the dinner, please call (805) 474-7641.
Savor the Central Coast is September 26-29, 2013, at the historical Santa Margarita Ranch in San Luis Obispo. The event features four days of all things culinary with winemakers, food purveyors, wine and cooking seminars, music, and adventure tours. Visit the website for more details and to purchase tickets.