Back country roads follow the slopes of gently rolling hills.
Meticulously tended grapevines line the road.
A feeling of peace sets in.
There is no question you are in wine country. But not just any wine country. You have arrived in one of the most laid-back locales on the face of the Earth – San Luis Obispo, Calif.
It’s a coincidence that San Luis Obispo’s initials spell out SLO, but you’ll soon find that the initials make perfect sense because the wineries are uncrowded, the pace at the tasting rooms is unhurried, and the attitude of those pouring the wine is unpretentious.
This isn’t the tourist-overrun Napa Valley. This is wine country for those who love the countryside as much as they love the wine.
Situated about midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, the SLO wine region is comprised of three pristine viticulture areas: the Edna Valley, Arroyo Grande Valley and Avila Valley. The small, mostly family-owned wineries are well known for their hand-crafted bottlings of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Syrah, Grenache, Viognier, Zinfandel and other varieties.
The marine influence of the nearby Pacific Ocean provides a mild summer and warm fall, resulting in an unusually long growing season. Combined with the region’s rocky volcanic soils, these growing conditions produce fruit with intense varietal character and complex flavors that are typically found in the world’s greatest wine regions.
To experience the SLO life, book a room at Petit Soleil, a 16-room B&B in the town of San Luis Obispo with a cobblestone courtyard and plenty of Provencal charm. Each morning, guests are treated to a full “gastronome” breakfast, and each evening, fine wines are paired with delicious bites.
Dining options abound, and our favorite remains the Big Sky Cafe – even though it has become a bit more crowded since the Wall Street Journal featured it in a story last year. The casual fresh market cuisine is quintessential SLO, and there usually are about 20 local wines by the glass from which to choose.
Another favorite among locals is the Corner View Restaurant and Bar, which has a delightful ambiance, delicious dishes (most made from local ingredients) and an eclectic wine list.
Of course, there is no shortage of wineries in and around SLO, and no trip to the region is complete without a visit to Chamisal – where the first vineyard in Edna Valley was planted. Today, the 80-acre estate vineyard is planted to 25 different clonal varieties, giving the vintner a seemingly limitless array of blending options for Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Syrah and other wines.
Love Chardonnay? Head to Edna Valley Vineyard, home to one of the best in all of California. Visitors can take a self-guided tour of a demonstration vineyard boasting 14 rows of various grape varieties and trellis designs.
If you’re packing a picnic, a good place to chow down is Laetitia, where the estate vineyards overlook Pismo Beach and the Pacific Ocean. Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and sparkling wine are the specialties of the house, and the grounds include a picnic area and bocce ball courts.
Time on your hands? One could spend a lot of it at Salisbury Vineyards, which is housed in a century-old restored schoolhouse in Avila Valley. In addition to the “usual suspects,” the winery makes a wonderful bottling of Albarino. Beyond the tasting room, Salisbury offers an eclectic schedule of trolley tours through the vineyard, live music on the patio, jazz in the Cupola Room and various works of fine art.
Finally, if you prefer “wines of a place,” Stephen Ross is a single-vineyard specialist, crafting an array of single-vineyard Pinot Noir and Chardonnay bottlings, in addition to appellation wines.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION…
1473 Monterey St., San Luis Obispo; 805-549-0321
Big Sky Cafe
1121 Broad St., San Luis Obispo; 805-545-5401
Corner View Restaurant and Bar
1141 Chorro St., San Luis Obispo; 805-546-8444
7525 Orcutt Rd., San Luis Obispo; 805-541-9463
Edna Valley Vineyard
2585 Biddle Ranch Rd., San Luis Obispo; 805-544-5855
453 Laetitia Vineyard Dr., Arroyo Grande; 805-481-1772
6985 Ontario Rd., San Luis Obispo; 805-595-9463
178 Suburban Rd., San Luis Obispo; 805-594-1318