Santa Maria Wine Country

We had previously attended the open house at Au Bon Climat. Our drive to the event and an extra stop at Cottonwood Canyon Winery inspired both of us to come and see what else was out there in Santa Maria. We wish we could say that this trip was planned but Andrew sometimes investigates wineries for a couple hours and then declares: “Get in the car, this is going to be fun.” Matthew is always a good sport and in all fairness we did have some previous recommendations such as Foxen Vineyard and Winery, but we kept most of this day trip flexible. This can lead to awesome experiences that only come from winging it. So as Frank Sinatra used to sing: “Come fly with me, we’ll fly, we’ll fly away.”

Wineries Visited

  • Foxen Vineyard and Winery
    Main Tasting Room Address:
    7600 Foxen Canyon Rd, Santa Maria, CA 93454
    Hours: Daily 11 am – 4 pm
    Phone: (805) 937 – 4251
    Favorite(s) of the Day: Chenin Blanc and 2015 Solomon Hills Vineyard Pinot Noir

    Foxen had been repeated recommended to us so it seemed appropriate that their tasting room would be the first we visited. They have two different tasting rooms the primary tasting room specializes in Burgundy style and the other emphasizing Bordeaux style. We chose the main tasting room, which offers two different flights available: (1) Mixed flight – Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, and 3 Pinot Noir ($15) and (2) All Pinot Noir (6 tastes for $25). We were told Foxen 7200 (aka The Shack) offers big, bold reds that focuses on Bordeaux and Italian varietals. We did not visit Foxen 7200 this trip, but we will visit it on another trip to Santa Maria.

    Despite our love for Pinot Noir, the wine that surprised us as being our favorite was their Chenin Blanc. In addition to the tasting room, there are tables outside so you can enjoy your lunch or just soak in the sun and the views.
  • Kenneth Volk Vineyards
    Address: 5230 Tepusquet Rd, Santa Maria, CA 93454
    Hours: Thursday – Monday 10:30 am – 4:30 pm; Closed Tuesday and Wednesday
    Phone: (805) 938 – 7896
    Favorite(s) of the Day: Verdelho and Mourvedre

    Kenneth Volk showed up on our radar when it was discovered Ken Volk was the founder of Wild Horse Winery in Templeton, CA (he has since sold Wild Horse). We were delighted and surprised by the extensive tasting offerings on the tasting menu. Each wine feels like a personal expression from the wine maker. We were able to choose 6 tastes of the offering provided that day. Their current tasting list was full of Austrian, Portuguese, and Spanish Varietals. The grapes for their wines are sourced from the AVAs that are able to grow the grapes. For the current list, Kenneth Volk sourced from Paso Robles along with elsewhere.
  • Riverbench Vineyard and Winery
    6020 Foxen Canyon Rd, Santa Maria, CA 93454
    Hours: Daily 10 am – 4 pm
    Phone: (805) 937 – 8340
    Favorite(s) of the Day: 2010 Blancs de Noir.

    The tasting staff from Kenneth Volk recommended that we visit Riverbench for their lovely property an excellent sparkling wines. We welcomed the change and also relished the idea of visiting the physical property. It was a happy coincidence that the day they went they were pouring a sparkling flight with two library wines to compare to current releases. The sparkling flight consisted of a 2016 Blancs de Blanc, 2012 Blancs de Blanc, 2015 Blancs de Noir, and 2010 Blancs de Noir. The 2010 Blancs de Noir was described to us as “brunch in a glass” and we both highly recommend this one if you have a chance to try it.

Zaca Mesa Winery and Vineyards
6905 Foxen Canyon Rd, Los Olivos, CA 93441
Hours: Daily 10 am – 4 pm
Phone: (805) 688 – 9339
Favorite(s) of the Day: Too Hard to Pick

This was our first visit to Zaca Mesa, we had heard that they were the best and could not wait to visit. Unfortunately, we arrived later than anticipated and were not sure if we would be able to be served or finish a complete tasting. Mackenzie, our tasting room attendant, welcomed us and assured us that they were able to accommodate us. She was extremely knowledgeable about the wines and property, which made for an insightful experience. We would recommend talking to her if you ever visit the tasting room. We had an amazing experience and the wines were all excellent. Zaca Mesa not only met but exceeded our expectations. We recommend this be a top priority when visiting the area.

  • Andrew Murray Vineyards
    Foxen Canyon Rd, Los Olivos, CA 93441
    Hours: Daily 10:30 am – 5:30 pm
    Phone: (805) 686 – 9604
    Favorite(s) of the Day: 2018 Espeance Rose

Andrew Murray was our final stop of the day, the most noticeable difference from the rest was a tasting area for the public as well as a private lounge for wine club members. The staff was friendly and we enjoyed our time. Their tasting consists of five tastes of the current offering. During our tasting we found out about the All-Access Pass ($25) that allows you to enjoy tasting flights at Andrew Murray (tasting room on Foxen Canyon) and Elleven (Downtown Los Olivos). They also offer local chocolate for purchase along with other products. We wish we had more time here but since this was an impromptu day trip we figured we could do a deeper dive on our return to the area.

Thanks for reading! Cheers friends!

A Review of Brew at the LA Zoo

Every August for the last 9 years, the Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens hosts a unique beer festival. For those of you who may not be familiar, it is called Brew at the L.A. Zoo.

This year, breweries, cideries, and a winery set up shop for the evening and poured tastes during the festival. In addition to all of the tastings, there was live music, pop-up zoo talks, food trucks, and animal discovery stations.

You are greeted at the entrance where they check IDs, scan tickets, and hand out the cups. You then begin your tasting journey by ascending the steps to the first tasting area. This year it was Firestone Walker Brewing Company and The Dude’s Brewing Company. Firestone had our favorite beer of the night called ZinSkin (ABV: 8.3%). According to Firestone’s website, ZinSkin was made from zinfandel grape skins that were fermented with one of their wild beers in 100% American oak barrels for 10-16 months.

From there you pass through the gift shop area and begin to see all of the animal discovery stations. These animal discovery stations are run by zoo staff and showcase some of the smaller animals that call the zoo home. Some of the animals, such as the snakes, you were able to touch if you were gentle. From there the zoo became your oyster. There were tasting and live music locations set up around the zoo, but some areas of the zoo are closed during the event.

However, as with any tasting event, there is a balancing act that must be done to maximize your personal experience. You must prioritize the different activities available. You have to decide when and if you want to see the animals, listen to the live music, or try the tastings.

We stress prioritization at these events for multiple reasons. First, you want to make sure you can see everything you want, but more importantly you want to be able to taste everything that interests you. At these events, some of the tasting booths may run out of product. This year at least 9 breweries were tapped out before 9:00 pm when the event went to 11 pm. To us this either means the breweries are very small and don’t have a lot of product, intentionally chose not to bring enough product, or were just not prepared for the event. We are personally hoping its the former of those two options, but it is important to note that there may be other reasons why the breweries did not come with enough product for the entire night. Whatever the reason, when multiple breweries run out of product the lines get increasingly long and you lose a lot of time waiting for a single tasting. However, it is important to note that location also factors in to whether a tasting booth runs out of product because people tend to go to the first booths that they see. We see this phenomenon all of the time with how people form lines at grocery stores.

One of the breweries that stood out to us was Braveheart Brewing. Braveheart Brewing is a veteran owned and operated from Oregon that donates money from every sale to support the POW-MIA Families, Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, SEAL Family Foundation, and 03XX Foundation. We tasted the Frogman Imperial Red Ale (ABV: 7.5% | IBU: 49) at the event. This beer was made to honor the SEAL Family Foundation. By purchasing beer from Braveheart Brewing you can help provide support for the men and women who have risked so much in service of this country.

Tasting Stations

The following tasting stations were open to all festival attendees.

Zoo Experiences

These zoo experiences were open to everyone that attended the festival.

  • Birds of Prey Animal Walkabout
  • Giant River Otter Pop Up Talk
  • Jaguar Special Feeding
  • Harbor Seal Pop Up Talk
  • Kangaroo Special Feeding
  • Komodo Dragon Special Feeding
  • Orangutan Special Feeding
  • Sugar Glider Animal Walkabout
  • Orangutan Special Feeding
  • Jaguar Special Feeding

The VIP Experience

There is an option to purchase a VIP ticket for the festival. Here are the perks of the VIP ticket:

  • Early Access – Enter at 6 instead of 7
  • 2 VIP lounges with food, extra beer, and specialty cocktails
  • 2 extra animal experiences

We opted to purchase the VIP ticket mostly for the access to the VIP lounges. However, due to work constraints we were not able to arrive at the zoo until 6:50 pm so we essentially missed the extra hour that is included with the VIP ticket. That being said, even though we missed the extra hour we felt that we made the right decision because we were able to bypass the general admission line.

VIP Lounges

There were two VIP lounges included for the VIP ticket holders. When you arrived at each lounge you received your free Brew at the L.A. Zoo swag. This year VIP ticket holders received a koozie and a lunch bag. In addition to the swag, VIP lounges included exclusive food and beverages. The food ranged from finger food (e.g., wings) to a full meal (e.g. burgers, bratwursts, mac and cheese, coleslaw. etc.). The VIP exclusive beverages included:

VIP Zoo Experiences

These experiences were only open to VIP ticket holders. The alligator feeding took place during the early admittance hour and the Asian elephant talk was only accessible through a VIP lounge next to the enclosure.

  • Asian Elephant Pop Up Talk
  • Alligator Special Feeding

Event Rating

Overall, we would rate this event a A- only because we purchased the VIP ticket and the VIP lounges make up for a lot of issues such as lines for food and the exclusive access to certain beverages compared to the general admission. If we only purchased the general admission ticket we would rate this event a B. The number of breweries that ran out of product with an hour and a half left in the event just left a poor taste in our mouth. But overall it is a fun night to explore the zoo while tasting some beer and hearing some good music.

Save the Date

If you missed the event year and are interested in checking it out next year and coming to your own conclusion, the event will be held on Friday August 7, 2020.

Thanks for reading! Cheers friends!