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There’s nothing quite like uncorking a bottle of something crisp with the summer breeze tickling your skin and the waves of California’s rugged Central Coast crashing in the distance. In the surf- and wine-country region of San Luis Obispo, cool-climate varietals such as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay thrive, and soils frequently laced with ancient sea fossils make for some stellar white, rosé and sparkling wines.
The county (240 miles south of San Francisco) is home to more than 200 wineries. The bulk of them are in the northern region of Paso Robles, where big, bold reds like Zinfandel, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon rule. The winemaking regions of San Luis Obispo and neighboring Edna Valley and Arroyo Grande Valley are around 30 miles south (a straight, typically lightly trafficked shot down U.S. Highway 101). For a few days of wine tasting, stick to those valleys, which are closer to the beach and airport, and offer a small cluster of boutique and family-owned wineries.
Start in the Edna Valley at Baileyana, the flagship winery of the Niven family, which has been making wine here for 30 years. Today, Burgundian-born winemaker Christian Roguenant produces 30 wines under five labels, including two sparklers and a zippy lime-tinged Grüner Veltliner, a dry white wine that grows almost exclusively in Austria. Do your tasting inside the sunny 1909 schoolhouse winery or bring your glass outside for sips between rounds of bocce. The picnic area (bring your own noshes or buy cheese, salami and crackers from the tasting room) overlooks the estate vineyard and the Santa Lucia Mountains.
Photograph by Baileyana. Bring a picnic to enjoy on the grounds of the Baileyana winery.
Three miles south, in the heart of the Edna Valley, is Claiborne & Churchill, a winery founded in 1983 that specializes in Alsatian-style aromatic white wines, such as Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer and Riesling. Purchase a cheese plate and taste wines in the garden, or book an overnight stay in the renovated farmhouse cottage.
Finally, a trip to the San Luis Obispo area wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Laetitia Vineyard & Winery, a pioneering sparkling-wine producer in Arroyo Grande that is now equally well respected for its Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Take a peek at the winery’s Coquard grape presses (the only two in North America and the gold standard for winemaking in Champagne) or hop on to a nearby walking trail overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
If you’re waiting until fall to visit, drive 13 miles south of the city of San Luis Obispo to Pismo Beach’s new Inn at the Pier (opening October 15), an upscale, Craftsman-style beachfront property with a rooftop heated pool and bar with panoramic ocean views, and Blonde, a full-service restaurant that will serve contemporary California cuisine. Can’t wait? Get the ultimate urban experience at SLO Brew Lofts, a set of five hipster, modern and uniquely designed lofts perched above one of San Luis Obispo’s most popular breweries and located in the heart of downtown.
Photograph by Old San Luis BBQ. Santa Maria-style tri-tip barbecue is classic fare at Old San Luis BBQ Company.
Grab picnic goodies and enjoy locally sourced bistro fare (including indulgent grilled cheese “melts”) at Comfort Market, located inside the historic Arden Dairy Building in the village of Arroyo Grande. Old San Luis BBQ Company is a local institution for Santa Maria–style tri-tip barbecue, grilled over a red oak pit (don’t forget the chocolate bacon milkshake). Looking to swank it up after a long day of wine tasting? Sidecar Cocktail Co. in downtown San Luis Obispo specializes in craft cocktails, an elevated comfort food dinner menu and a killer weekend brunch.
If you love sparkling wine, head to the Central Coast for the fourth annual Bubblyfest by the Sea in the coastal community of Avila Beach, 10 miles from San Luis Obispo. Sample international wines from more than 60 sparkling wine and Champagne producers. Attend VIP events, a sparkling-wine dinner and even learn how to saber a Champagne bottle. October 5–8. Avila Beach Golf Resort, 6464 Ana Bay Road, Avila Beach; bubblyfest.com
Getting there: You can drive (plan on two days) or hop on a flight to San Luis Obispo, near the Pacific Coast in central California. Alaska Airlines offers a direct flight from Sea-Tac to San Luis Obispo; flight time is just under three hours.
Baileyana, San Luis Obispo, 5828 Orcutt Road; 805.269.8200
Laiborne & Churchill Winery, San Luis Obispo, 2649 Carpenter Canyon Road; 805.544.4066
Laetitia Vineyard & Winery, Arroya Grande, 453 Laetitia Vineyard Drive; 805.474.7651
Comfort Market, Arroyo Grande, 116 West Branch St.; 805.481.1558
Old San Luis BBQ Company, San Luis Obispo, 670 Higuera St.; 805.285.2473
Sidecar Cocktail Co., San Luis Obispo,1127 Broad St.; 805.540.5340
FOR YOUR CELLAR
Baileyana: 2013 Baileyana Brut Rosé, $44
Claiborne & Churchill Winery: 2014 Estate Dry Riesling, $28
Laetitia Vineyard & Winery: 2014 Laetitia Reserve du Domaine Pinot Noir, $42