We blew out of the city of San Diego where we call home for a while and had been staying at The Cliffs Hotel in Shell Beach for a couple of well deserved relaxing days and for some reason or another we decided that we would both like to go visit a few of the local wineries in the area that we had never visited before. Earlier that day we had run into wild man Bob Duffy and Laura Miller who do a really good job managing the Central Coast Wines store in SLO and they told us that we have really got to try the south county loop of wineries. He said we would have a blast. So we hopped back into our get away machine and made a bee line to the south. Well just down the road a piece off the Highway 101 to the south of San Luis Obispo we decided to follow the local wine freaks map to find the winery stars. So we took a quick exit turn into the southern most winery at the end of the loop called Laetitia Vineyard and Winery who also owns Barn Wood Wines. Formerly know as Maison Deutz a French Champagne house winery which opened in the 80's it is now a very busy and successful place to hang out at and enjoy some very good Wines and muscle relaxing Champagnes. What a great way to spend the afternoon my wife say's to me, and a smile comes over my cheery face as the tiny popping bubbles from the pink rose champagne begin to tickle my nose. The wine region in this area is going thru a big boom right now, and I could kick my self in the keester for moving away from this area when property was way more affordable than it is right now. As more and more of the San Luis Obispo county central coast wineries keep racking up gold medals and big numbers from Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast publications, the demand should make this area explode over the next twenty years.

We finished our Champagne samplings and put a half case of the pink stuff into the trunk of our get away machine and proceeded north a stones throw or two and we exited off Highway 10l again, but this time it was onto Branch Street. Well hold onto your pony there cowboy because we just discovered that off the beaten path there is a quaint little town know as Arroyo Grande. You would never even know that this little town even existed by flying right past it on the freeway at 75 miles per hour. Ooops, that's speeding, I meant 65, sorry officer. Forget about going all the way up to Paso Robles and to the far out wineries to the north. Hey man, there is a lot of paradise, champagne and really good wine right here in the five cities mister.

Years ago I was fortunate enough to have lived right here is San Luis Obispo working at Brubeck's California Cuisine Restaurant, The Sea Pines Inn and at Whisper 106 FM, and I gotta be very honest with you and tell you that for some dumb reason or another I had never wandered around thru the back country sides of Edna Valley before. What's wrong with me, am I stupid or what? Arroyo Grande offers up the best of the old and the new in the same little town, with a few really cool twists tossed in to boot. It also offers outstanding home pricing that would make even a hardened San Diego resident like my self blush with envy. Where else can you find local Artists shops located right next to a trail blazing western wear shop? Our chariot of fire seemed to be moving in ultra slow motion now as we slowly drove thru town, and the look on each others face was priceless. This wonderful little town sort of seems like the town of Mayberry gone retro. As we continue to drift thru this sleepy little salutary wonder land town of Arroyo Grande my wife suddenly stops the car in the middle of the road and begins to chuckle as she notices a very much in love and flustered young hen being chased by a horny rooster strutting his stuff as they cross the road, oblivious to passing car and foot traffic. When was the last time that you saw a chicken crossing the road? And what the hell were they expecting to find on the other side of the street I chuckled to myself?

It is the middle of February 2003 and we are now aimlessly driving around thru the twisty turny back roads that lead out of the inner city of Arroyo Grande and head towards the inland Edna Valley wine country with not a care in the world. My left leg has gone numb for some reason or another and I shake my head and begin to chuckle along with my wife once again as we get another jolt of laughter from the whole chicken crossing the road deal. It sure doesn't feel like February around here today, as the temperature has reached a balmy 70 degrees. The winter seasons come and go around here, month after month and year after year like the incoming and out going central coast tides that never seem to change. I have noticed that this winter season how ever has offered up a tremendous amount of blessed rain, more so than usual few inches that splatter along California's central coast in the winter season. I guess the old saying, when it rains it pours is how you could best describe this winter season for sure. I guess you can never have too much water, right. I heard a saying once that goes lots of water, lots of wine.

As we start to meander our way thru the beautiful super plush green colored back country side roads, past the beautiful homes and ranches towards the countryside to the east of Arroyo Grande, it is abundantly clear that the good hard rains this winter season have brought to this area an over powering greenery of new growth. This somewhat parched area that is well known for its stunning dry golden colored rolling hills and Oak Trees is ablaze in a million different colors and shades of beautiful silent green. Sleepy Grape vines are beginning to start their spring bud as new roots begin to dig for deeper ground.

The car radio is hushed in silence as we quietly creep along Highway 227 right past an Arabian horse farm and the smell of the fresh clean air certainly doesn't make us want to rush back to the big city of San Diego for sure. I roll down the window all the way to inhale deeply into my lungs some of Arroyo Grande's purity and contentment as the sun shines on my face. As we cruise on by, a beautiful Arabian mare stares back at us with pitch black eyes of wonderment and curiosity. It seems as if he is wondering what the hell we doing out here in the country riding in a car rather than on a horse. Anyway, this great little loop road called Highway 227 that Old Bob told us about is like a gentle flowing roller coaster ride thru the countryside that you can take that circulates you thru the back country of Arroyo Grande, eventually dropping you off back in San Luis Obispo. And bingo you got it, that's the southern loop! There are a bunch of well hidden but super fine wineries clustered thru out them there hills mister, and if you hitch up your buck board, maybe I'll see you out there some day.

The wineries in this area are not to spread apart from each other to make it a challenge to find the next one and from our discussions with several of the different winery employee's close by, every body seems to know each other and they get along quite well, like peas and carrots. Wow this really is Mayberry Ville! There are several dozen really good wineries in the Edna Valley and northern Arroyo Grande Valley that were once originally occupied by the Chumash Indians. Several hundred years ago the Mission Indians from the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa used these mission lands for a variety of agricultural purposes. Edna Valley was once used as grazing land for the community cattle and the Mission Indians constructed a very large circular stone corral in the valley for the cattle operation. When the Mission lands were divided into large parcel ranchos, the Edna Valley became part of the 31,000 acre land grant named Rancho Corral de Piedra, or The Stone Corral Ranch. It is breath taking back country that lulls you into a private sense of calm. It is clean living under God's blue skies.

Although we both really enjoy discovering new wineries, it would be impossible to stop at every one of these joints in this area to get a peek. So we continued to stroll on up the 227 with windows down and radio still in the silenced mode. There is something special about driving around thru the country side that makes you want to hear nothing but silence. The calm, peace and quiet, as well as the wind blowing thru your hair makes you feel privileged just to discover this special section of the county. A thought occurs to me that there is no silence in the city like out here, only the low growling guttural sounds of expansion.

The hum of the tires on the street is about all the noise that you hear out in the valley as we pass the Perbacco Wine Cellars which got its name as an exclamation of wonder and delight. As we approach Price Canyon road and 227 we pull into Claiborne and Churchill Winery because it was recommended to us by Wild Bob from the Central Coast Wine store. The tasting room is somewhat of a unique thing here because its walls are made out of field bale straw insulation, pretty cool right! If you are looking for some tasty Dry Riesling or Gewurztraminer then you have found the right place. They also produce an explosive Sparkling Rose finished in the method Champenoise that is a fabulous blend of Chardonnay, Riesling, Gewurztraminer and a dollop of Pinot Noir to give it the Fruit Bomb pink coloration the owner Claiborne Thompson told me. The winery name is derived from Clay's first name Claiborne and his wife's maiden name of Churchill. Paul the winery tasting room manager who knows the Peter Brubeck family and Chef David Feldman who I used to work with at Brubeck's restaurant told us some great stories about the winery, Paragon Vineyards and the Edna Valley area and before we left he said did you see these beautiful large Magnum bottles of our wines. Clay said that the large bottles were imported from France. What a beautiful box set collection of massive bottles. I think I will order them thru their internet program when I get home, and fortunately for me my wife agrees.

The Art of selling and marketing wine is done thru each of the wineries thru over the counter sales or by becoming a wine club member where by in which you join up and they mail you special bottling over a one year period of time, right to your home or business. Although a few states still haven't got a clue about letting people buy wine from out of state, as each year passes those closed minded individuals who make those dumb laws are retiring one by one. My wife about killed me when I told her that I wanted to be the only guy in San Diego who has a VIP membership to every one of these winery clubs here in the Edna Valley area. She smiled and replied, "may be someday we can move up here again". Like the sweet sounds of the Sunday morning church bells that ring, man that was just what I wanted to hear for sure.

We said our goodbye's and made a right hand turn onto Corbett Canyon drive and traveled down a thin asphalt road thru the countryside once again to a very special place that was highly recommended by an employee from Laetitia Winery earlier. Rolling hills of grape vines are beginning to bud, flowering Rosemary bushes are out front and an old Dairy farm facility built in the 1940's awaits you that was recently converted into a fabulous Winery tasting room. "Yes were here" we both exclaimed! You know the first time that you drive around in an area where you do not know where you are at is an adventure isn't it? Well the drive was worth the wait for sure as we unbuckled our seat belts and we both said at the same time "wow this is cool". We are way out in the middle of nowhere, but really we are only minutes away from the city. Quite frankly, we couldn't be any happier for sure. As we approached the front entry way to the tasting room I turn around and look back down the quiet country back road that seems to go on forever. I don't quite know how or why I have become so magnetically attracted to this section of California. Is it the organic farmer in me that still wants to till the soil and get back to mother nature. Or is it the fact that maybe I really like challenges in my life and perhaps my subliminal conscience yearns to be set free to run wild thru the never ending grape fields of opportunity. Either way is ok by me I thought to myself as a small but content crowd funneled out of the cozy tasting room.

We walked inside after everybody leaving finished their giggling and we were fortunate enough to meet the owner Gwen Othman at the highly acclaimed Kynsi Winery. She is a marvelous woman who speaks with a passion in her voice for her and her husband and families winery. It is not so often that you stumble into a tasting room and meet the owners of a winery, and to me they are like God's messengers of the grape world. It is hard work to run a winery, and I do know this. If an owner is there hands on all the time, it will most likely become a success. They put their heart and soul on the line each and every day in hopes of just a little bit of admiration and acceptance. They are a tenacious breed of self motivators, who are unwilling to compromise their beliefs that only good wine comes from hands on experience. Although her husband Don was not there that day it was understood that he was promoting their wines of distinction in another area today. Don is a very famous man also for he is well respected thru out the community as a wine maker like his wife Gwen and he also invented and manufactures a device called the "Bull Dog Pup". It is a valuable tool for wine makers to use when racking wine to and from the barrels. They are a methodical family of pioneers that have turned the Stone Corral Vineyard into a magical place that only comes from hard work, sweat and tears of joy and frustration. They are the new pioneers of American's bringing super high quality wines to the blossoming Edna Valley.

Gwen welcomes us to their refurbished old dairy Kynsi Winery facility and I begin to stare at a beautiful painting that looks like a Monet behind the bar in the tasting room. It reminds me of one of Claude Monet's hay field paintings that I once saw at the San Diego Museum of Art when his paintings came to town on tour. She is a small woman in stature but big hearted and true. She has a warm and genuine smile that makes you feel welcome and at home, and her charming personality is addicting to be around. It is nice to see a strong woman in a mostly male saturated industry, and I don't think she could be any happier with the way her life has turned out. Who wouldn't be?

Their old barn situated not to far away from the tasting room is home to the pride and joy of Kynsi Winery. The name Kynsi means "Talon" in Finnish which is their proud family ancestry. A nesting pair of barn Owls inhabit the barn and are such a charm that I guess Don and Gwen found it in their heart to let them live in there full time just like feathery neighbors. Each spring she and her nest mate add to the friend's of the vineyard Owl population in the valley. I guess the Owls bring them so much joy that even the wine labels for their wine bottles have an Owl family on them.

Their line up of wines is like traveling thru a dedicated wine collector's cellar. The Othman family only produces and sells carefully crafted Vineyard designated Wines of distinction. As Gwen took us thru their all star sampling line up, one by one the delicious wines seem to linger on the taste buds forever. They are just as good if not better than many of the Sonoma or Napa Valley Wines that I have tasted. They specialize in the difficult to handle Pinot Noir grape as well as Chardonnay, Syrah and a Merrah which is a melange between Merlot and Syrah. You know you don't have to produce 20 different wines to be successful in this industry. You just need to make the ones that you produce top notch. They all taste so good that I suggest you try some for yourself the next time you are in the central coast area.

It's another Edna Valley Sunday and unfortunately you can't stay at the winery forever, so my wife Paula took a great digital photograph of myself and Gwen behind the tasting room bar. There is a lot you can learn from a winery owner who resides in the greater San Luis Obispo County in the Edna Valley. You don't get to meet too many people in the city like them. Their word you can count on, their honesty is flattering. They speak the simple truth about their passion for making wine and how it has overcome their senses. It makes them deliriously tired at times, but it makes their heart beat stronger following their beliefs and dreams. Next time that I am in SLO again which I hope is pretty darn soon again mister, I am going to visit a few more of the Arroyo Grande and Edna Valley Winery Estates. Do yourself a favor and give the southern loop a try for yourself. After all there are a lot of good loops to drive around in to discover new wineries all across this great state of California. There is the Napa, Sonoma, Santa Barbara, Monterrey, Paso Robles and Temecula loop. And right here is where your next stop should be, right here in the Edna Valley loop. I wonder just who came up with the phrase of getting looped. I begin to quietly chuckle as I realize that perhaps it was made up by the fantastic grape growers association of California.



DEDICATED TO THE SAN LUIS OBISPO VINTNERS AND GROWERS ASSOCIATION
WRITTEN BY GREGORY MICHAEL MANESS MARCH 05, 2003 D.B.A. GREGOART

Grego is a California Artist and clever short story writer residing in San Diego, Ca.

 

Grego and Gwen Othman of Kynsi Winery in Arroyo Grande, California.

 

 

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