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Wine Tasting in Santa Ynez Valley

This past weekend my friend and I escaped LA for a weekend of wine tasting in Santa Ynez and Los Olivos. We stayed in nearby Solvang, a picture-perfect Danish town in Santa Barbara County.







We drove up after work on Friday, grabbed a late dinner and a few drinks before heading to bed. Our first stop on Saturday was Cimarone Estate Wines, a lovely tasting room in Los Olivos.




Cimarone Wines is owned by Roger and Cilla Higgins. The name Cimarone is derived from the first two letters of each family member’s name and its logo bears the resemblance of their beloved dog. A true family affair!

We were very fortunate that Cilla and Roger happened to be at the tasting room when we stopped by. Their stories are truly fascinating. Born in Zambia, Cilla grew up in Kenya and earned a Ph.D. in physics from Cambridge University and a Masters in International Education from Stanford. Roger, an Englishman, has a degree in Aeronautical Engineering and worked in the tech industry.

Gracious, enthusiastic, and friendly does not even begin to describe these two, and all the staff at Cimarone for that matter. Having done many wine tastings in the past, it makes all the difference in the world when the winemakers are happy to chat with you.

The current tasting menu consisted of 7 wines. My favorite was the 2009 3CV Cilla’s Blend, a blend of 70% Syrah, 20% Cab Franc, 4% Cab Sauv, 4% Malbec and 2% Petit Verdot. I really, really regret only purchasing 1 bottle!



I can’t recommend Cimarone enough. Not only did we meet wonderful people and drink some amazing wine, we also left with dinner reservations (thank you Julie!).

After a few more tastings we headed to dinner at the The Ballard Inn Restaurant. With just 12 tables, the atmosphere is intimate and elegant. We were lucky to get in!



For my appetizer I ordered the Hamachi Sashimi with Avocado & Soy-Yuzu Vinaigrette. It was amazing and I could have had five more plates of it.


For her entrée my friend had a vegetable plate, which they made especially for her!


I ordered the Pan Roasted Opah with Coconut Rice, Tamarind Broth & Tiger Shrimp Salad.


And to finish off the meal, we split a beautiful-looking cheese plate for dessert.


Exhausted and full, we called it a night after dinner. On Sunday we relaxed by the pool and did a few more wine tastings. Our last stop before heading home was Gainey Vineyard, a beautiful winery with some truly fantastic wine.



There wasn’t one wine we tasted that we didn’t love! In addition to wine, Gainey has a wide selection of pantry foods for sale: oils, vinegars, salsas, jams, pickled vegetables…the list goes on and on. I picked up a jar of roasted tomatoes with olive oil and garlic, chardonnay artichoke salsa, and a pinot noir jam. Yum!



After our tasting we strolled around the grounds.





Great food, great wine, and perfect weather. A weekend getaway can’t get much better than that!



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