Perfect Pair: California Central Coast Wine and Great Food

California coast beach with blue skies
California Central Coast, photo credit: Visit California

What’s more rewarding after a long day of driving than sipping a crisp and bright, perfectly chilled glass of wine at the campground? Well, if you’re like me, you’d like to end your journey sitting under the lush shade trees at Flying Flags RV Resort & Campground in Buellton, California. The resort sits in the heart of California’s Central Coast, the second-largest winegrowing region in the state.

Leave the campground and head over to Highway 154 in the Santa Ynez Valley for a quaint and lovely town that’s just waiting for you to discover more than 30 wine tasting rooms in just a few short blocks. From delicious restaurants to art galleries and historical buildings, Los Olivas is a dynamic town that boasts a population of just under 1,200.

Light blue bicycles parked in front of white cabins on dirt road
The Santa Ynez Guest Ranch at Flying Flags RV Resort & Campground. Grab a bike & take a ride! Photo credit: Highway West Vacations Facebook page
Silver Airstream parked in nice campground with wooden chairs
Photo credit: Flying Flags RV Resort & Campground Facebook page

My favorite time of the year to visit is in the spring. The hills surrounding the valley are bright green from all the spring grass growth. Cattle are having their calves and the vines burst with green foliage. Vintners are hard at work with their crews making sure the harvest will yield the brightest and most delicious grapes.

The Wineries to Visit

Fess Parker Winery & Vineyard

Your first stop should be to Fess Parker Winery & Vineyard. Does that name sound familiar? After a successful career in film and television in roles that included Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett, actor Fess Parker changed careers to become a vintner. In 1988, Fess purchased 714 acres hoping to create a small winery and family business to one day pass down to his children. One of the two choice wines you should taste include Crockett, named after the famed character he portrayed. This deep red wine is rich in berry flavors, dark fruits, hints of dark chocolate and fragrant French oak. The second tasting I would suggest would have to be Fess Parker Santa Barbara County Viognier. Aromas of white flowers, honeysuckle, white peach and nectarine waft out of your glass. It is a full-bodied viognier, with a crisp, clear citrus and vanilla finish.

Large wooden winery buildings with patio area amidst green trees
Fess Parker Winery, photo credit Fess Parker Winery

Carhartt Winery

This vintner has been creating beautiful wines since 1996. One of their top varieties is their Estate Sangiovese with its oak, berry and pepper notes. This wine is the perfect choice for pinot and cabernet lovers. Noted as their Friday night wine, this is what you want to bring to a fun night with friends while enjoying a great grilled steak or having fun at the campground making pizzas. The Estate Petite Sirah, with its deep mocha and coffee flavors coupled with the brightness of boysenberry and a mellow hint of tobacco, is your choice for any grilled food with rosemary in the marinade or spice mix.

Two wooden outdoor chairs with footstools
Carhartt Winery, photo credit: Trip Advisor

Larner Vineyard & Winery

One of the most unique tasting room locations along Grand Avenue is the Los Olivos General Store, where the Larner wines tasting room sits proudly in a former garage. Here, you can sit back in Adirondack chairs under the old awning and enjoy my favorite picks. First, the Estate Rosé, with its blushing watermelon and soft pink hues is one of the best of this varietal I have tasted. Tasting notes include soft, sweet fruits, lemon peel and hints of vanilla, and just the bare waft of lavender. The 2015 Estate Mourvèdre should be tasted last, possibly because you will not believe its intense yet relaxed flavors. The spicy and robust red offers aromas of blackberry, clove, rosemary wood and crushed pepper. Aged in Russian oak then French oak barrels, the finish is wine silk. I’d pair this wine with a peppercorn-crusted fillet or a rosemary-marinated leg of lamb.

Saarloos & Sons

“Welcome to our home” is not only their motto, it’s their way of life. Family, family and a little bit more family is at the heart of this three-generation operation. From the beautiful images that grace their wine labels to the family members who work tirelessly in the fields, then the hands that pour wine in their tasting room, this brood will eagerly welcome you to the house of Saarloos & Sons winery.

I have a special place in my wine-tasting heart for Keith Saarloos, his father, and the whole Saarloos family. I loved sitting back at their tasting room, sipping the day away while learning about wines from farmers who love their land, their vocations and each other. Funny and sometimes bold, Keith has branded himself as a flannel-wearing, trucker-hat loving, open-road adventurer/poet who’s a true believer in 16-plus hour workdays.

Old Victorian looking wine tasting house with front porch
Saarloos & Sons, photo credit: Saarloos & Sons

Look over their website or social media pages, and you’ll be amazed. Sweet and sincere videos, combined with heartstring-pulling clips show how much this winemaking family loves their vocation, craft and customers.

“We planted the vines, we farm it ourselves, we pick it ourselves, we make it ourselves and you can only buy it from us,” they explain.

There’s an enormous amount of pride with this family and it shows throughout their company. Visit their tasting room, join their wine club and truly see what being a part of their business means.

Sit back and enjoy a tasting flight under the covered porch of their tasting room house. Grab one of the deepest lounge Adirondack chairs I’ve ever sat in and just breathe, sip wine and enjoy all the laughter and friendship that surrounds you.

If I ever had to narrow my personal picks from Saarloos & Sons I would first have to choose MOM 2017 Grenache Blanc. Keith tells the sweetest story about his mom, and how this wine got its name.

“My mom has the glow of a campfire in the wilderness. If you get to stand near, her love just makes you feel better.”

This wine is best chilled, then served along with a fantastic cheese platter or with delicious grilled chicken or spicy grilled shrimp.

Campsite with silver Airstream and park benches with palm trees
Flying Flags RV Resort & Campground, Photo credit: Kambria Fischer Photography, Flying Flags

When the boss says, “She’s in charge, we don’t harvest until she says it’s time to,” he means it. Since she was 4 years old, Keith’s daughter, Brielle Saarloos, has been the guiding light for the family’s sauvignon blanc harvest. She is the one and only in the family whose divine right it is to utter the magic words, “It’s time to harvest them.” Now 15, this young lady is a true force in the Santa Ynez Valley. Other wineries know of her talent and are waiting for her to make her own mark in the family business in due time. But for now, for a taste of this brilliant and flavorful wine, I truly suggest the Estate Sauvignon Blanc. Enjoy the handwritten note from Keith to his daughter. It will paint the picture for you about the love, passion and purpose of this family and their winery.

Cast iron skillet with chicken and orzo
Chicken and orzo, photo credit: Kate Dunbar

What should we do with all of this wine? Well, I’d say it’s time to cook! Above, I mentioned food that pairs well with vino. Now, I’ll show you how to make delicious one-pan white wine-seared chicken thighs and orzo. Pour yourself a nice glass while it cooks away; you’ll be glad you did.

Nice place setting of chicken and rice dish
Chicken and orzo, photo credit: Kate Dunbar

Wine and Herb Roasted Chicken Thighs with Orzo

Serves 4

4 bone-in and skin-on chicken thighs, trimmed

2 teaspoons poultry seasoning

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup diced onion

1½ cups orzo

1 cup chardonnay

3 cups low-sodium chicken broth

½ teaspoon dried parsley

½ teaspoon dried basil

1 teaspoon lemon zest

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Drizzle 2 tablespoons of olive oil over the trimmed chicken thighs; season both sides of the chicken with poultry seasoning and place in the fridge until ready to cook.

Preheat a medium-size cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat for 10 minutes. Turn the heat down to medium and add 2 tablespoons of olive oil, then the chicken thighs, skin side down, and cook for 10 minutes. Turn the chicken over and cook an additional 10 minutes. Remove from pan and place on a clean plate. Add the onions, and sauté until fragrant and translucent for about 2 to 5 minutes. Add the orzo and toast for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Slowly add the wine and cook until it’s absorbed.

Carefully add in the chicken broth, dried herbs and lemon zest, stirring frequently. Bring to a simmer, then turn the heat to low and add the chicken thighs back in the pan along with the juices. Cook covered for 10 to 15 minutes, until the liquid is almost absorbed and orzo is tender. Remove from the heat; allow to rest for 10 minutes, still covered. Use a thermometer to test the chicken for doneness (165 degrees), taste for seasoning, and add salt and pepper if needed.

Serve and enjoy.

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