Happy birthday to me. Today. The big 4-0.
You know what I have to say to that? Bring it on. And bring it especially given that I’m coming off of the most awesome birthday weekend any girl could ever have wished for from such a wonderful group of women (and, well, OK, I suppose a handful of men were involved, too, including C who looked after T all weekend and had a party-and-a-half amongst themselves). Ain’t nothing bringing me down today, including some dumb number.
Seven of my girlfriends whisked me away and helped me celebrate my 40th birthday last weekend with gusto. We spent two nights in the Santa Ynez Valley area (Solvang, Buellton, Lompoc) drinking beautiful wines, eating delicious local fare, and gabbing about nothing in particular (what did the fox say anyway?!).
Our home base was the Santa Ynez Valley Marriott. I have nothing but positive words for this hotel. Our two rooms were across the hall from one another (convenient), and our food and wine amenities were placed in-room and at the ready as promised (from the hotel, from those who were unable to attend, along with an extra here and there). If we had a need (we had a couple of extra housekeeping requests), it was addressed immediately and with a smile. Also, the hotel boasts a Starbucks right in the lobby with a warm, cozy lounge adjacent with fireplace a blazin’, which was where we spent about three full hours of our stay over two mornings. Their restaurant also makes a killer breakfast served with a smile. We couldn’t have asked for more, especially since we hadn’t planned on spending much time in the hotel at all!
Oh, and they are a very festive business as well, completely embracing the spirit of the holiday season as you can see in the photos. How can they not though? Solvang after all is a town that acknowledges Christmas all year round, and that carries over into everything and everywhere nearby pretty much.
Friday night, me and two of my gal pals dined at Root 246. Located along the Wine Road that it’s aptly named after, it was the perfect setting for the three of us to kick off the weekend together. It boasts a cozy yet open ambiance so we could continue our car conversations in our high-backed booth in semi-crazy fashion without disturbing other diners (or at least we got no complaints!). It’s also a nice but casual enough place that we were welcome to come as we were off of a four-hour haul from Long Beach evening rush hour (read: not get super dressed-up). The food and wine served here is all local fare, farm-to-table in every sense of the term (thank you, Chef Bradley Ogden). Since the menu changes daily, there’s no point in me recommending anything in particular other than all of it. Though I must say that my Waygu Top Sirloin was exceptional. If they offer a steak next time you go, any steak, I’m thinking you should check that out.
The next day, the rest of the eight-person crew arrived to continue the celebration. Once gathered, our two cars arrived from Pete’s Preferred Wine Tours, with one driven by Pete himself. Matt was our other driver. We honestly have zero complaints. Prompt drivers, clean vehicles (one was a town car, the other a Prius), super-affordable for all-afternoon on-call service, and quite flexible once our plans changed during the afternoon (I’ll get to that in a second). Again, we encountered tip-top professional service in a down-home manner, which met us exactly where all of us were throughout the entire weekend. Limo schlimo, I say.
So where exactly did Pete and Matt drive us around all day long? Well, they didn’t exactly drive us “around” but more like 20 minutes each way to-and-from Kessler-Haak Wine. While we had grand plans that K-H would be our first stop of the afternoon with two or three additional wineries following, well, let’s just say that once we pulled up at K-H and were greeted by Dan (Kessler) and Ellen (Haak), we never, ever wanted to leave. So we didn’t.
Our group enjoyed three-plus hours in Dan and Ellen’s backyard garden. This wasn’t just a wine tasting experience; this was an afternoon that can never be recreated. That was all because of a friend of mine that I used to work with years ago. He somehow helped my other friend arrange for us to be Dan and Ellen’s private guests for the afternoon (an unexpected but incredible surprise), though I must say that most of us felt quite comfortable and entirely at home about 10 minutes into the tasting. In fact, I felt so at home and welcomed and loved the wines so much (wines that I normally don’t even gravitate toward, like Syrah) that I joined their wine club! You’re never getting rid of me now, Dan and Ellen!
As Dan poured, he told us about the wines (varietals that range from Chardonnay to Pinot Noir, including their new sparkling collection that just released this season). We all asked probably an inordinate amount of questions, which I hope wasn’t too annoying or newbie as the answers all helped us learn a little something new about wine-growing and -making and a bit about Dan and Ellen’s back-story on their being “retired” wine farmers (ha!). As we all chatted about the wine, we sipped, drank, savored, and expressed endless gratitude for the gorgeous weather (75 degrees in December, RMT’ers) and for the opportunity to get away with friends to relax and enjoy. I think the recurring mantra went a little something like: “It’s amazing that eight moms were able to get away for the weekend all at the same time together!” I’ll drink to that (again)!
After Pete and Matt returned us to the Marriott, we had a two-hour block of downtime between the afternoon tasting and our dinner reservation. So we drank some more (oy)! I’ll share a few more vague things about the weekend because I am at this point in the festivities unable to recall many details… We ate dinner Saturday evening at Succulent, a restaurant very much focused on pig, especially all things bacon, including the desserts. I thought I dreamed of eating a sundae with chocolate-covered bacon, but, nope, it was real (and really, well, succulent actually)! Sunday morning we enjoyed breakfast at Paula’s Pancake House in town, AKA THE place to get Danish pancakes (not ebleskivers but the flat, crepe-like big ‘uns with all the toppings). Other than this – and riding on a luggage cart – I think that pretty much sums up the weekend. Not a bad way to begin my 40s, RMT’ers!
I love my friends. Thank you especially to: Andrea for organizing this most unforgettable experience of my life; Phil for hooking us up with killer restaurants and wonderful wine; Dan and Ellen for their gracious hospitality (and gorgeous wines… see you again in a few months, I hope I hope!); Stasi, Jeanne, Toni, Nicole, Ambyr, and Kendra for breaking out of the house for the weekend o’ wine-filled fun; and to Teresa for the extra bubbly delivered in-room. I cherish each and every one of you who were there in body and in spirit (the latter know who they are). Mwah and Cheers!