This Is (Almost) 40: My #40WinerWeekend in Santa Ynez Valley

Happy birthday to me. Today. The big 4-0.

Hi. Today I turn 40. And I really don't care. Cheers to that!

Hi. Today I turn 40. And I really don’t care because it’s all good. Cheers to that!

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.

Friday night (traffic) lights on our way from Long Beach to Santa Ynez Valley (CA). Four hours isn't bad for leaving So Cal at 3 p.m.

Friday night (traffic) lights on our way from Long Beach to Santa Ynez Valley (CA). Four hours isn’t bad for leaving So Cal at 3 p.m.

Good morning, Santa Ynez Valley!

Good morning, Santa Ynez Valley!

The eight maids about to be a-drinkin' on my birthday weekend getaway.

The eight maids about to be a-drinkin’ on my birthday weekend getaway.

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?!).

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My room at the Santa Ynez Valley Marriott.

My room at the Santa Ynez Valley Marriott.

Milk and cookies upon arrival!

Milk and cookies upon arrival!

Bathroom amenities. Yummy!

Bathroom amenities. Orange-scented. Yummy!

The view from my room. While the pool and tennis court may appear inviting, it was about 40 degrees the morning I took this photo. Nights were equally as chilly. The days though... brilliant.

The view from my room. While the pool and tennis court may appear inviting, it was about 40 degrees the morning I took this photo. Nights were as chilly if not more so. The days though… they were warm, bright, and simply unbelievable for December.

A familiar view on both of our mornings at the Santa Ynez Valley Marriott.

A familiar view on both of our mornings at the Santa Ynez Valley Marriott.

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!

I call this, "Toys for Tots." Really though it's just the lobby at the Santa Ynez Valley Marriott all dressed up for Christmas!

I call this, “Toys for Tots.” Really though it’s just the lobby at the Santa Ynez Valley Marriott all dressed up for Christmas!

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Santa Claus is coming to town... 'til noon on this day anyway!

Santa Claus is coming to town… ’til noon on this day anyway!

My goofy friends with their new animal buddies. I love that I have friends as goofy as I am.

My goofy friends with their new animal buddies. I love that I have friends as goofy as I am.

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.

A bite of our wild mushroom gnocchi at Root 246. Um, yum!

A bite of our wild mushroom gnocchi at Root 246. Um, yum!

2012 Grenache-Syrah-Mouvedre blend by Frequency out of Santa Ynez Valley.

2012 Grenache-Syrah-Mouvedre blend by Frequency out of Santa Ynez Valley.

Waygu Top Sirloin with Mash, Mushrooms, and a Mini Fried Onion Flower at Root 246.

Waygu Top Sirloin with Mash, Mushrooms, and a Mini Fried Onion Flower at Root 246.

My German Chocolate Cake treat from Root 246.

My German Chocolate Cake treat from Root 246.

Outdoors at Root 246.

Outdoors at Root 246.

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.

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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.

On our way to Kessler-Haak Wine on the Santa Ynez Valley Wine Road (CA Route 246).

On our way to Kessler-Haak Wine on the Santa Ynez Valley Wine Road (CA Route 246).

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.

The group in Dan and Ellen's backyard at Kessler-Haak Wine in Lompoc (CA).

Our group in Dan and Ellen’s backyard at Kessler-Haak Wine in Lompoc (CA).

Tasting notes are not proper unless slightly dripped on, RMT'ers.

Tasting notes are not proper unless slightly dripped on, RMT’ers.

I love Pinot. Luckily I was in the right place at Kessler-Haak to relax and enjoy.

I love Pinot. Luckily I was in the right place at Kessler-Haak to relax and enjoy.

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!

We might not be sitting here at this table, but we're not done yet!

We might not be sitting here at this table, but we’re not done yet!

Dan? Ellen? Can we stay all day? Oh, wait... we did!

Dan? Ellen? Can we stay all day? Oh, wait… we did!

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)!

My butternut squash ravioli with some sort of rendered bacon brown sugar and browned butter sauce (!). No sense eating vegetarian without bacon, right?

My butternut squash ravioli with some sort of rendered bacon brown sugar and browned butter sauce (!) at Succulent. No sense eating vegetarian without the bacon, right?

My new buddy at Succulent. All I remember is that he wanted to buy us all bottles and bottles of wine. Too bad we'd just finished dessert and we were pretty wined out by this point after a full day of indulging. I was the only one to even have a drink with dinner (!).

My new buddy at Succulent. All I remember is that he wanted to buy us all bottles and bottles of wine. Too bad we’d just finished dessert and we were pretty wined out by this point after a full day of indulging. I was the only one that even had a drink with dinner (!).

Why do I always wind up on some sort of wheeled cart after an episode of, um, celebration?!

Why do I always wind up on some sort of wheeled cart after an episode of, um, celebration?!

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My eggs florentine at Paula's Pancake House. I could not fathom the thought of any more bacon, nor any sweet pancakes. Ouch.

My Eggs Florentine at Paula’s Pancake House. I could not fathom the thought of any more bacon, nor any sweet pancakes. Ouch.

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!

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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!

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