Alive! Around the World: Wine, Socially Distanced


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Wine, Socially Distanced

Intrepid traveler Capt. Michael Barnes, Retired, Harbor, tours Central Coast wineries during a relatively low point in the pandemic.

By Capt. Michael Barnes, Retired, Harbor

It was time for a safe-distance adventure.

Like most of civilized world we have been staying close to home and making sorties like unemployed bank robbers only for groceries and to replenish our supply of icy cold adult beverages.

But with the cool fall weather we decided to pack up our masks and hand sanitizers and accompany my wife’s cousin on an adventure to the California’s wineries around Paso Robles.

Being a successful Italian restaurateur here in Southern California, he had been invited to visit the Daou Family Estates winery as their guest, so we tagged along.

It was so nice to see the green rolling hills and open blue skies once again. Safe distancing was hardly a problem as most of the country roads had little or no traffic.

Upon arriving in Paso Robles we stayed in the delightful Paso Robles Inn that was once popular with John Wayne. In fact there is a life-sized statue of him outside the Cattleman’s restaurant.

Myself and John Wayne outside the Cattleman’s restaurant.

All the staff adhered to the safety rules taking temperatures and wearing masks. The rooms were very clean and looked over a peaceful koi pond.

The hotel faces the town’s central park complete with bandstand, and is surrounded by numerous bars, restaurants and wine-tasting rooms, most of which were open but void of people.

Unlike the restaurants and bars down south, where to obtain a drink we would have to buy a meal, not so here. The Street Side Ale House and eatery was more than happy to serve us a couple of rounds of cocktails before we took off to visit the Bethel Road Gin distillery. Here we not only tasted flights of their wine, but also assorted flights of their very interesting homemade spirits.

Our next stop was the Wine Shine distillery in Tin City, which is part of a collection of bars, restaurants tasting rooms and distilleries. From here it was a short ride back to Paso Robles via the Calwise distillery. Upon entering town, we spotted a band playing on the back of a flatbed truck behind the Pine Street Saloon. Being of a curious nature, we all masked up and checked it out.

What a fun evening – an old band playing classic rock and roll, a great bar staff, and for a brief moment in time things were back to normal.

We decided have dinner in a very nice Mexican restaurant called Fish Gaucho, a little high end but well worth the money. The meat dishes were outstanding, and the octopus was incredible. 

The rolling hills of the Daou winery.

The next day we were up bright and early and on the road to the Daou Vineyard for lunch and a private wine tasting. The vineyard is situated on top of a hill with an unobstructed view for miles. 

The lunch was incredible, and each course complemented the wine that our server brought us in bottle after bottle. This was a truly wonderful experience from a great winery. 

After exploring the surrounding countryside, we stopped in Paddy McGregor’s bar on the green, like a bunch of tired banditos for the sunset and people watching (there were few) while sipping on an icy cold cocktail or two.

In front of the hotel Corque in Solvang.

The next day we were on the road again heading south toward the hotel Corque in Solvang. We made a brief detour to visit the Laetitia vineyard and winery. To our knowledge this is the only winery that makes a Prosecco-style bubbly in California. It’s well worth the visit if you are in the neighborhood.

Solvang is a mock Danish town that closes every night at nine o’clock. But it just so happens that the Indian Casino just around the corner stays open late. Very convenient!

We stopped here only to see the Old Mission Santa Inés, which was founded in 1804, as the rest of the town is just a tourist trap.

Old Mission Santa Inés.

Santa Barbara was our next night stop, as we had heard good things about a steak house there called Jill’s Place. Our lunch here was so good that we decided to stay the night at the Santa Barbara Inn so that we could come back for dinner later. If ever you visit Santa Barbara, this little gem of a place is well worth a stop. 

All their meat, lamb and vegetables are locally farm raised, and nothing is frozen. 

The following day, we wined and dined with lots of fun memories, then we returned to Los Angeles and isolation. 

With a little careful planning escaped safely for a day or two, wearing our masks. When things ease up, as we hope they will, you consider this trip.