Joanna Snawder-Manzo enthuses about the town Los Angeles wine aficionados head for at the weekend. You can find links to all the other articles in this series in Writing competition 2019 – latest.
The Los Alamos of which I speak is a charmer of a town, on the northern end of the Santa Ynez Valley in California. To be pedantic, the municipality falls within its namesake valley, though generally referenced as part of the Santa Ynez Valley, or Santa Barbara County wine country. A population of 2,000 and a stop right off the 101 interstate, visitors are welcomed by a rustic sign donning a covered wagon and horses while broadcasting: art, wine tasting and the Los Alamos Old Days celebration in September. With a wild west feel, a bevy of antique shops and just the one commercial thoroughfare, named Bell Street, you may speculate on how wine is really a focal point. In fact, it is. It really is. These tranquil and funky six blocks have some of the most delicious food and wine for miles.
Only a few hours’ drive north from the City of Angels, Los Alamos California is sometimes referred to as little LA. It provides a hard-earned get away from the traffic, pollution and other less appealing aspects of living in a bustling car-centric metropolis (though the LA Green New Deal seeks to change that). It is possible to come into town on a Friday and not get back in the car until departure time on Sunday. Thereby Little LA maintains a weekender schedule, meaning Wednesday or in some cases, Thursday through Sunday. This guide notes the days that businesses are open, so be aware that it is a real consideration when planning your trip. Los Alamos, also known by the telling moniker, Lost Almost has afforded Angelenos a peaceful respite without compromising the wining and dining they are accustomed to. And one need not be an LA escapee to indulge. Los Alamos at your service, to decompress, eat, drink and enjoy la dolce vita.
Lo-Fi Wines How do you feel about Cabernet Franc? They have 3 offerings of such. 4 if you include the rosé and 5 when you tally the pét-nat or pétillant naturel, a light style of sparkling wine. All so very different, all regional fruit. They also make a lovely Chenin Blanc with grapes sourced from the old vines of the Jurassic Park vineyard. How about Gamay? They add in 20% Pinot Noir and ferment on native yeast. In fact all of their wines are made with indigenous yeasts, hence the name, reflective of the minimal intervention and the implied pairing with music. You can choose some records to play when you visit the tasting room, right on Bell Street. Open Thurs–Sun.
Martian Ranch & Vineyard If your preferred wine-tasting experience involves bearing witness to the the actual vines and communing within the winery, this is your spot. A short drive from the center of town and you will find yourself at a Demeter certified biodynamically farmed vineyard. You can have your tasting on the patio and gaze up at the landscape, or indoors with a birds eye view into the winemaking facility. They work with many Rhône varieties as well as Albariño, Graciano, Gamay, Tempranillo and Cabernet Franc. A tantalizing assortment! They also offer tours and group tastings. Open Wed–Sun.
Bodega Los Alamos Once back in town, you may be ready for some real chill time and maybe have a hankering for wines from elsewhere? Bodega has got you covered. This is a gathering space with fire pits, a greenhouse, a gift shop and most importantly wines by the glass and bottle. They focus on organic and natural wines, as well as beer and cider. While carrying products from the region they also have international choices, for example we nabbed a tasty Negroamaro from Puglia, Italy, when we visited. They allow outside food in but don’t actually sell it, unless it is one of their occasional pop-ups. With abundant rosemary bushes, it is fragrant and dreamy, not to be missed. Open Thurs–Sun.
Additional tasting rooms on Bell Street are:
Casa Dumetz Wines, small production of Rhône varieties and Pinot Noir. They also make some cider and an iconic wine called The Feminist Party, which is a GSM (Grenache Syrah Mourvèdre) with a little Graciano added in. Ask about the story on that one! Open daily.
Bedford Winery offers Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Syrah and a field blend! Open daily.
Lumen Wines, handcrafted wines from Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Grenache Blanc, Pinot Noir and more. Open Tues–Sun.
Noshing and wine
Bob’s Well Bread Bakery I suggest that you stay in Los Alamos proper. Here’s why. And trust me on this. When morning rouses you, a leisurely stroll over to Bob’s for all of your protein and caffeine needs will set your day off right. The line will be out the door. From Beans on Toast to a Gravlax platter, kombucha to chocolate croissants (not that the latter two are equivalent or mutually exclusive), they have something for everyone. And indeed, they too have a selection of wines, including regional and sparkling, should you desire bubbles for breakfast. Heck, stay for lunch. Open Thurs–Mon. See picture below.
Full of Life Flatbread So at least one of your meals, if not a few, needs to be here. Consider picking up a flatbread and taking it over to Bodega. This place is divine. They have flatbreads of inventive combos like chorizo and clam, salads such as their signature take on the classic French version of shredded carrots and more. Sit in the garden among their robust plantings of aromatics and edibles. And wine? Yes dear. They have many from the area. They are open for lunch on the weekends and dinner Thurs–Sun.
Bell’s Here is your French Bistro inspired food, sourcing ingredients and vibe of the Los Alamos wine country. The owners bring a pedigree including stints at Per Se in NY, where they met. The wine is flowing here. They are open for lunch and happy hour, Thurs–Mon and dinner Thurs–Sun.
Pico at the Los Alamos General Store Founded by a winemaker and a chef, Pico is not just a foodie paradise. They are committed to fresh, local produce with a focus on sustainability and humane practices. Tastes and feels good. The extensive wine list showcases wines from around the globe, including many mentioned in this piece and their own, Lumen Wines, which has a tasting room on site. Open Tues–Sun. See picture below.
Lodging and wine
The Alamo (pictured top right) is your most central and walkable hotel. Right on Bell Street, this once roadside motel has been re-tooled for the millennial Marie Kondo era. With sparse desert inspired decor and cacti to follow suit, the practical hotel affords hip comfort in small rooms. Wine is available for purchase in room or on-site. About that, given the temperate weather most of the year, guests can hang out on the premises at MUNI, the Los Alamos outpost of the Santa Barbara based, Municipal Winemakers. They make a Cinsault and Riesling blend, aptly called, Nault Rieslin, and a sparkling Shiraz and more. Do a flight, order a glass or bottle to enjoy while relaxing in the adirondack chairs. One of the nights we stayed there, they did a screening of Indiana Jones on the lawn and we sipped wine under the stars. Dog friendly.
Skyview, is up on the hill, with a full service restaurant called Norman, inspired by one Mr. Bates. Skyview used to be a no frills overnight pit-stop, and is now a trend-setting haven with a swimming pool, included breakfast and bikes for rent. Dog friendly.
There are also the Cottages at Bob’s Well Bread and lodging at Bodega available to book via Airbnb. Pico also has a cottage available, inquiry form on their website.
If you dare to get back in the car, again, a quick 15 minutes away is the picturesque town of Los Olivos, CA. With a plethora of tasting rooms to choose from, to say nothing of the shops, galleries and eateries, here are a few tasting room recommendations:
Solminer This biodynamic winery produces some Austrian varieties, including Grüner Veltliner and Blaufränkisch (also known as Lemberger) as well as Pinot Noir, Riesling, Syrah, Grenache and more. They make a few sparkling wines in the ancestrale method. Open daily.
Story of Soil Working with small lot Pinot Noir, Grenache, Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc and Gamay Noir, the winemaker crafts gorgeous single varietal, small batch wines. Open daily.
Stolpman Vineyards Originally known for their Syrah, which remains exquisite, the second generation of Stolpman is branching out with Gamay and fun renderings like a carbonic Sangiovese. Open daily.