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Tuesday Tributes: Best of the Blogs
Travels With Steve

By Charles Olken

Every northern California wine lover, and most of the rest of us if the truth be known, has made the drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles the long way. The short way is fast freeway down I-5. People say it can be done in six hours or less. I know it can because Mrs. Olken and I did it thirty years ago in her Porsche. I did not fall in love with her for her Porsche, but I sure liked it when it joined the family. No such luck today--the family car is a station wagon. But, sooner or later, driving I-5 gets to be a big bore, and even if we are not headed to wine country, taking the longer route down 101 calls to us and six hours turns into nine. Of course, one does not have to go all the L. A. to take the more scenic route. There is wine country down that way and with places like the Santa Lucia Highlands reachable in two hours, Paso Robles in three and change, Santa Barbara in four if you do not stop at Morgan or Justin or Adelaida or Alban or Talley or Laetitia, it is a drive we all have done or ought to do.

The other day, my winewriting buddy, Steve Heimoff, set out to make a visit to Santa Barbara County and when he got there, he wrote the best California driving story this side of William Steinbeck. It inspired many of us to comment on his blog with nothing more than “thanks for taking us along on the ride”. If you have ever made that drive, or if you only want a feel for the countryside along a rather lengthy wine trail, this entry in the eponymous blog, Steve Heimoff ( is must reading. Herewith, excerpts strung together and demanding that you go read the rest. Follow the link above for the rest.

“I’m in the little town of Santa Ynez, in the heart of the Santa Ynez Valley of Santa Barbara County. The weather is coolish. As in the North Coast, Central and Southern California have had their coldest summer since the 1940s. Vintners down here don’t seem as freaked out about the vintage as those in the North Coast, though. I think the main reason for that is because they basically don’t have to worry about rain, even though the harvest is 2-3 weeks later than normal. Precipitation falls off rapidly south of San Francisco, although it’s also true that in an El Nino year, L.A. can have more rainfall than the City by the Bay. I like the drive down from Oakland to the Santa Ynez Valley — that is, once I’ve busted out of Bay Area traffic. Thank goodness for CDs. I put on “Revolver” and it hasn’t lost a thing over the last 45 years. The Beatles are rock’s Beethoven.

Past San Jose, the 101 opens up. People knock the 101 but to me, as a wine lover and someone who appreciates California geology, geography and history, it’s a fabulous road. First you hit the Coyote Valley, still verdant despite on the verge of being gobbled up by San Jose. Then there’s that long, tortured stretch through the hills of San Benito County, old, rugged, rural California, at this time of the year golden and craggy and just fine to see. I always look for the turnoff to the Monterey Peninsula. It’s a sign I’m about to break out of Northern California to the Central Coast.”

Go read Winewriting is not always about great wine. Sometimes it is about great drives.


No Subject
by Steve Heimoff
Posted on:9/29/2010 8:12:35 AM

Thanks for the nod, Charlie.

Hwy 101
by Christian Miller
Posted on:9/30/2010 9:28:50 PM

Other cool 101 features:

--interesting taquerias and panaderias in the towns strung out along 101 in the Salinas valley.

--about 45 minutes of clear visualization of the terroir differences between Santa Lucia Highlands and the valley floor of the Monterey appellation.

--the remarkable San Miguel mission. Somewhat delapidated, its dusty, isolated and undeveloped location gives you a better historical ambience and feeling for what the missions were really like in the 1700s to early 1800s. Damaged in the earthquake, they are still working on restorations, if you stop by please donate.

--the Templeton Gap between Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo, and incredible illustration of the interaction of terroir and microclimate, the temperature can drop 20 degrees with a few minutes driving.

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