Wednesday, July 8, 2015

La Quinta Inn upgrades facilities in 'Sideways' country

The La Quinta Inn and Suites in the wine country town of Paso Robles, California will soon open some upmarket accommodations that could be just the thing for vacationing vinophiles.

Photo provided by La Quinta
The property, in the center of the wine country area featured in the movie, "Sideways" will open 37 new Villa Suites for guests seeking more space and other amenities that will facilitate an "at home experience," according to the property's announcement.

Villa Suites include full kitchens, 10-foot ceilings, electric fireplaces, 49-inch TVs, and large balconies. The Aug. 5 grand opening will include a wine reception and small bites, tours of the new rooms and building, and a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

The property's proximity to a number of wineries, both large and small, make it an excellent base to explore the region, as my wife and I did a few years ago when we spent a couple of very enjoyable days exploring the area of California's Central Coast and checking out several of the haunts featured in the movie.

Our own 'Sideways' tour

Our first stop after a leisurely drive along Highway 101 from northern LA county was a place we had both visited as kids: Pea Soup Andersen's in Buellton. When traveling with our parents and siblings during summer road trips, each of our families would occasionally stop at one of the many such establishments in California, and we both remembered them fondly. And, as we both enjoy split pea soup, it was a great way to put something solid in our stomachs before beginning the wine tasting.

This restaurant made its appearance in the movie and is directly across the street from "The Days Inn Windmill," the hotel at which Miles and Jack stayed during their visit to the area. As you'll recall if you've seen the movie, the main character Miles and his Lothario-like best friend Jack come to the central coast for a sort of wine-tasting bachelor party before Jack's wedding.

Our next stop was a little shop in downtown Solvang called Tastes of the Valleys. This tasting room offers a variety of wines from the area and advice about what one must see. Based on that advice, we decided to pass on the tasting rooms in the town and headed directly to the wineries where, we were told, they'd serve the better wines instead of trying to mass-market whatever they had on hand. And with a $10 tasting fee more or less the norm, we wanted the most bang for the buck.

On, then, to the Alma Rosa winery where some scenes had been shot for "Sideways." The proprietors proudly display a picture of Virginia Madsen (who played Maya in the movie), perched on their porch with a glass of wine in hand, though the shot was from a photo shoot for a book rather than being from the movie. The people were knowledgeable and friendly, but we thought many of the wines to be a bit pricey. We left with one bottle of a Pinot Blanc.

Next, we went to Dierburg Star Lane Winery. Though the winery was not in the movie, the wines were exceptional, and we left with three more bottles: two Sauvignon Blanc and a Cabernet Sauvignon.

After checking in to a funky little hotel called the Wine Valley Inn in the Danish-themed town of Solvang, we headed west on highway 246 to the Hitching Post II, which is the restaurant where Miles and Jack meet Maya.

As in the movie, the Hitching Post actually does make its own wine, and the 2006 Pinot Noir and Merlot we chose were quite nice indeed. The restaurant was not offering ostrich the night we were there, though there is an ostrich farm next door and the locals say they do often serve the delicacy. Our dinner (an appetizer of grilled pheasant with sweet potato puree, an entree of New York strip steak with salad, shrimp cocktail, baked potato, and garlic bread) was excellent, and we bought Bottle No. 5 - a Merlot - to add to our ever-growing collection.

After a good night's sleep, we began day two of our Sideways tour, appropriate to our surroundings, with coffee and Danish pastries.

From Solvang, which means "sunny fields," we drove to Los Olivos, the home of several tasting rooms and a well-stocked grocery named, perhaps predictably, the Los Olivos Grocery. There, we stocked up on the picnic supplies that would later become lunch, then set off to taste.

Walking Los Olivos' main street was interesting, as is the case in many small towns. However, the tasting rooms in town seemed to be a bit "elastic" as to their hours. While we were there well after their posted opening times, the doors were locked and the lights were off so, eager to let the tasting begin, we headed out to three wineries along Foxen Canyon Road north of town.

Our first stop was Fess Parker. Begun by the actor who we Baby Boomers grew up watching as both Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone, the winery has become a well-respected establishment and purveyor of some "super-premium" wines. While their signature wines are lovely, they also offer more pedestrian blends for commensurately more modest prices. We left with a Dry Riesling, a 2006 "Big Easy" Cabernet Sauvignon (which is exactly as the name implies: big and easy to drink) and a table wine called "Frontier Red." Fess Parker also includes the glass, which has a coonskin cap logo, for your $10 tasting fee.

With our collection up to eight bottles, we headed up the road to Zaca Mesa, a winery that boasts of producing its wines "sustainably." Regardless of that proviso (or its appearance in Sideways) few of its wines grabbed us, though we did select a very smooth, creamy white called Roussanne and a 2006 Syrah.

Our last stop was the Foxen vineyard farthest north on Foxen Canyon Road. That distinction is important because Foxen has two tasting rooms less than a mile apart; the one we visited featured more white wines and was also a location in the movie. Despite the winery's larger selection of whites, we bought a 2006 Cabernet and had our picnic lunch on their patio.

One of the unfortunate realities of wine tasting is that the palate becomes jaded and most people lose the ability to discern subtle flavors much more quickly than they might think. Many of the wine room attendants suggested that three to five wineries should be one's daily limit, depending on how many wines are sampled at each stop.

The area has so many wineries, we were barely able to scratch the surface. With that in mind, a longer stay in "Sideways" country will happen some time in the future, and the extended stay accommodations available at the La Quinta Inn and Suites might just become our home base.

Visit my main page at TheTravelPro.us for more news, reviews, and personal observations on the world of upmarket travel.



Photos by Carl Dombek unless otherwise noted
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