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Dancing at Sea: Days of Wine and roses: Santa Ynez Wine Excursion

Dancing at Sea: The Wine Excursions

Sunday May 10 Santa Ynez Wine Country tour

Buttonwood1We were scheduled to arrive at Santa Barbara at 7 am and depart 4 pm. I had pre-booked a Wine Country Tour leaving at 9 am. The directions on the ticket said to assemble in the Princess Theatre at 8:20 am. I knew that I needed to have some food in me or I would be staggering after the first few sips of wine – yes, I know you are not supposed to swallow but who doesn't? I grew up in South Africa where we had signs all over warning against spitting - "moenie spoeg nie" - thats Afrikanns for "don't spit", so Its kind of ingrained in me.

Checking the PrincessPatter (the glossy daily ship newsletter delivered each evening to one's cabin) I noted that the International Dining room opened for breakfast at 7 am. I set the alarm on my PDA for 6:00 am. Since it was well after midnight, in fact after 1 am before I got to sleep I did the belt and braces thing and also placed a wake up call through the ship's automated system. I joined the lineup outside the dining room just as the doors opened at 7 and was shown to a table where 2 couples, a mother/daughter pair and two other ladies were already seated. I declined the pastries and had a frittata with mushrooms, smoked provolone and Italian sausage, some fresh fruit and coffee. Delicious, but I realized soon that the dining room service is designed for a leisurely breakfast. Not a good choice for an early departure. When I excused myself from the table, the others were still lingering over their coffee and baked goods.

The Sapphire Princess was anchored out in the harbor at Santa Barbara and we had to transfer by tender to shore. As I entered the theatre assembly point and got my name checked off on the list, a round label was stuck on my shirt with the number of the tour I was taking. I was directed to a seat in a row with similarly labeled folks and very shortly we were following a guide to the location where we could board a tender. The automated card checking system enables the ship personnel to know exactly who is on or off the ship at any given time. All very orderly - I guess when you deal with thousands of people moving around many times a week you have to have things down to a fine art.

The sky was overcast and it was chilly with a slight wind. Just enough to rock the tender so that a few people looked rather uncomfortable during the short trip to shore but it was quick and very soon we were loading into the tour bus. I did not know anyone in the tour group but I figured that during the course of the day I would probably get to meet some folks.

This tour was run by Wine Edventures – billed as a “fun and educational wine tour.” The educational aspect was covered by a card on each seat with a list of important but basic wine terms. The fun part – well at each seat was a very large wine glass – ours to take with at the end of the tour. Both our tour guide, Summer, and driver, Sarafino, seemed reasonably knowledgeable and Summer kept us entertained by relating the history of the wine country, and of the chain of California Missions that stretch from San Diego to San Francisco.

b2We were scheduled to take the scenic route 54 to the Santa Ynez valley but massive wild fires in the area had closed that route. There was some concern about air quality but it turned out not to be a problem. The alternate route 101 got us to our first stop, Buttonwood Farm and Winery by 10 am. On the way we passed through Solvang, the town founded by Danish settlers in 1911 that is built in old Danish style architecture with cobblestone sidewalks. Remember Sideways, the sleeper hit movie that put Santa Ynez Pinot Noirs on the map? Anyway we did not stop there- although the longer Solvang and Wine Country tour does stop for lunch, I think. 

We pulled into the boutique Buttonwood Winery on time. The vineyard was originally bought as a farm for breeding thoroughbred horses but was developed into a winery in the 1980s. The buttonwood is a tree  native to the area. The first crush was in 199 and now they have 38 of 106 acres planted with 33000 vines.

I was struck by the exquisite labels on the bottles. They were designed by Seyburn Zorthian, the daughter of the owners. She is an artist trained in Japan and working in the sumi art form- which I understand utilizes a single brushstroke where the brush never leaves the paper.

The wines:

I tasted the 2006 Devin, a blend of 65% Sauvignon Blanc and 35% Semillion -  and a 2008 Syrah Rosé. I was a bit suspicious of a  Rosé from California having been served far too many glasses of White Zinfandel - too sickly sweet even for my palate - at conference receptions, but this blush was drier and rather nice. I skipped the Merlot tasting and  went to look at the art work inside the wine store.

As we got back into the bus, our driver generously offered everyone a strawberry from the large punnet he had purchased to take home to his family.  The one I had was big but absolutely packed with flavour.

From there we drove to the Firestone Winery, a complete contrast in size and commercial activity.  They have been in the winemaking business since the 1970s. 

Their tasting offering featured a 2007 Chenin Blanc  and  a Cabernet Franc Rose, a 2006 Chardonnay, a 2004 Merlot Reserve and three 2005 reds,  a Cabernet Syrah, a Syrah and a Cabernet Sauvignon. By the time I got to the Chardonnay  my "moenie spoeg nie" reservations had fled with my ever increasingly heavier eyelids and I decided not to try the last three red wines  in case I fell asleep on the spot.

By the time we got into the bus for the ride back to the Santa Barbara pier the wind had picked up and the ride in the tender back to the ship was quite choppy - one person actually got sea sick.

Dinner tonight was supposed to be formal dress and Wendy asked us to meet early for a group photo. I was quite tired and thought I might have a nap but not being used to napping during the day, my mind stayed resolutely active and awake till it was time to dress for dinner.