Wandering around the Central Coast over the weekend made it clear just how far wine has come in this state. While staying in the tiny hamlet of Los Alamos we dropped into Bodega which, in appearance, looks like every other bougie hipster wine space with a bocce court, corn hole, massive fire cauldron surrounded by lounge chairs, and an entire green house full of the plants of the moment but…. it’s completely devoted to natural wines. Friday they featured Amplify Wines which had some terrific finds, especially their Para Pato, a Refosco Pet Nat. It’s like a well structured dry Lambrusco that reflects the hands off aesthetic of this label. The winemaker was there, the conversation was friendly, families were everywhere.
We kept running into that vibe wherever we went. There are huge wineries and tiny tasting rooms in industrial parks – but everyone seems to be dedicated to the area. Vinters want to pull character out of the unique vines and geology, restaurants feature all the local produce – we were fortunate to be there during their chanterelle megabloom. Many are succeeding and sought the area out exactly because this was where they could pursue that vision. Here in SF and the more established areas like Napa and Sonoma it’s probably too expensive. But even on the Central Coast the prices reflect a tension. I can only assume that $30 and up bottle prices reflect recent mortgages and rising competition for particular vineyards.
The culinary scene feels the same way – places like Industrial Eats in Buellton which truly is situated within a light industrial park – always had a line out the door, a huge menu with all sorts of local produce, and casual counter ordering / table service. While the technique isn’t always up to the task on some items, the mainstay pizzas and sandwiches and rotating wine list make up for it.
Not to be alarmist but clearly things are changing, and changing fast. We stayed at the Skyview in Los Alamos which was fun but eerily similar if you’ve stayed in any other hipster enclave. It’s a refashioned highway motel with everything you’d expect (cocktail bar, restaurant, designy touches, etc) except the espresso bar. It feels like it was dropped onto the hill overlooking this dusty little hamlet as a bulwark for future tourists. The strip in Los Alamos is clearly growing fast and full of tourists on the wine trail.
But to really get a sense for what this looks like you have to go up to Paso Robles where Tin City, what used to be a light industrial park where a winery or three rented space, has become a fully bespoke business park for wineries replicate with fake waterfall and all the accoutrement (sheep’s milk ice cream shop, olive bar, distillery, brewery, and a ton of wineries) except an espresso bar. I remember visiting Field Recordings not that many years ago in their first tasting room just down the road which was shimmed into a real light industrial park. Now the simulacrum has become the real thing.
And, apparently it’s not just the space. We were chatting with a local proprietor who moved down from San Francisco and is seeing the same effect: More people moving from the Bay Area, rising housing costs, tighter labor market. I’m not all doom and gloom. It’s well worth the trip, especially in a season like this one where all the hills are carpeted in green and wildflowers. It’s no wonder that one of the constant conversational tropes is about whether you’d move there.
Places to try:
– Lo-Fi Wines
– Amplify Wines
– Skyview Los Alamos
– Rourke Wine Company
– Industrial Eats
– Bell’s Restaurant
– Bob’s Well Bread
– Full of Life Flatbread
– Bodega Wines
– Field Recordings
– Giornata Wines (+ Etto Pastas and Italian foods)
– Stolpman Wines