The Day Trip: From L.A. to Lompoc Wine Country

Destination: The Wine Ghetto in Lompoc

Pondering what to do with your 48-hours of freedom? Consider this: a wine tasting day trip to stain your teeth purple. This recurring column will guide you to some of the most exciting wine road trips around Southern California, complete with tips on what to drink, what to eat, and where to stay.

Game Plan:
Head to the Wine Ghetto in Lompoc, California, a mere 2.5 hours north of L.A. (one hour from Santa Barbara) along 101/1 North.

On the outside, the “Ghetto,” is an unsuspecting industrial park of metal garages. Corrugated steel doors roll up to reveal tasting rooms of varying sizes and décor, behind which lie production rooms teeming with stainless steel tanks and barrels of aging wine. 

Thanks to all the great vineyards in and around Santa Barbara—stellar locations like the St. Rita Hills AVA and Santa Maria Valley AVA that produce exceptional Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines—there are 21 tasting rooms at the Ghetto, all pouring an array of varietal offerings and styles. Some staple favorites are Ampelos, Arcadian, Longoria, Pali, Palmina, Piedrasassi and Stolpman, but don’t shy away from the other 14, where the risk of discovering a new favorite wine is the only danger.

Winery Spotlight:
I spoke with Joseph Mark Davis, Owner and Winegrower of Arcadian, about his rather unique “current release” offerings. While most wineries are presently pouring their 2012 and 2011 vintages, Arcadian is just about to release wines from 2008.

“We’ve set ourselves apart by sitting on our wines for quite a long time before we release them,” says Davis. In our current culture of instant gratification, Davis is happy to be aging wines for the consumer, “because of the complexities that develop.” His 2008 Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays spent four years in barrel and two years in the bottle, and for $12 per tasting flight, you can taste the current 2007 offerings, possibly an 2008 and, “depending on what we have open,” says Davis, “maybe a 2001 or 2005.” (Hint: buy two bottles and they’ll comp your tasting).

Tasting Etiquette Tip: Spit!
Let’s get serious a moment—you are driving and this is supposed to be a day trip. Either bring a designated driver, or be prepared to taste like a pro and spit. There’s some absurd myth floating around that decrees spitting to be “rude.” It’s not. In fact, you are highly encouraged to spit out all the wine you taste at a tasting (maybe they should be called spittings?) You will still experience the bouquet, the taste and even the finish—minus the impacts of alcohol.

Wine Ghetto Hours:
Tasting rooms are closed Tuesday-Wednesday. Some are open Monday and Thursday; all are open Saturday-Sunday. Visit this site for each winery’s hours of operation. Also, most tasting rooms are dog friendly (if on a leash)—call ahead to confirm.

Where to Eat: 
The gastronomically-impoverished Lompoc just got a new European-style butchery/grocery called Central Coast Specialty Foods. A great place for lunch, they also serve up an array of items that will ignite the passions of a true gastronome, think: wild boar, venison, duck, pastas, truffle oil and truffle honey—along with great salads and an incredible selection of cheeses. Open Mon-Sat, 10am-6pm; Sun 10am-4pm.

Where to Spend the Night:
If you do decide to stay the night, consider bunking up in nearby Solvang, a definitively Danish town with plenty of overnight options, or go where the party is—back in Santa Barbara. Stay at Charlie Chaplin’s Montecito Inn if on a budget and if not, get a room at Fess Parker’s Double Tree, because you’ll wake up on the beach. Wine Ghetto, 200 N. 9th St., Lompoc; 805-735-8937