By Roberta Rinaldi, Beverly Hills Examiner Wine Writer.
For Labor Day, pack your corkscrew, some sun screen and head to Avila Beach, a picturesque getaway with a special draw for wine lovers. Sheltered in a cove between the Santa Lucia Mountains and the Pacific, it makes an ideal seaside hub for exploring nearby Edna Valley and Paso Robles wine country. It also boasts The Avila Wine Trail, accessible from the town’s beachfront promenade, and home to impressive local wineries’ tasting rooms.
Set up camp at Avila Lighthouse Suites, poised at the boardwalk’s edge, and you won’t have to get back in the car to enjoy a relaxing weekend of new wines, casual dining and frolicking in the surf–some version of heaven for traffic-weary Angelenos. The friendly staff is eager to help guests plan an individualized itinerary. They can guide you to the local golf course, every manner of water sport, trips to Hearst Castle and surrounding wine country, all within easy reach.
This pristinely maintained, 54 unit retreat is just a sidewalk across from the sand. Its pale blue and yellow Cape Cod-style bungalows form a U around a luxuriously warm, oceanfront swimming pool, perfectly situated for people watching.
Nautically-themed, two-room suites are comfortably appointed with spacious master bedrooms and living rooms equipped with sofa beds. Amenities include TVs in each room, a fridge, microwave, wet bar (holding wine glasses galore), complimentary Wi-Fi, spa services and a fully equipped fitness room. Continental breakfast, served daily in The Galley, is included, although a delicious full breakfast can be enjoyed at nearby Custom House, a neighborhood landmark.
Outside your door is Front Street, which leads straight to the wine trail. Stretching along Avila’s half mile beach, the walkway is lined on both sides with local artists of various media, including whimsical paintings of the area and sculptures of maritime subjects. Mixed in are street musicians, adding to a festive, laid-back vibe. Storefronts house all manner of eclectic boutiques and casual restaurants. If you were trying to capture the scene for a movie pitch, you’d say, “Venice boardwalk, without the grunge, meets a wine-centric, Laguna-type artist’s colony.”
Continue to Landing Passage, running between Front and First Streets. Within a two block radius, you will find Alapay Cellars, Avila Wine & Roasting Company, Morovino Winery, Peloton Cellars, 2nd Chance Winery & Gallery (no website found) and Wood Winery. Tasting rooms are unique and artfully designed. Staff (often the winemakers themselves) are welcoming and knowledgeable about the wines. You’ll be delighted by their overall high quality, and to have stumbled upon these hidden gems, which are produced in such small lots they are rarely distributed outside the vicinity.
After a tough day of drinking, meander north on First Street for a bite at Cuvée Champagne and Delights Bar. Here, the lovely Executive Chef, Mari Lenci, offers a Mediterranean, small plates menu. A native of Lucca, Italy, Mari was trained first by her chef-mother, which shows in her lovingly prepared food made from the freshest local ingredients. Toast your labor-free weekend with one of the many sparklers on Mari’s menu, while planning the next day’s leisure.
Highlights from a days tasting:
- Alapay Cellars’ Scott and Rebecca Remmenga chose their winery’s name from the Chumash word for heavenly. They take pride in a hands on approach with visitors, creating an entertaining and educational atmosphere. Alapay’s 2010 Central Coast Chardonnay and 2012 Santa Barbara County Viognier are delightful, fresh Summer wines–ideal for picnics on the beach or grilled seafood.
- Morovino Winery’s Andrea Bradford on her philosophy of wine making: “There are every day wines, Friday night wines and wines you drink on your birthday. I like to make Friday night wines.” She does so with panache. Her rosé of pinot grigio was deeply satisfying–made more complex than its white counterparts by 5 days skin contact and aging in neutral French oak barrels. Her 2012 Dry Riesling is light and easy drinking, nuanced with tropical fruit, herbal and bright citrus notes.
- Peleton Cellars is owned by four old friends who are avid cyclists. Peleton is French for the main pack of riders in a cycling race. Their 2011 Albariño Jeperson Ranch, a racy, zippy little number, is at the head of the pack. The crisp, warm weather wine has intense floral aromatics and drips with juicy stone fruit.