Nestled in Central California not far from the faux Danish village of Solvang, the Foxen Canyon Wineries offer one of the most unique spots in California to taste wine. Like Napa, there are many good wineries to taste from, the setting is bucolic, and tastings can be palate-opening in terms of flavor and variety. Foxen Canyon is beautiful area, dotted with hills, vineyards, open valleys and pastures. The road is winding, and despite the popularity of many of the wineries, it seems rarely, if ever, heavy with traffic.
Accessed off Highway 101 and Highway 154, there’s a personal sense of discovering some place off the beaten track, a serenity to the blue skies and lush farm fields that make the Foxen Canyon Wineries the perfect wine trail to meander along and savor.
One favorite is the Rancho Sisquoc winery, which offers small case production of a variety of wines. Possibly the most off-track of the entire wine trail, to reach it, tasters must turn off Foxen Canyon itself. Drive past a small white wooden church with an appropriately spooky looking cemetery, cross farmland on a one lane road, to the music of mooing cows, and only then reach the lovely tasting room. Spacious grounds are scattered with antique wagons and picnic tables, the perfect spot to settle in and enjoy whatever is purchased after a foray into the tasting room.
Rancho Sisquoc produces under 10,000 cases annually, including a run of well-regarded Pinot Noir and Malbec. It’s the Sylvaner, a white with sweet hints of citrus, that may be the most exceptional however. Complex, light, and dry, it seems to embody the sunshine and rolling green of the grounds.
The Koehler Winery is another beautiful spot, with an entrance road bordered by vineyards and towering oaks. There’s an expansive view from the picnic area here, and the wines are all estate grown, and have been for forty years. Like Rancho Sisquoc, the tasting experience includes a beautiful location that enhances the enjoyment of the wines themselves. Guests sipping on the winery’s Oak Terrace revel in the shadow of 200 year old oak trees. The valley and vineyards spread out below the tasting room, visible from a deck surrounded by wild flowers, and occupied by comfortable lounge furniture. The tasting flight here is exceptional, and includes six very different wines plus a keepsake logo glass. The 2011 Grenache tasted on a recent visit had hints of cherry and oak; the 2012 Chardonnay was precise, creamy, and light.
The Zaca Mesa Winery has an open modern tasting room, and a comfortable picnic area that offers a special past time – chess on a life-sized chess board. Rather take a stroll than play a game? The winery offers guests a short hiking trail that leaves from the parking area. The vintners’ well regarded Rousanne white is something special indeed. Made with a complex white grape native to the Rhône Valley in France, it’s planted on only 300 acres throughout California, with ten of those acres at Zaca Mesa. The 2010 Roussanne contains elements of pear, figs, honey, and apricots, and it’s smooth and rich.
Other must-visit wineries of Foxen Canyon wine trail include Foxen Vineyards, known for it’s stellar Pino Noir, Riverbench, and Kenneth Volk Vineyards. For those who like their wineries writ large, the Fess Parker Winery and Vineyard at the start of the trail is enormous, often busy with tours and tasting parties, and has a large shop where gift items and wines are sold. Despite it’s more commercial mien, the vineyards are gorgeous and sprawling, and live music often makes the patio area a pleasant stopping point on weekends.