We recently spent some time in the Santa Ynez Valley for our first weekend getaway since moving to California! I had such fun exploring the area and will be sharing our experiences in a series of three blog posts (here is the first- Beer Mac and Cheese and Buellton, California). Today covers our time in Los Olivos, California along with a recipe for Blood Orange Chardonnay Cupcakes inspired by our cupcake flight and wine pairing at Saarloos & Sons.
Disclaimer: Consume alcoholic beverages at your own risk and liability. This recipe is intended only for those over the age of 21 (in the United States). Some alcohol may remain after baking. Please drink responsibly.
Los Olivos, California
Los Olivos is a historic town with a population of a little over 1,000 in the Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Barbara County. Created in 1887, it was named after a nearby ranch with 5,000 olive trees. Scattered with western and Victorian architecture, many of the downtown buildings are over one hundred years old. The town is also easy to navigate at less than 3 square miles in size. Once we parked the car and had lunch, we were able to walk to all of our stops without the use of a stroller for our 3 year old.
Los Olivos may be small, but it is packed with around 30 wine tasting rooms. While often centered around wine, there is so much more to try such as local olive oil (it is named Los Olivos after all), chocolate, great food, art, and shopping.
The town is a 2 1/2 hour drive/147 miles from Los Angeles. In the Santa Ynez Valley, it is 9 miles north of Buellton and 5.5 miles from Solvang.
Events are held throughout the year including the annual Los Olivos Jazz & Olive Festival every June.
Zaca Mesa Winery
Our first stop after Ostrichland USA was Zaca Mesa Winery. Located on a long, winding road at 6905 Foxen Canyon Road along the San Rafael Mountains, Zaca Mesa Winery began planting vineyards in 1973 and was the third to do so in Santa Barbara County following Prohibition. They celebrated 45 years in 2018!
Dedicated to Rhône varietals, Zaca Mesa was also the first vineyard in the area to plant Syrah (their signature, Black Bear Block Syrah, has been grown since 1978). Their 1993 Zaca Mesa Syrah achieved a Wine Spectator Top Ten at #6 (the first Central Coast wine to do so and one of only two today).
The large rustic tasting room is open daily from 10 am to 4 pm (5 pm on Fridays and Saturdays plus extended hours during the summer).
I tried a Mixed Flight Tasting (currently $15 tasting fee which is waived with a $50 wine purchase). Included during our visit:
- 2017 Pinot Blanc- Homage Collection from Bien Nacido Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley
- 2016 Z Cuvée Blanc- Estate Vineyard/54% Roussanne, 35% Grenache Blanc, 11% Viognier
- 2014 Roussanne- Estate Vineyard/92 PTS WE
- 2015 Grenache- Estate Vineyard
- 2015 Syrah- Estate Vineyard
- 2013 Z Three- Estate Vineyard/91 PTS WE/62% Syrah, 34% Mourvèdre, 4% Grenache
The reserved red tasting flight is $25. A cheese pairing can be added on to either tasting for an additional $15. With a reservation, you can do a winery tour and tasting for $30. They also offer a special vineyard experience for $100/person.
It was so hard to narrow down which wineries to visit during our short 3 day weekend (there are over 200 in Santa Barbara County)! Ultimately, Zaca Mesa caught Evan’s eye as I was putting together the itinerary and he saw photos of the large chessboard. The kids may not know how to play chess yet (and weren’t particularly open to learning during this experience), but had lots of fun making up their own games while we got a chance to relax and enjoy our time together. Along with being family friendly, leashed dogs are also allowed.
Picnics are welcome and there are plenty of picnic tables available. Heat wasn’t an issue for us in January, but the courtyard just outside the tasting room is shaded.
Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe
After the winery, we were ready for some lunch. Featured in the movie Sideways, Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe is located at 2879 Grand Avenue. They are open daily for lunch and dinner with the exception of Thanksgiving and Christmas.
With an extensive wine list, Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe is the premier wine merchant for California Central Coast wines along with other noteworthy selections from other areas in California and around the world.
We tried the Orecchiette (roasted garlic, house-made chicken sausage, oven dried tomato, parmesan, herbs), Mykonos Pizza (pesto, oven dried tomato, tapenade, feta, cucumber, cheese), Napoli Pizza (Evan ate the entire thing), and a grilled cheese sandwich for Claire. The fresh rosemary lemonade was also delicious. Much of the produce is sourced from their Cafe Farm and other local organic farmers.
Olive Hill Farm
For a break from wine tasting, Olive Hill Farm at 2901 Grand Avenue features local olive oil tasting and a variety of other gourmet food products such as table olives, olive tapenade, pickled products, honey, pasta, and fresh jam.
Along with extra virgin olive oils, they also have an assortment of infused olive oils (blood orange, lemon, habanero, rosemary, bacon, basil, and more) and premium vinegars including flavored vinegars such as Chardonnay Vinegar, Rose Vinegar, and Syrah Vinegar to compliment the region. The Peach Balsamic has been perfect for drizzling on salads. During the summer, I plan on pairing it with my Honey Peach Ice Cream and Peach Tomato and Mozzarella Crostini.
Los Olivos General Store
Los Olivos General Store is the perfect spot to find unique and fun gift ideas. Located in the heart of Los Olivos at 2900 Grand Avenue, the store is open daily from 10am-5pm. Products include artwork, kitchenware, artisan food, baby items, books, accessories, jewelry, candles, and items for the home. The Larner Vineyard and Winery Tasting Room can be found next door.
Stafford’s Chocolates is tucked inside an old water tower at 2902 San Marcos Road. They feature an assortment of handmade chocolates, nuts and chews, truffles, and specialty items such as the Ooey Gooey Bars and California Moon Pies. I especially loved the Sea Salt Caramels.
Found at 2356 Alamo Pintado Avenue, J. Woeste is open daily from 10am-5pm. Inside the 114-year old farmhouse, you will find whimsical items for the garden, art, sculptures, plants, and more.
Saarloos & Sons
There are dozens of tasting rooms throughout Los Olivos, but we were drawn to Saarloos & Sons for the unique experience of pairing a flight of cupcakes with the wine tasting.
Located at the northern edge of downtown Los Olivos at 2971 Grand Avenue, Saarloos & Sons is open daily from 11am-5pm. During the winter, the tasting room is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. A reservation is required for groups of 5 or more.
This four generation winery began as a small 17 acre farm with Syrah and they created their first bottle of wine in 2003. Each specially named wine (after a family member or something close to their hearts) produced is a limited release with the total production under 400 cases and as low as 40. Even the labels are specialized and often have family photos. Their family creed: “We Live to Honor those that have come before us, and to prepare the way for those yet to come.” Most of the wines are 100% Estate Grown.
Included in the tasting during our visit:
- 12- Sauvignon Blanc
- MOM- 2017 Grenache Blanc
- Extended Family- Pinot Noir
- BROER- El Camino Real Vineyard/Grenache Noir
- NineteenFifty5- Ten Year Anniversary 55% Cabernet Sauvignon 45% Syrah
- Courage- Cabernet Sauvignon
A shaded, inviting patio area is set up in front of the tasting room. It was the perfect spot to enjoy our wine and cupcakes while Evan worked on his drawing.
Created in 2009, Enjoy Cupcakes can be found inside the Saarloos & Sons tasting room along with another location in Santa Barbara, California. You can buy the little cupcakes individually or get a flight like we did. I probably should have gotten two flights since I was only able to try a small bite of each before Evan and (mostly) Claire devoured the rest.
The flavors rotate weekly. During our visit, the offerings were Blood Orange Chardonnay, Caramel Apple, Salted Pudding, Oreo Cheesecake, Blackberry Syrah, and Abba Zaba. We especially loved the Blood Orange Chardonnay Cupcakes and Oreo Cheesecake, but everything was wonderful. At the time of this post, the current flavors are Chocolate Blackberry Syrah, Hibiscus Orange Chardonnay, Peanut Butter Malt Ball, Salted Vanilla Toffee, Hostess, and Cookie Butter.
Other spots on our list that we didn’t get a chance to visit in this charming town include Epiphany, Andrew Murray Vineyards, Coquelicot Estate Vineyard, Honey Paper, Global Gardens, Panino, Side’s Hardware and Shoes, The Bear and Star, Solminer, Zinke Wine Co, The Doggy Door, and The Bubble Shack.
Blood Orange Chardonnay Cupcakes
Inspired by my favorite flavor from Enjoy Cupcakes, I made these Blood Orange Chardonnay Cupcakes at home! The Chardonnay cupcake base has light orange vanilla flavor and is topped with a Blood Orange Buttercream.
The blood orange is a type of orange common to the Mediterranean region, especially Sicily and Spain. The deep maroon interior, produced by the antioxidant anthocyanin, develops when the fruit is exposed to low temperatures. The rind may also have a reddish hue. The flavor is a bit more tart compared to other oranges. Peak season in the United States lasts from December to March. Italy and Spain grow a large percentage of blood oranges and California is the top American producer. If you don’t have blood oranges available, feel free to substitute and play around with your favorite type of orange or other citrus.
You can also use this recipe to make mini Blood Orange Chardonnay Cupcakes. They will only need to be baked for 12-15 minutes.
Blood Orange Chardonnay Cupcakes
Blood Orange Chardonnay Cupcakes
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter softened at room temperature
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs
- Zest from 1 blood orange
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup Chardonnay
- 1/2 cup sour cream
Blood Orange Buttercream:
- 1 cup unsalted butter softened at room temperature
- 4 cups powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Zest of 1 blood orange
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2-4 tablespoons blood orange juice
To make the Chardonnay Cupcakes:
Preheat oven to 350˚F. Line 12 muffin tins with cupcake liners or lightly grease.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment or a large bowl with a hand mixer, beat together the butter and granulated sugar. Beat in the eggs one at a time, followed by the orange zest and vanilla extract.
In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
In another bowl, whisk together the chardonnay and sour cream.
Mix 1/3rd of the flour mixture into the butter until just incorporated, followed by half of the chardonnay sour cream, 1/3rd of the flour, the remaining chardonnay sour cream, and the remaining flour.
Transfer the mixture to the prepared muffin tins, filling the 2/3 full (I used an ice cream scoop). Bake in preheated oven just until cooked through and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 22 minutes. Allow to cool on wire racks.
To make the Blood Orange Buttercream:
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk or a large bowl with a hand mixer, beat together the softened butter and powdered sugar. Mix in the vanilla extract, orange zest, and salt.
Slowly add the blood orange juice, just enough to create a smooth and creamy buttercream frosting.
Transfer to a piping bag fitted with desired tip and pipe onto cooled, room temperature cupcakes. If desired, top with slices of blood orange for garnish.