Discover SLO County’s Artisan Food & Wine Producers with 101 Wine Tours!
I love my job, whether I’m making new discoveries on my own, or “accidentally” discovering them through media tours of wine country–either way, we all win when we support our local farms (as Jim Adelman, general manager at Au Bon Climat and Qupe in Santa Maria Valley, once pointed out to me: “Technically, a winery with a vineyard is a farm.”). I recently received an invitation from a local entrepreneur named Laura Jeffrey, creator of 101 Wine Tours, to ride along on a media tour that I eagerly accepted.
In no time at all I was being carried off with my peers in the media for another great, hassle-free visit of Central Coast artisan farms and wineries that every foodie who follows me will want to know about! Now here’s what is cool about Jeffrey. Book a tour with her and she can help you select your dream-come-true tour of any wine and food region from Paso Robles to Santa Barbara. But as she told us while on the cruise, “Of course, I like to provide a tour of the wineries I prefer. But my first duty is to my passengers and I will do everything I can do to provide the tour they desire, and visit their favorite wineries.”
During that unforgettable, media wine country tour of Paso Robles and Cambria on Monday, April 11th, I found a great new source for heirloom walnuts, walnut butter, and walnut oil, fine wines and a craft distillery, a killer spot for an alfresco picnic lunch, and last but hardly least a busy goat farm tucked away in a Cambria forest. It was so far out in the country, I thought we’d run into Robin Hood sooner or later. But I’m not sure that would be better than meeting the passionate people behind the Stepladder Farm, founded in 1870!
Our eye-opening experience came about thanks to Jeffrey. Relatively a newcomer to the Central Coast, a few years ago, she and her husband moved to Arroyo Grande Valley because their middle son (of three) was attending Cal Poly where he was studying viticulture and winemaking. Along the twisting, winding road on Vineyard Drive, she told us her office couldn’t be better: It’s in the bus traveling along our gorgeous wine trails here on the Central Coast (yet she admitted some work is done at her home office desk). There’s no doubt about it, Jeffrey loves her work and has devoted herself to knowing about all the best of our wine country regions, from Paso Robles to Santa Barbara. Not to mention the fact she earned her first certification as Sommelier, so she’s quite knowledgable about the intriguing world of wine. She loves wine as much as any of us who do, making her all the more fun in helping us find the best of wine country.
Limerock Orchards shares the tasting room with Brochelle Vineyard & Roxo Port Cellars at the corner of Vineyard Drive and Peachy Canyon Road.
Our first stop at the corner of Vineyard Drive and Peachy Canyon Road was at Limerock Orchards. Owned and operated by Deanne Gonzales, she farms a 50-year-old orchard of two types of heirloom walnuts that are dry-farmed (not irrigated), and grown organically on the limestone-like soils. She explained that the walnut trees grow deep roots, which allows them to grow superior walnuts despite the current drought.
“All of our trees are grafted and grow vigorously in this alkaline soil,” Gonzales noted. “We grow a 50/50 crop of Franquette and Hartley varieties that are higher in oil content and creamy, without a bitter skin. The walnuts have sweet meat when we harvest them in September or October.” Once harvested her walnuts are shipped to the Central Valley where they are dried using natural gas. When I tasted her walnut oil, I was quite surprised by it’s creaminess and rich flavor–nary a hint of bitterness. When I tasted the walnut butter, it seemed a revelation, it was so far superior to any peanut butter I had ever tasted! And let me tell you, I love peanut butter.
Unfortunately she had run out of walnut oil and was expecting a shipment in that afternoon (which they did receive so you can buy it, but you’d better visit soon, she always runs out. It was a bummer that morning as all of us wanted to buy some! Next, however, she provided the unexpected treat of a bundt-style pumpkin walnut cake that was delightful! No one left a bite behind (and I swear I could have eaten another slice it was so soulful!). Her brochures provide recipes and I’m sure you can easily find more on her webpage at www.limerockorchards.com.
I also recommend visiting www.walnuts.org for nutritional information and many more recipes to enjoy.
Finally, in this first chapter, I highly recommend visiting www.101winetours.com to learn more about Jeffrey and her wonderful wine, beer, olive oil, and farm tours. I will be writing about each and every fabulous experience so you can get to know fine producers like Halter Ranch, Barton Wine Co., Jeffry’s Catering at Barton’s Kitchen Window, Deovlet Wines (all of them in Paso Robles), and Stepladder Farm Creamery in Cambria.