We stood by and nodded, clutching wine glasses that held Windemere 2002 Pinot Noir MacGregor Vineyard. Its grapes had been harvested three years before right here and right on time, apparently. It was delicious.
And what a treat to sip it here in MacGregor Vineyard. With MacGregor.
This is an uncommon wine-country offering in the Edna Valley, which parallels the Central Coast just southeast of San Luis Obispo. MacGregor's 23-acre vineyard stretches out next to the Suite Edna Bed & Breakfast, an inn of infinite charm that occupies a 1908 farmhouse. Innkeeper Pattea Torrence and MacGregor have teamed up to offer a hands-on vineyard opportunity to overnight guests and other visitors to the region. There are tasks to be done throughout the year, and the two-hour Edna Valley Vineyard Experience, offered on periodic Saturdays, enables inquisitive travelers to delve into the grape-growing and wine-making processes.
In the upcoming summer experiences, the activity might involve tying up vines, thinning the clusters of grapes and removing the insidious suckers at the base of vines. Each outing, priced at $75 per person,
Our trip last October coincided with a real bonanza for the wine-country visitor: harvest.
Most of the vineyard is planted in chardonnay grapes, which do extremely well along this particular stretch of the Central Coast. When we hopped down off the wagon, vineyard worker Adolfo Holguin gave us a quick tutorial on picking the grapes: steel cutting hook around the vine that holds each clump, free hand gently supporting the grapes, swift clipping motion to free them, and into the bin they go.
We soon noticed that he was harvesting about eight clusters to every one we liberated from the vine, and it gave us an appreciation for this hard work. The rows seemed to go on forever. Fortunately, this encounter is designed just to give novices a taste of the work, not to wear them out. Before long, we headed back to the historic and pleasantly ramshackle Blue Belly Barn on the Suite Edna property, there to toss the clusters into a de-stemming apparatus and then into a hand-operated wine press.
The cloudy green yield of our little chardonnay harvest was soon flowing freely out the base, into every glass container we could lay our hands on someone even had to run to the cottage kitchen to collect every available flower vase.
Wine-country experiences are rarely this engaging. Usually, you hear a few words of jargon-laced pontification in the tasting room, and perhaps see the steel tanks and stacks of oak barrels on a winery tour.
But here, in addition to actually participating in the tasks, we were able to hear from MacGregor herself about the climate traits and growing conditions that impart certain characteristics to the wine.
"The fog comes up early from Pismo," she said and, indeed, Price Canyon provides a vent to the ocean, which is only 4 1/2 miles away. "Usually it gets windy by 3 o'clock, bringing cool air in from Morro Bay (15 miles to the northwest). That's why we have such a long, moderate growing season. It results in a luscious, tropical fruitiness in Edna Valley chardonnays mango, papaya, grapefruit, kiwi, flavors that I haven't tasted in other areas. Napa has more of an apple flavor."
MacGregor's father, the late Andy MacGregor, planted this vineyard in 1975, and proved to be something of a visionary. He chose chardonnay and pinot noir at a time when other area vintners were employing a grab-bag approach, growing riesling, gewurztraminer, merlot, cabernet sauvignon. Today, chardonnay is the Edna Valley's featured player.
We sampled some of that, too, as the sun fought through a stormy sky over Pismo Beach to the west.
The setting was just about perfect for this experience. The bed-and-breakfast occupies a town site that dates back more than 100 years.
The Edna post office was established here in 1887. A train station went up in 1896. In a two-story corrugated tin building that is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, John Tognazzini operated a general merchandise store downstairs and a dance hall upstairs. The farmhouse out back was built in 1908. The old buildings had been abandoned for more than 20 years when Torrence relocated her antique business to the old store in 1998. She and husband Jeff Kocan then bought the place in 2000, and with help from her father, Duke, a thorough labor-of-love restoration was launched.
Today a gourmet deli, Fiala's, operates out of the old store, and the three-bedroom B&B occupies the farmhouse.
The site lies along a rural back road Highway 227, between Arroyo Grande and San Luis Obispo and overnight guests drift off to sleep to the sounds of a creek, an occasional train whistle (the tracks skirt a hill a few hundred yards away) and an insomniac rooster penned near the barn.
Though not generally enthused with B&Bs which seem universally infected with frilliness we were enchanted by a two-night stay in this old house. It has immaculate wooden floors and comfortable featherbeds, and is tastefully appointed throughout with Torrence's wealth of farm-country antiques. There are some very thoughtful touches here soaps and lotions from Bonny Doon Farm in Santa Cruz, for example.
Breakfast is included in the room rate ($235 for a couple, with two other bedrooms available if your group is larger).
You just walk through the front yard to Fiala's, and perhaps sip a gourmet coffee drink while waiting for your order, and then carry it back to the farmhouse to dine on either the covered front porch or a side sundeck.
The grounds of the B&B are as much fun as the farmhouse itself. There is a treehouse in a mature pepper tree, a schoolhouse, a history room, a gypsy wagon and, of course, the old barn. Morning glories engulf many of these outbuildings. Above the store, meanwhile, is the Meeting Hall, which is available for group functions.
On the morning we checked out, I couldn't help but take one last peek into the refrigerator that stands on the farmhouse's rear service porch. All of those glass containers were in there, brimming with that freshly crushed chardonnay bounty. Cathy MacGregor would be by later to transport them to her winery in a San Luis Obispo industrial park, there to begin the process of turning it into wine. Now that would be worth coming for in a couple of years.
|IF YOU GO|
|IN THE VINEYARD:||The Edna Valley Vineyard Experience at MacGregor Vineyard is offered on periodic Saturdays during times of vineyard activity, and is open to anyone not just guests of the Suite Edna Bed & Breakfast. The next events are set for June 3, July 8, Aug. 26, Sept. 2 and Sept. 23. Cost is $75 per person. Each outing is limited to eight people. Includes appetizers and tastes of four estate wines from the vineyard. It's requested that reservations be made at least 30 days before the event. For information or to make reservations, visit www.oldedna.com. Phone: (805) 544-8062 or (805) 542-0133.|
|BED-AND-BREAKFAST:||The Suite Edna B&B, near the intersection of Price Canyon Road and Highway 227 in San Luis Obispo, is adjacent to MacGregor Vineyard. A couple may rent a two-room suite, which includes use of the full kitchen, for $235 per night. For a family or a larger group, either of two other bedrooms may be added to the stay, one for $150 per night, the other for $135. Breakfast or lunch at the adjacent Fiala's deli is included. Two-night minimum stay on weekends. Information and reservations: www.oldedna.com; (805) 544-8062.|
|NEXT IN THE SERIES:||The best of Seattle's off-the-beaten-path cafes, April 30. To review other stories in The Culinary Traveler series, visit www.greatescapes.com.|