Wine Skins

We’ve been in love with Wine Skins for years.  When we travel to wine growing regions around the world, we always take plenty of Wine Skins with us.

Wine Skins are bottle shaped containers made from flexible, heavy duty plastic lined with bubble wrap.  Along the bottom of the Wine Skin is a double row of adhesive tape, so you can securely seal them.   Wine Skins protect the wine well, seal or unsealed.  Once the Wine Skins are filled, we wrap them in clothes in our luggage for a bit of extra protection.

Using Wine Skins, we’ve never had a bottle of wine break.  We usually leave them unsealed, so we can use them over and over.  The bottles fit tightly enough in the Wine Skin, that you shouldn’t need to seal them.

There are imitations out there, but it’s hard to match the quality of the true Wine Skin.  While they may cost a bit more, the fact that they’re sturdy and hold up for a long time, makes them an inexpensive way to make sure you’re wine arrives home with you in perfect condition.

Wine Skins are available from Amazon.

Carhartt Vineyards


2990A Grand Avenue
Los Olivos, CA 93441



Favorite Wines:  Grenache Blanc and Merlot  

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We stumbled upon Carhartt Vineyards when we were looking for a lunch spot in Los Olivos one afternoon.  We’re so glad we did.  Was it the Bob Marley music playing from the patio?  Maybe.  Was it the intriguing thought of having wine at the “World’s Smallest Tasting Room”?  Could be.  All we know is this place was one the more unique wine tasting experiences we had.  Everything here is laid back and it’s almost like a family party. And, yes, the wines were great, too!

Located at the end of Grand Avenue in Los Olivos, you can’t miss the “red shed” that is the Carhartt Vineyards wine tasting room.  You can fit about 6 or 8 people shoulder to shoulder.  Even that may be optimistic.  But the patio, wow.  A tree covered oasis where you can easily fit about 40 people.  The atmosphere is great, the wine flows freely and the service and knowledge of the pourers are top notch.  But they should be.  More often than not, it will be a Carhartt or member of the Carhartt family who’ll be doing the pouring.

Based upon the crowds when we visited on a Saturday afternoon, this is one of the hottest spots to be in Los Olivos.  Carhartt (yes, they’re part of THAT Carhartt family) has a wide selection of wines that are reasonably priced.  It’s probably better to say exceptionally priced for the quality of the wine.

Carhartt grows merlot, syrah, sauvignon blanc, grenache and petite syrah on 10 acres in the Santa Ynez Valley and also Sangiovese at nearby 11 Oaks Ranch.  All of their wines are great.  It’s really hard to pick a favorite.  The whites were really great and the reds were as well.  If we had to pick a favorite, it would probably be the Grenache Blanc and the Merlot.  Whites are in the $20-$30 range and most reds are $30-$40.  

They have a great wine club, where you can buy as few as two bottles in quarterly shipments.  There are four tiers in the wine club. We joined the club because it’s such a great value.  And in addition to getting great wines on a regular schedule, you also get invitations to their renowned “Pick Up Parties” and their Annual Wine Maker’s dinner held at the winery itself.

Another unique thing about Carhartt is that they have a retreat house you can rent nightly at their 11 Oaks Ranch.  It’s super-luxe and wine club members get a discount.  You can check it out in the video below.

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Bella Cavalli Farms & Vineyard


 959 E. Hwy 246
Solvang, CA 93464

(805) 688-7108

Favorite Wines:  White Cabernet, Albariño, Tempranillo & Pinot Noir

Appellation: Santa Ynez Valley

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Bella Cavalli Farms is located right next door to the infamous Flag Is Up Farms, owned by famed horse whisperer, Monty Roberts.  Bella Cavalli owner Jeff Lockwood purchased half of the original ranch and now also provides equestrian facilities and services.  He also raises olives and wine grapes on the land as well. The winery is only open by appointment.  Bella Cavalli translates to “beautiful horses” in Italian.

One the ranch, Jeff grows Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Albariño, Temperanillo, and Grenache grapes.  As you enter the ranch off of Highway 246 just outside of Solvang, you can see the vineyards, along side the horse pastures.  In addition to producing estate wines from each of those varietals, Jeff also makes Pinot Noir and Syrah, sourced from other local growers, as well as a dessert wine.  The most interesting wine produced by Bella Cavalli is a white wine called Bianco Rosso, which is a white cabernet sauvignon.  It’s the perfect summer patio wine and is extremely unique.

Bella Cavalli wines are available only on-site or via the wine club.  Their wines are not distributed to retailers or restaurants, so these are a very unique fine.  At the ranch, there’s a small tasting room and wine shop, as well as very nice outdoor seating area.  Here you can enjoy your wines under the large shade trees and watch the horses graze in the pastures.  There’s also a very large, modern, show barn that you can visit.

Check out the wine club on their website.  Because of limited production, you must request membership in the wine club, before being allowed to purchase wines.  If you’re interested in visiting Bella Cavalli, you can enquire with Wine Tours Santa Ynez who has exclusive access to the winery.

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Sanford Winery – Lompoc, CA


5010 Santa Rosa Road
Lompoc, CA 93436


Varietals: Primarily Pinot Noir & Chardonnay

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Sanford was the first winery in Santa Barbara County to plant Pinot Noir.  Situated in the Santa Rita Hills area, south of Lompoc and west of the 101, Sanford has two main vineyards.  The Sanford Benedict Vineyards consist of 135 acres of vineyard planted mainly with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  Rancho la Rinconada consists of 130 acres planted with both varietals as well.

The main winery was built in 2001 with adobe bricks made by Sanford employees.  The winery sits amongst the vineyards of Rancho la Rinconada.  Sanford also has a tasting room in the La Arcada Plaza in Santa Barbara.

Our favorite wines during our visit were two of their white wines, the 2009 La Entrada Chardonnay and the 2010 Sanford & Benedict Viognier.  Both of these wines are only available at the winery.  Our favorite red was the 2010 Sanford & Benedict Pinot Noir.  This outstanding Pinot was rated 93 points by Wine Spectator.

During our visit, we only visited the tasting room and did not visit the cellars.

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Wine Tours Santa Ynez – Solvang, CA

Phone: 805-686-8347

Being very selective about wine tour companies, we were extremely pleased with the service provided by Wine Tours Santa Ynez.  We used Wine Tours Santa Ynez for a tour of 8 people over a two day period to visit wineries in the Santa Ynez Valley and Santa Rita Hills area.  We wanted a tour company who get us into wineries that are either highly respected or next to impossible to get into. And, Wine Tours Santa Ynez delivered.

Kelly our guide for the two days was very knowledgeable about the area, the grapes and the wines.  The vehicles they used were large 12 passenger vans that were extremely clean and late model.  Each day, we visited three or four wineries and had the tour company arrange for lunch at a different winery each day.  Each day we started around 10 and ended by 4PM.  Wineries in the area are in fairly close proximity to each other, so we were never in the van for more than 20 minutes or so between each one.

Wineries we visited during our tour were Sanford,  Dierberg/Starlane, Ken Brown, Loring, Cargarsaachi, Stolpman and Bella Cavalli.  At Stolpman, we were able to visit the Stolpman Villa, their home located in the Ballard Valley, which was a special treat.

You’re in good hands at Wine Tours Santa Ynez. They’ll deliver a great tour for your visit to the Santa Ynez Valley.

[box type=”note” ]Wine Tours Santa Ynez also goes by their official name, Stagecoach Wine Tours. Both are the same company.[/box]



Nine Hats Red Wine

We first had the Nine Hats Red wine at Urban Farmer in Portland, OR during one of our trips.  It’s a great bottle of wine at a great price.  If you like reds from the Columbia Valley, you’ll love this.

Nine Hats Red is a smaller wine label produced by Long Shadows Vineyards near Walla Walla, Washington.  Nine Hats is unique in that it’s the collaboration of nine winemakers from Long Shadows.  The wines are produced from juice in barrels that remain after they’ve blended the main line wines for the winery.  The remaining wine produces the Nine Hats line of wines.

Tasting Notes: From the Long Shadows Vineyards website:

This wine offers a wonderful spectrum of dark fruits, oak spice and a hint of earthiness. It is a well structured wine, with impressive depth and complexity, balanced by a long and silky finish. The fruit for this blend is sourced from a selection of the Columbia Valley’s most highly regarded vineyards: Weinbau, Boushey and Stone Tree; aged 20 months in French Oak barrels before bottling.

Origin:  United States, Washington, Columbia Valley

Blend is: 33% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Sangiovese, 15% Malbec, 15% Merlot, 10% Syrah, 7% Petit Verdot

Aged: 20 months in French Oak

Price: $25 or less.

Available from the vineyard direct or search Wine-Searcher.

White Rock Vineyards Claret

White Rock Vineyards Claret is a great Napa red and a great value as well.  This was recommended to us by the staff at A16 in San Francisco.  It was a great recommendation.  It pairs well with just about anything.  We had it with short ribs, pasta and pizza.

White Rock Vineyards is located in the southern part of the Stags Leap district of Napa Valley.  The winery and vineyards sit on 35 acres that is sustainably farmed.  It has a rich history and has been producing wine off and on since 1871.  After such a great experience with their Claret, we can wait to try the Laureate (a Cabernet blend) and their Chardonnay.  White Rock Vineyards also has a wine club and does tastings by appointment.

Tasting Notes: From the White Rock Vineyards website:

“The nose opens with deep boysenberry and raspberry, cedar, and a hint of violet. The fruit notes give way to elegant chocolate, and savory spices, with a succulent and round mouth feel. A balance of tannin and a long full finish show the integration of each traditional Bordeaux varietal, and its unique expression of Napa Valley.”

Origin:  United States, California, Napa Valley, Stags Leap District

Blend is: 51% Cabernet Sauvignon – 27% Cabernet Franc – 20% Merlot – 2% Petit Verdot

Aged: 32 months in French Oak (40% new)

Price: $40 or less.

Available from the vineyard direct or search Wine-Searcher.

Gaja Sito Moresco

Gaja Sito Moresco

What a red wine!  This is an all-time favorite.  The Gaja Sito Moresco is a great value for the quality of the wine in the bottle.  And while that’s attributable to the high quality wines that Gaja turns out, it’s also due to a great heritage in the heart of Piemonte.  The wine is a phenomenal combination of Nebbiolo, Cabernet and Merlot, sourced from grapes in Barbaresco, Treiso and Serralunga d’Alba.  

The name of the wine means “the Moresco site” which is a former 25 acre farm in Barbaresco, who’s one time owner was Giovanni Moresco.  Today, the vineyard is owned by the Gaja family.   

Tasting Notes: From Gaja’s importer, Terlato Wines:

“In this balanced blend, the powerful tannic structure of the Nebbiolo is balanced by the supple roundness of the Merlot and the elegance of the Cabernet Sauvignon.  A fruity, elegant taste; good balance in the mouth and a fresh fruity finish with very fine, silky tannins. Ideal to drink young but matures well for at least 5-7 years.”

Origin:  Langhe, D.O.C  Piemonte, Italy

Blend is: 35% Nebbiolo – 35% Merlot – 30% Cabernet Sauvignon 

Aged: 18 months in barrels, followed by a a minimum of 6 months in the bottle

Drinks best: 5-7 years post vintage

Price: $50 or a bit more.

Because of small production, Sito Moresco can be a bit difficult to find.  You can order from our favorite wine shops, Vinopolis, Sherry Lehmann or MacArthur Beverages or search Wine-Searcher.  

Blau, Can Blau, Mas Can Blau

The “Can Blau” series of wines from Juan Gil in Spain are great, all around wines that are perfect drinking on their own or with your favorite food.  These wines are a staple in our cellar and are consistently great from vintage to vintage.  

Quality and consistency are a hallmark of Juan Gill wines.  These Juan Gill wines originate from the Montsant wine growing region of Spain, which is located in the province of Tarragona (Catalonia, Spain).

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These Juan Gil wines are readily available in the US.  You can find out where from Wine-Searcher.  

2010 Blackbird Vineyards Arise Meritage

We tried this nice little meritage on a whim.  It was very, very good.  Extremely dark, almost black in color, it’s not too tannic and not overly oaked.  We had it at Guard and Grace in Denver with a bone-in ribeye and it paired very well with the beef.

What is a meritage?

From Wikipedia: “Meritage is a brand for red and white Bordeaux-style wines without infringing on the Bordeaux (France) region’s legally protected designation of origin. Winemakers must license the Meritage trademark from its owner, the California-based Meritage Alliance. Member wineries are found principally in the United States, though increasingly elsewhere.”

Tasting Notes: From the Blackbird Vineyards website:

“The 2010 Blackbird Vineyards Arise exudes perfumes of cherry, blackberry, tobacco, and vanilla. Upon entry, the soft mouth- feel reveals flavors of black cherry, truffle, and subtle black olive which unfold into a succulent finish. The 2010 Napa Valley grape growing season presented fickle weather conditions due to the relatively cool spring coupled with unexpected heat spikes in late summer. The outcome was a lower-yielding harvest that produced supple wines with European-style texture and great complexity.”

Origin:  United States, California, Napa Valley, Oak Knoll District

Blend is: 61% Merlot – 20% Cabernet Sauvignon – 19% Cabernet Franc 

Aged: 21 months in French Oak barrels – 50% new, 50% seasoned 3.78

Drinks best: 2012 – 2022

Price: $50 or less.

Video from the Winemaker: 

Available from the vineyard direct or search Wine-Searcher.