Think Ventura is all about that famous highway? Forget it! This is the place where the days are longer and the nights are stronger than moonshine.
And while we haven’t come across any stills lately, we have found something that’s even better: the Ventura County Wine Trail. At these family-owned wineries, many of which are located way beyond the waves on Ventura County’s scenic back roads, you can wine-taste with the owners while getting the inside scoop on how they created their stellar craft wines. As they say in Ventura, you’re gonna go I know.
And we’re not talking about just any wineries. Handpicked by Ventura County’s foremost wine snobs, they run the gamut from Strey Cellars in Oxnard, a hip, edgy winery that echoes the industrial vibe of the neighborhood to Back Patio Cellars, a micro-boutique winery whose story began with about 200 pounds of grapes on the back porch. The owners had no special equipment, so they de-stemmed and crushed the grapes the old way — with their hands and feet.
Or perhaps you’ve always wanted to make your own wine but that stuff you made in the bathtub — bleh! At Camarillo Custom Crush Winery in Camarillo, the winemakers will show you how to make wine you can actually drink; order 60 gallons (that’s 300 bottles) and they’ll even produce and bottle it for you.
Prefer to let someone else do the driving? Or maybe you wouldn’t know a merlot from a pinot noir if you fell in it? Sign on with Explore Wines Educational Wine Tours and you’ll get chauffeured to the best wineries around by those aforementioned wine snobs — the sort of people who know it all and aren’t afraid to tell you about it. Or take a Sip & Savor Wine Tour and sample local wineries, have lunch at a local bistro and stop by a local bakery for a treat.
Wine Country Weekends
Really love wine tasting? We won’t tell if you want to make an entire weekend (or a whole week) out of the Ventura County Wine Trail. Here are our fave places to stay, eat, drink, shop, walk and beach bum near the trail.
The Embassy Suites Mandalay Beach Hotel & Resort: This Spanish villa-type resort overlooks miles of totally empty beaches — try finding that in LA! Nab a gorgeous suite
with a balcony overlooking the sea and ponder your options: Build a sand castle, soak in waterfall-fed heated swimming pools, get lobsterized in the Jacuzzis, get a massage at the spa, play tennis, rent a bike or smear yourself with SPF 30 and catch some serious rays.
Prefer a beach resort that’s close to the action? The Crowne Plaza Ventura Beach overlooks Channel Islands National Park and Ventura Pier and is just two blocks from historic downtown Ventura. The hotel has an outdoor pool, fitness center, beachfront bar and NOM Tequila Grill. Book a cushy room on a top floor for panoramas of mountains tumbling to the sea. www.venturacountywest.com
Hungry? You’d better be ’cause you’re surrounded: See those waves? They harbor one of the planet’s richest fisheries. See those fields and foothills? Add rain and anything grows. Rise and shine (if you sleep till 10 we’ll understand why you overslept!) to a killer brunch at The Waterside Restaurant & Wine Bar in Channel Islands Harbor.
Eggs or crab benedict? A mimosa or Bloody Mary? Have it all — we won’t tell. For lunch, pry yourself off your beach towel and head into Ventura for 4-alarm Mexican at NOM Tequila Grille — don’t miss the salmon asado. For the hippest happy hour around, slide on in to Twenty88 Restaurant & Martini Lounge in Camarillo and nibble on tuna tartare and Angus sliders between sips of a pear lavender martini. Then follow the setting sun to Ventura Harbor Village’s Rhumb Line — The Sunset Restaurant, a unique waterfront eatery/piano bar where you can watch fishermen unload their catch of the day. Order one fresh off the boat, the roasted beet salad with goat cheese (it’s almost too pretty to eat) and the crème brulee cheesecake — calories be double-damned!
Best Wine Walk in Town
After food like this, you’ll be forgiven if you want a little exercise! Ventura Off Market Street, California’s coolest downtown tasting trail, offers bumper-to-bumper wineries, breweries, roasters and more great food. Love craft beer? Coming soon is Surf Brewery, located minutes from Surfer’s Point, or try MadeWest Brewing Company, the result of two lifelong friends and California natives seeking to share quality handmade craft beer with others.
Anacapa Brewery Company has been in Ventura for over 15 years, serving beers they brew directly in their downtown restaurant, while one of the newer breweries is Topa Topa Brewing Company, with 16 rotating taps. Poseidon Brewing Company has creative brews like Blood Orange Pale Ale. For wicked wine, try Labyrinth Winery, a downtown cult fave that serves wine by the glass and bottle, or you can taste everything they have. If you want to drink and hang, try BlendZ Wines, a shagadelic hangout where you can listen to rock and roll and drink stellar wine, or Four Brix Winery, which specializes in internationally inspired wine blends from Italy, France, Spain and California. And don’t miss a slice of their gourmet pizza. Ventura Limoncello Company works directly with Ventura County growers and peels all their fruit by hand to create award-winning liqueurs. Need a buzz? Beacon Coffee sources their beans from the world’s top sustainable coffee farmers. Enjoy their java with a homemade cookie or cupcake from the I Would Rather Be Baking Company.
More info: www.venturawinetrail.com