Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Avila Valley Barn opening this weekend, Paso Wine Festival the next

In between wine-filled weekends (SLO Vintners' Roll out the Barrels last weekend and the Paso Robles Wine Festival on the 19th), I'm looking forward to some good old family-friendly fun. So thankfully, the Avila Valley Barn is opening for the season this Saturday.

The barn offers something for everyone. It's a great place to shop for fresh produce, pick up some of the very popular baked goods and browse the specialty and gift items. With the opening of the annex last year, it's also become the perfect spot to stop for homemade ice cream and other sweets.

You can pick your own here, too, and on weekends take a hayride out to the fields. But the real draw for me -- along with the under 12 crowd -- are the animals out back. I'm probably a little beyond the target age, but I still get a kick out of feeding the braying goats and lumbering pigs, watching the bob-headed ostriches and waiting for the peacocks to show their fabulous colors. What can I say?

The barn is at 560 Avila Beach Drive, on the road to Avila just off Highway 101. (Note that the bridge on San Luis Bay Drive is undergoing work so you can't cut over from there, you have to take the Avila Beach Drive exit.) Phone number is 805-595-2810.

Back to the wine. The Paso Wine Festival's new Silver Pass, providing a hour's early start, have already sold out, so if you haven't gotten your general admission tickets, for unlimited tasting from 2-5 p.m., yet, you may want to snag some soon.

The festival is a huge affair that takes over Paso's City Park, in the heart of downtown, with dozens of wineries pouring their wines, live music and wine-country cuisine. Click here to see who will be at the main event. More than 90 wineries also plan special events around the weekend -- find the full schedule here.

For tickets, which cost $50, go to www.pasowine.com or call 800-549-WINE until noon May 18. A limited number of tickets will be available at the door.

And just a couple quick notes on last weekend's Roll out the Barrels at the wineries of Edna Valley. I used the weekend passport -- which gave entry to all the wineries, special barrel tastings, food and other special events -- to visit a few wineries I hadn't made it to before and made some pleasant discoveries.

I tried the new tangent (yes, the "t" is lower-case) white wines at Baileyana, but still wish the winemaker would pour his incredible private-label Carpe Diem pinot noir and chardonnay at the tasting room. The wines paired well with the rich crab bisque from the Cracked Crab and innovative fish tacos from Scotty's Bar and Grill, both in Pismo Beach.

A fan of sweet wines, I enjoyed all the offerings at Claiborne and Churchill, which specializes in Alsatian varieties such as riesling and Gew├╝rztraminer. The dry riesling was delicious, but I opted to take home a bottle of the even sweeter sweet riesling dessert wine. The owners also made an amazing curry -- if they ever do it again, I highly recommend getting out there to try some.

I ventured up Highway 101 just on the south slope of the grade to find Wood Winery (you may hear it called Wild Wood Winery, it's changing the name). The winery has a wide range of wines, so most anyone is likely to find something they like. I find an enjoyable sangiovese and was tempted by the pinot noir, which they weren't pouring but which was almost sold out -- always a good sign. It would make a good stop for anyone venturing between Edna Valley and Paso, or vice versa, who needed a nip along the way.

On my way home, I stopped in at Salisbury Vineyards, the old schoolhouse on the hill just south of SLO, where I was surprised by the big patio out back and the art gallery inside. Equally surprising were the unique Pinot Naturale and the very fruity '04 zinfandel. The late-harvest zin was the perfect sweet ending to a perfect sweet day of tasting in the South County.

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