Story by Mary Ann Norbom
Photos Courtesy of FOXEN Winery & Vineyard
Stretching from Los Olivos to Santa Maria, the picturesque 30-mile-long Foxen Canyon Wine Trail is home to 18 unique wineries. Buy a picnic lunch in Los Olivos to take with you—there’s no food for sale along the trail—cross Rte.154 and head north on Foxen Canyon Road. Distinctive signs are posted all along the way.
Curtis Winery (5249 Foxen Canyon Rd., 805/686-8999) is an ideal first stop. What had been TV producer Douglas Cramer’s art gallery has been transformed into a light and airy tasting room appropriately decorated with oversized paintings and murals. For something fun, try the chocolate pairing with four red wines.
Plan your trip for the weekend and taste inside the winery at Andrew Murray Vineyards (5095 Zaca Station Rd., 805/686-9604), renowned for its stellar Syrah. Assistant winemaker Ryan Roark rolls out a table and pours five to eight wines. Definitely try their just-launched label—This Is E11even Wines—an homage to the cult-classic movie This Is Spinal Tap. Three varietals, priced at just $16 a bottle, are available to be tasted for just $5 with a take-home glass.
Foxen Canyon Road was named in honor of William Benjamin Foxen, an English seaman who acquired historic Rancho Tinaquaic in 1837. He became a cattle rancher, using an anchor as his brand; when he died in 1875, he was buried on the grounds of Chapel of San Ramon not far from his adobe house. Both buildings still stand.
That anchor became the trademark for FOXEN Winery & Vineyard (7600 Foxen Canyon Rd., 805/937-4251) when the captain’s great-great-grandson, Dick Doré, and his business partner, Bill Wathen, began making wine in what had been a blacksmith shop. FOXEN is the historic and geographic keystone of the trail, with two distinctive tasting experiences. A spacious solar-powered tasting room, opened in 2009, is where you can try astonishingly good Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah. A third of a mile north is the original “shack,” now called foxen 7200, with its memorabilia “altar” and Bordeaux and Cal-Italian-style wines. “Foxen has the history and now there’s the technology too,” says Doré in describing the two venues.
Riverbench (6020 Foxen Canyon Rd., 805/937-8340) makes its home in a restored 1926 Craftsman-style house. Get comfortable in the living room and enjoy a relaxing tasting. One of only two wineries on the trail to produce sparkling wine, Riverbench is also 100 percent SIP (Sustainability in Practice) Certified.
Kenneth Volk Vineyards (5230 Tepusquet Rd., 805/938-7896) is about as fun as it gets along the trail. The wisteria-covered tasting room boasts a signed William Shatner poster, a tiki bar and a cat named Roscoe. An eclectic assortment of varietals includes Tannat, Negrette and Aglianico, which are typically among the 24 wines open for tasting.
Cambria Estate Winery (5475 Chardonnay Ln., 805/937-8091) is the big gun on the trail, with 1600 acres of vineyard producing 160,000 cases of wine. The knowledgeable tasting room staff takes you not only through their various vintages but also on a tour (weekends only) of the winemaking facilities and vineyards. For anyone interested in knowing how the wine they’re tasting got into the glass, this is the perfect way to end your exploration.
For a listing of all wineries along the trail, go here. The average tasting is $10 for six wines. Most wineries are open seven days, from 10 or 11 a.m. to 4 or 5 p.m.