When last year's hit movie "Sideways" came out, people all over the country were introduced to the idea that California wine-making doesn't begin and end in the Napa Valley. There are, in fact, several wine regions throughout the state, including the Santa Ynez Valley where "Sideways" was filmed.
Dubbed Santa Barbara Wine Country by local tourism promoters, this is an idyllic and pastoral region of small towns, ranches and, of course, a few dozen wineries that are scattered over an incredibly picturesque countryside. The movie "Sideways," which follows a couple of middle-aged men as they discover the charms of this region and the truths of their existence, won great accolades as a comedy/drama but, interestingly, it also turned out to be an effective travelogue.
That's not been lost on the Santa Barbara Conference and Visitors Bureau, which rushed to print a detailed color brochure offering visitors a map of filming locations for the movie - a handy guide for the moviegoers smitten with the ambience so skillfully revealed in the movie's cinematography. From all reports, plenty of people have targeted the region for vacations or weekends, and it's still a common sight to see visitors pulling out their big, green over-sized "Sideways" brochures to check their bearings while searching for yet another location used in the filming of the movie.
There has even been a bit of overkill, according to some local residents. A few disgruntled locals complained that the traffic brought to town by the movie was a double-edged sword - good for business, bad for the area's roads. Not only were roads getting clogged during the height of the movie's popularity but some say they were bothered by people a wee bit tipsy from all that wine-tasting. The TV show "Inside Edition" was recently in the area checking out all the fuss.
Much ado about nothing is the response of most locals, who have been pleased to see the area get national publicity and finally find its rightful place on the tourism map. During our March visit it sure didn't seem overly crowded but, then again, we were there midweek and one should expect weekends will be entirely different.
We joined the other tourists in following our "Sideways" brochure to locations in Los Olivos, Santa Ynez, Buellton and the authentic Danish village of Solvang, all featured prominently in the film. There was the Days Inn Buellton where Miles and Jack stayed, as well as the parking lot where Stephanie beats up the three-timing Jack. Or how about A.J. Spurs, the western-themed restaurant where Jack meets his one-night stand, Cami. Had to see the Sanford Winery where Miles teaches Jack the basics of wine tasting. And, of course, there was Fess Parker Winery where the server refuses to serve Miles a full glass of wine so he guzzles the spit bucket instead.
Altogether there are 19 "Sideways" locations detailed on the map, all quite recognizable from the film. Some locations even have the unmistakable "Sideways" logo posted on their signs lest anyone not realize that their particular business or location will now live in movie infamy.
Show biz also figured into one of the two places we stayed while in the Santa Barbara Wine Country. Middle-age folks won't have any trouble recalling the name Fess Parker, who cornered the market back in the '50s and '60s for coonskin-capped, buckskin-wearing movie mountain men. If you're a certain age, you remember Parker as Daniel Boone. If you're older than you want most people to know, you remember him as Davy Crockett, a premiere figure in the stable of Disney TV characters back in the days of the Wonderful World of Disney.
Unknown to most visitors, you can visit with this one-time TV icon on most Thursday nights at Fess Parker's Wine Country Inn in Los Olivos. The inn's guests are encouraged to join Parker for a handshake, a glass of wine and even some musical entertainment. These word-of-mouth gatherings make it hard sometimes to find a vacancy at the inn on Thursday night.
Our room at the inn was everything you might imagine for a historical country inn in a quiet small town surrounded by gorgeous scenery. The inn has been refurbished and updated to the point that guests get the best of both worlds - old-world charm with new-world convenience. Our spacious room was furnished with exquisite antiques, living palms and floral arrangements. The high ceilings featured white-washed beams while the windows were shuttered. Classic paintings were on the walls and floral bed coverings matched table and chair covers. Our fireplace was outlined by hand-painted tiles.
Downstairs, the Wine Cask restaurant is a small, intimate room, serving cuisine that is well-known for being some of the best and most innovative in the Santa Barbara area.
Several small shops, galleries and restaurants are in the small downtown area of Los Olivos, including the Judith Hale Gallery, which occupies two buildings just a block down from the inn and offers an amazing collection of paintings, illustrations, sculpture and jewelry. Across the street is the Los Olivos Café and Wine Merchant, the place where the two couples in "Sideways" enjoy dinner and several bottles of wine.
We spent a little more time than usual visiting Santa Barbara Wine Country and we wanted to experience one other lodging we had heard about - the Santa Ynez Inn. Located in Santa Ynez, this is an unusual Victorian bed-and-breakfast because it is not a historic building at all. The inn was built from scratch just four years ago. That offers the advantage of everything being new - floors, carpeting, plumbing - which will appeal to travelers less interested in the historic aspect of their accommodations.
The Santa Ynez Inn is certainly among the most luxurious inns we've enjoyed. Entering the lobby, one notices the carved-wood stairway regally reminiscent of the grand staircase in the movie "Titanic." The hallways are decorated with portraits of former presidents. In our second-floor, over-sized room we found a sanctuary filled with antique-inspired furniture and such luxurious accents as crystal chandeliers and crystal-based lamps. The floral curtains parted to reveal a view of the countryside and small balcony with table and chairs. Another sitting area, made of travertine, was adjacent to the fireplace and both travertine and marble were used extensively in the larger-than-usual bathroom area. A jetted tub and separate shower area were just as you would find in the most expensive hotels.
The luxury inns we chose were the perfect complement to days spent in this magnificent countryside driving from winery to winery, from each "Sideways" location to the next. But, then again, if you want the true "Sideways" experience, you can always opt for the motel used in the movie. Just don't follow the script too closely.
For more information on Santa Barbara Wine Country, phone the Santa Barbara Conference and Visitors Bureau at (805) 966-9222 or visit www.santabarbaraca.com. For more information on Fess Parker's Wine Country Inn and Spa Vigne, call (805) 688-7788 or visit www.fessparker.com. For more information on Santa Ynez Inn, call (800) 643-4774 or visit www.santaynezinn.com.