The first time I boarded a school bus, I was a five-year-old kindergartener toting a thermos full of orange juice. My biggest mistake was sitting next to a boy, not knowing that girls and boys had to sit on opposite sides of the bus. I thought he was cute. He thought I had cooties.
The last time I boarded a school bus was two weeks ago. This time, I am a wine blogger of–ahem–a certain age, toting a wineglass full of rosé. My biggest mistake was sitting in the back–right next to the stripper pole.
This is how the Friday night excursion at Wine Bloggers Conference 2014 began. I and 30 other bloggers boarded the Stripper Pole School Bus with no idea where we were going until the bus engine started. Our destination: Bien Nacido Vineyards in the Santa Maria Valley AVA.
Once there, we were transferred to the “CHOOL BUS,” the official mode of transportation at Bien Nacido. We were chauffeured away in primary-school comfort to the Z Block, home to some of the finest Syrah vines in the region and voted one of the top 25 vineyards in the world.
Nicholas Miller, vice president of sales and marketing for The Thornhill Companies, the umbrella company that owns Bien Nacido Vineyards, noted that 100- and 90-point wines come from grapes grown in Z Block (a block is a section of the vineyard). For the record, ‘bien nacido’ means well-born, and the grapes born in Bien Nacido grow up to be made into some of California’s best wines.
Bien Nacido Vineyards is not open to the public, nor do they have a tasting room. They grow grapes for clients including Hitching Post, Au Bon Climat, Qupé, Foxen and Longoria. Besides Syrah, Bien Nacido also grows Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir, among other wine grapes.
After winding up a gentle slope, the Chool Bus stopped on a perch with a view of some of the 600-plus acres of vines at Bien Nacido. Free to wander around the vineyards, we selfied away with the grapes, the view, and each other, while Gray Hartley, winemaker for Hitching Post Wines, poured Foxen Chardonnay, made from grapes grown on the property.
Traipsing through the vines at Z Block was a religious experience, and like most religious experiences, this one left me famished. We boarded the bus again, making our way to the property’s historic adobe, built by Don Juan Pacifico Ontiveros in 1857. A five-second history lesson: Ontiveros bought the ranch from his father-in-law, Tomas Olivera, who first received the property as a land grant from Spain. Fast-forward to 1969, and that’s when the Miller family bought the property.
For dinner, we were treated to a traditional, Santa Barbara-style barbecue with grilled vegetables and what felt like an endless supply of world-class wines. By the way, don’t ask me to define “traditional Santa Barbara-style barbecue.” I’m sure they explained it, but by then I was having a religious experience of the one-glass-too-many kind.
Yes, there were dump buckets. But if you were offered a pour from a magnum of 1997 Hitching Post Highliner Pinot Noir, not only would you drink all of it, you might be inclined to lick the inside of your glass. Don’t worry – I didn’t. I just got another pour.
Turns out sitting by the stripper pole was not a mistake after all. Out of the 30 bloggers, not a one cozied up to it on the bus ride back to our hotel. Maybe it’s because we were all in a post-vino lull. Or maybe we’re just too well-born for that kind of thing.