Palmina: 40th Birthday Road Trip

For the day after my 40th birthday, we decided to go to a wine area we’d never been to before. But there were so many to choose from! Santa Maria, San Luis Obispo, Santa Ynez Valley, Solvang, Santa Barbara…Then I read a great comment from reader Christine in which she mentioned “the ‘ghetto’ in Lompoc.” Ghetto, huh? We were intrigued and had to give it a try.

A furious storm was battering the Central Coast as we tried to make our way down Highway One. We drove through Pismo Beach and past the campground we’d planned to camp at that night, only to find it closed. A bit further on, we found Highway One was closed and followed the detour signs…only to find that the detour was also closed! After close to another hour on the road, we finally got to Lompoc.

We weren’t sure if the tasting rooms would be open. The streets in Lompoc (pronounced Lohm-poke, as the locals pointed out to us) were rushing with water, so much so that at times it seemed like we were driving through a river. The power was out in every building we passed for blocks on end. But, miracle of miracles, the Lompoc Wine Ghetto appears to be on a different section of the power grid, and was brightly lit and awaiting us.

The Lompoc Wine Ghetto is the nickname for a small industrial park behind Lompoc Valley Medical Center. According to an article in the Lompoc Record, there are 12 tasting rooms in the eight industrial buildings that make up the Ghetto, although according to one person we spoke to that number may by now be as high as 20. Clearly, one could spend a weekend here, and someday we will, but on this day we only had a couple of hours before we had to forge on to our hastily-Hotwired hotel.

On Christine’s recommendation, our first stop was Palmina, one of the first wineries to open a tasting room in the Ghetto. Let me say right now, when Christine gives you advice, follow it! This was the first of her winning recommendations we visited in our trip, but it wouldn’t be the last.

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Palmina’s tasting room is charming, decorated in a country-Italian style that reflects the Italian heritage of their wines. In addition to their bottled wines, they also have house wines on tap that they will decant into bottles or growlers for patrons, an eco-friendly and budget-friendly option. While we were there, a regular from the Bakersfield area came by to have four growlers filled, a testament to the quality of the wine.

We got to taste both of the wines on tap. The Tavolo Bianco wasn’t complicated, just an easy-drinking white wine that I would enjoy having on hand at home. The Tavola Rosso had a chocolate and caramel nose and was very fruity with a deep caramel finish.

I had the same problem with this winery that I do in a really good bookstore: everything was so good, and I wanted to take every single one of these wines home!

2009 Tocai Friulano:  A little nugget of trivia for you wine nerds out there: This is the most widely planted grape in the Friulia area of Italy, and is unrelated to the Tokaji grape of Hungary or France’s Tokay d’Alsace. It had a saffron scent with a hint of sweetness and tasted citrusy, with a touch of minerals and a hint of maple syrup. If you were feeling decadent, this would make a great breakfast wine. And, for those of you keeping score, this Santa Ynez Valley appellation wine was our first new appellation of the day.

2009 Arnes: Our pourer described it as “oily,” and that’s true, but in a good way. It had a lively citrus taste and a honey-citrus scent.

2009 Dolcetto: This Santa Barbara County wine is meant to be drunk young, which is a darn good thing, because even if I had three cases of it in my house the bottles wouldn’t last through the year. It’s full of fruit and caramel with some sultry tannins at the end, and dangerously easy-drinking.

2006 Nebbiolo: At this point the tasting room staffer brought out some salami and cheese. The salami provided a good counterpoint to the Nebbiolo, Mike said, and I could believe it, because the wine smelled like salami! The tannins were strong but not at all unpleasant, and there was a hit of stewed plums toward the finish.

2008 Lagrein: We held this up to the light, which took one look at this wine and said, “Yeah, I’m gonna go somewhere else.” Seriously, this wine was utterly opaque. It smelled and tasted of blackberries and raisins. Delectable.

2009 Savoia: This was fruity with big, big tannins at the finish. I would need to drink this with some food in order to enjoy it.

We also got to try a surprise tasting while we were there.

2010 Pinot Grigio: This was bottled only two weeks before we tried it. It smelled of (cover your eyes, Mom!) sex and pineapple, and tasted like lemon zest and warm minerals.