Something Old Can Be New Again: Hitching Post II's New Tasting Room
Fourteen years after Sideways, the Hitching Post Wines' first tasting room is finally open.
I was working in the film business when I was introduced to the Santa Ynez Valley. I knew nothing about wine and, having recently moved here from Canada, I wasn’t even aware that I was in close proximity to “wine country.” One evening, a small group of us industry folk went to our local theater to watch Sideways. I laughed (“Here’s your wallet!”), I groaned (that spit bucket drink), I questioned (what’s wrong with Merlot?). Over beers afterwards, we unanimously decided to take a road trip and do the Sideways Wine Tour. Since that first trip in 2004, I’ve treasured several memorable trips to Santa Ynez: staying at the Windmill Inn where part of the movie was filmed, dancing to live country music at Maverick’s Saloon, or, my favorite, renting an RV over Thanksgiving with friends. We parked our mobile home and hired a local Jeeves to chauffeur us to each tasting room, our wine haul becoming heavier, our group’s tone more rowdy at each stop. Regardless of our condition at the end of our visits, we always made sure to cap off the day with a slab of grilled steak, a giant baked potato, and a bottle of Pinot Noir at the Hitching Post II.
Fast forward 14 years and here I am, now working in the wine business and I know nothing about the film business anymore. Until my recent K&L field trip with Kate and Diana, it had been 4 years since I’d visited the area, so I suggested we make the Hitching Post II part of our itinerary. I knew they were opening their tasting room this summer, plus we could enjoy a steak before returning home! You can read about our visit here. One week after that trip, the invite to the opening party showed up in my inbox and I marked my calendar.
I ventured out on a relaxing and introspective solo drive. Two and a half hours later I pulled into the newly expanded parking lot of the Hitching Post II. The temperature was a beautiful 78F, the sun shone brightly, and a delicate wind rustled the surrounding trees. I opened my car door and was immediately embraced by the comforting smell of smoky BBQ wafting towards me from the large outdoor grill. The soon-to-be snack- shack Airstream trailer was occupied by a catering crew preparing an array of delicious Spamburgers and spicy grilled shrimp. I checked in, poured a glass of rosé and observed the finished space.
The new building is gorgeous – it consists of three rooms in a small house. As I entered, I was faced with a welcoming bar situated in the center room. Along the walls are photos and stories that chronicle the history of the winery, from the first harvest and wine made in 1981 to the current 2016 release, which debuts the brand’s new label design. To the right is another bar, set in a cozy environment with a wood burning fireplace. To the left is a room with table seating and a small retail space for Hitching Post products including the “Magic Stuff” seasoning salt, hats and other memorabilia. Frank Ostini wants to grow vegetables and make pickled items available for purchase. He also makes goat cheese for the restaurant, with milk from the goat farm three miles away that is owned by one of his employees. Outside, there is scattered seating with relaxing Adirondack chairs for groups of two or more. These intimate areas overlook the ostrich farm nearby and the rolling hills in the distance. It is the perfect spot to sit back with a bottle and enjoy good wine and company in an absolutely beautiful and serene setting. There is also a small barn on the property that will be available for parties and events.
I asked Frank why he decided to open a tasting room after all these years. He told me he was working on a 3.5 million dollar project offsite when his wife suggested he reconsider that idea. A week later, the space for the tasting room became available. Never doubt a woman’s intuition.
Frank and Gray really know how to throw down. Classic rock pumped from the sound system. In addition to the steady stream of eats, an endless supply of Hitching Post wines were available. I started with a glass of 2017 Pinks rosé, then tasted my way through the lineup of 2015 Pinot Noir: Highliner, Cork Dancer, and Hometown. I had my first taste of the 2012 Four Top, a blend led by Merlot, with Cabernet Sauvignon and a small percentage of Cabernet Franc and Valdiguie. Who’s drinking #*king Merlot? This gal. It was luscious and smooth and was fabulous with my burger and fries.
As the sun began to set, the winds picked up and the temperatures dropped. Those of us remaining filed into the building and continued the party. I met the warm and engaging Richard Sanford and his delightfully spunky wife, Thekla of Alma Rosa Winery. We had an enlightening conversation about the perception of California wines, we discussed their path to Alma Rosa, and the issue of wild boars in the vineyards. Our glasses were suddenly empty and I spied a bottle of Hitching Post Chardonnay in the fridge. Did I know Frank and Gray make Chardonnay? I’m certain I did not. I asked Gray to pop it open. It was crisp and fresh and quite delicate. This wine is poured in the restaurant, so if you want to try it, you’ll need to make the trip.
The night eventually came to an end and it was time to say our goodbyes. New friendships were formed, old friendships were rekindled. A sense of nostalgia lingered, but the feeling of new beginnings was strong. Having longevity in the restaurant business is hard work. Success is not determined by responsible accounting alone. In a business that can’t survive without repeat customers, success means consistency, being genuine and having a passion for forming and maintaining relationships. It is also important to find innovative ways to keep things fresh without disrupting what people already love about your establishment but will give them reason to keep coming back. Welcome to the Hitching Post Wines Tasting Room. I am already planning my next visit.
- Sharon Kelly