September is wine month in California. The harvest is just beginning and the perfect time for a weekend pinot noir jaunt to the Santa Ynez Valley, a scenic two-hour drive from Los Angeles.
Owners of the famed Hitching Post II Restaurant in Buellton, Frank and Jami Ostini together with winemaking partner Gray Hartley and wife Charlotte opened a new tasting room this week, next door to the iconic Santa Maria–style barbecue steakhouse made famous in the black-comedy film Sideways, adapted from Rex Pickett’s novel.
The Hartleys and the Ostinis have been making wines in Santa Barbara County since 1979. In 1981 they discovered Santa Barbara pinot noir, which has become their primary focus, although their Pinks dry rosé is delightful to sip on a hot afternoon at one of the tasting room’s outdoor picnic tables overlooking the valley and the frolicking ostriches at the farm next door.
Their flagship wine is the Hitching Post Highliner. A “highliner” is the best fisherman in the fleet, and the name honors the men of the Alaskan salmon fishery alongside whom Gray Hartley worked for 28 years.
Along with 10 selections of pinot noir, Hitching Post produces a syrah as well as a merlot-based red named Gen Red. The Academy Award–winning film with Paul Giamatti came out in 2004, prominently featuring the restaurant and the Highliner. Hitching Post has soared in popularity since then, with 12,000 barrels, and produces about 17,000 cases a year.
The wine flights are probably the most reasonable and generous in the valley.
The Traditional Tasting at Hitching Post Wines offers a flight of five Hitching Post Wines, for $15 per person, consisting of Pinks 2017; Hometown Pinot Noir 2016; Cork Dancer Pinot Noir 2015; Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir 2015; and Gen Red 2016.
A Reserve Tasting, priced at $20, includes five wines — Highliner Pinot Noir 2015; Perfect Set Pinot Noir 2015; Bien Nacido Pinot Noir 2015; Sanford & Benedict Pinot Noir 2015; and Four Top 2012. The caveat of the Reserve Tasting will be its ever-changing menu featuring rare single-vineyard bottling and special older vintages of Hitching Post. For the ultimate experience, Hitching Post Wines offers customized Private Winemaker Tastings with vintners Gray Hartley and Frank Ostini for $60 per guest and by appointment only.
The tasting room is set in a midcentury farmhouse off Highway 246, with trailing walkways and outdoor seating areas banking a view of the Santa Ynez Mountains landscape. The building covers 2,000 square feet and sits on nearly 12 acres of land, landscaped with red oak trees, including a 200-year-old tree in the front of the property.
Rustic corral fencing frames the building and main property and encloses a red bark–covered landscape with decomposed granite and native plants, dotted with picnic tables and ample seating areas covered by shade screens.
Hitching Post serves lunch for takeout or to eat on the premises, including HP burgers, triple-fried French fries, Santa Maria BBQ artichokes and grilled corn quesadillas, out of a refurbished 1970s vintage Airstream trailer converted into a Santa Maria BBQ kitchen on wheels.
Hollywood lore aside, the property has a storied history. According to the current owners, it was originally owned by the family of Judith Evert Dale; her parents, Loren and Lillian Evert, bought it in 1954 along with the land where the Hitching Post II sits.
Loren, a commercial dahlia bulb farmer, built the Everts' family home in Anaheim. When they moved to Buellton, he tore the house down board by board and relocated it by truck in 23 loads to the Hitching Post II location. The lumber stood in a pile by the barn until he built it into the building that exists today.
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Daughter Judith was born in Anaheim and raised in the home that is now the tasting room. The Everts operated the Hitching Post II building as a gift shop and produce stand in the 1950s. Next door, Loren built another building to serve as a nursery — Evert’s Rainbow Ranch — designed to be a twin to the original building.
With the growth of Vandenberg Air Force Base and the influx of homes built in nearby Lompoc, there was a necessity for businesses that young families could turn to when setting up their new homes in the Santa Ynez Valley. This building is now Santa Barbara Airstream next to the Hitching Post II.