A WEEK IN SHANGRI LA
(Lake Casitas & Casa Barranca Wines)
House sitting in the Ojai Valley and the town of Ojai was not rough duty. I mean really, did Ronald Coleman like living in Shangri La in “The Lost Horizon” (shot in Ojai)? He may have stayed there in glorious black and white, but he knew that he had found something mystical and magical. And so did we years later. Even on a very overcast day that made us feel like we were in a black and white movie, we found new horizons.
The first was Lake Casitas nestled in the mountains surrounded by RV camp grounds, nature trails and a “café” (Marina Café) overlooking the lake. The café turned out to be a coffee shop/truck stop, but since I love diners, drive-ins, dives and truck stops, it was the perfect place to have lunch on a cloudy day.
When we arrived we were the only customers and took a table by the window with a lake view...
... and after reading through the menu, it was a cheeseburger and fries for me and pancakes and sausage for Richard. The pancakes weren’t as good as he had hoped, but my cheeseburger was the perfect, old-fashioned, not super-sized, meat patty with melted American cheese, “special” sauce and sliced sweet pickle that I used to get at Howard Johnson’s in my youth, and at my hometown luncheonette (remember when there actually were ‘luncheonettes?’) in Bayside, Queens, Long Island, New York. I opted to keep the iceberg lettuce, tomato and raw onion as a “side” salad and not on the burger. The skinny French fries, however, were spectacular. Crispy, crunchy on the outside and soft and mushy on the inside. Just how I used to deep fry them when I worked the Woolworth luncheonette (there’s that term again) counter in high school.
After lunch (just as some truckers arrived), we explored the lake...
... then drove to a high vista to check out the Valley’s horizons. The sky was dark and angry (I expected to see Thor in the clouds ready to toss a lightning bolt), which made the view all the more dramatic.
By the time we finished driving in the mountains exploring the back roads, nooks and crannies, it was the “cocktail hour,” so we headed back to town for a little wine tasting at the Casa Barranca organic winery tasting room right there on “Main Street.”
Alysia Dewar, the winery’s charming wine club manager, was our barista. Richard and I decided to share both flights offered.
We started with the 2011 Sauvignon Blanc ($20) made from grapes from the Evergreen Vineyard in Santa Barbara County with tastes of pear and pineapple. The wine was a nice surprise. I don’t usually care for sauvignon blanc, but this wine has a bit of ‘weight’ to it that made me a fan.
Next was the 2009 Pinot Noir ($30) from the Laetitia Vineyard in Arroyo Grande and it had a nice berry and plum flavor. This is a pleasant wine that would pair well with pork or turkey.
The 2010 Bungalow Red, a blend of syrah grapes (Westerly Vineyard, Santa Monica
County) and grenache grapes (Rich Vineyard, Ventura County), ($25) was a nice full-bodied wine with those cherry and berry flavors you expect from a rich red.
My favorite wine in this flight was the 2009 Merlot ($20) made from grapes from Santa Ynez Valley and Santa Barbara County. Spicy, earthy, with hints of blackberry and even cardamom, this velvety wine is a find at twenty bucks. Just give me a straw.
Though I liked the 2011 Arts & Crafts Red ($25), a blend of central coast cabernet sauvignon, merlot and petit verdot, I agreed with Alysia… this is a wine that needs to “sit” and mature awhile before uncorking. Interesting note: this wine was named “Arts & Crafts” in honor of the Pratt House, a national historic landmark designed in 1909 by legendary craftsman designers, Greene & Greene which, along with the winery, is featured at the Casa Barranca Estate
The second flight was a totally red tasting experience.
I enjoyed the 2010 Grenache ($25) and the 2011 Cab Franc ($28), both with hints of chocolate, and the 2009 Pinot Noir which won the silver medal at the Long Beach Grand Cru, but…
…it was the 2010 Casa Red ($20), a little bit of this and that blend of grapes from Santa Barbara County that surprised. What a terrific table red for spaghetti or pizza night.
The 2010 Syrah ($25) from Thompson Vineyards in Santa Ynez with herbs, cocoa and berries and a nose that made me think of allspice was just plain delicious, as was...
… the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon ($25) from French Camp Vineyard, Paso Robles with its mint and mulberry tastes with a little cassis thrown in and a slight scent of pine cones. The perfect pairing with that Christmas rib roast.
Visiting Casa Barranca tasting room was the perfect way to end another day in Shangri La.
Casa Barranca Wines
208 E. Ojai Avenue
Ojai, Calif. 93023