story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 8/24/18
Frank Ostini and Gray Hartley had kicked around the idea of opening up a tasting room for several years. The men behind Santa Barbara’s Hitching Post Wines eyed the market, even contemplated building out a tasting nook in Mr. Ostini’s popular Buellton steakhouse, The Hitching Post II.
But it wasn’t until a tasting room suddenly became available right next door to the restaurant a few months ago that the timing finally seemed right, if not auspicious. And so, earlier this week, and close to 40 years after the Hartley-Ostini venture was born, Hitching Post Wines opened the doors to its first ever tasting room.
|Frank Ostini and Gray Hartley at the new Buellton tasting room for Hitching Post Wines|
“We’ve fallen in love with this property,” Frank Ostini told me this week, as the tasting room’s very first visitors came and went. The location along Highway 246, which was previously shared by the Cargasacchi and Loring labels and which Mr. Ostini and Mr. Hartley lease, expands the Hitching Post’s real estate from one acre to a sweeping 12. The lot has undergone a fair share of cosmetic upgrades, including new fencing to buffer the hums of traffic, the repurposed use of trellising to shade outdoor seating and the substantial clearing of brush to reveal vistas of the nearby Santa Ynez Mountains.
Most of the property, some eight acres, is untouched terrain that neighbors Ostrich Land and that stretches south across the Santa Ynez River. “This was an area the Chumash once used to fish steelhead [trout],” Mr. Ostini says. It’s a potential site for future farming, he adds, but no grapevines.
The crowning jewel here, though, is the tasting room, which the duo has transformed into a bright, breezy space. Light wood floors and plenty of natural light abound. Two tasting areas feature bars made from reclaimed barn wood found out back. A cellar of older vintages takes over an entire wall. And a lounge room with rustic wooden tables connects to a small retail space with an array of Hitching Post merch; the pith helmet famously donned by Frank Ostini in pretty much any picture that comes back when you Google him sells for $36.
An artsy gallery is a nod to the history of this renowned wine project, which saw Mr. Ostini and Mr. Hartley harvesting wine grapes for the first time in 1979. The display features the first wine they ever made under a joint label: a 1981 pinot noir “made at home in Sisquoc,” as is written right on the bottle. Dozens of photographs capture Hitching Post milestones as well as moments with industry colleagues who’ve passed away, like Chris Whitcraft, Seth Kunin and Mike Bonaccorsi. Guests will also find the last photo taken of Mr. Ostini without his signature mustache, snapped in 1986. And there are photos of the Sideways cast, too, who spent many nights in the Hitching Post dining room while filming the 2004 Oscar winner.
|Chris Burroughs pours at Hitching Post Wines|
|Outdoor seating at Hitching Post Wines|
A tasty perk to the experience here is the cook-to-order lunch menu, which is grilled up by the Hitching Post crew next door, long renowned for its mastery of authentic Santa Maria BBQ. Served from 11am-2pm, “HP To You” includes a Grilled Corn Quesadilla ($6); a Grilled Artichoke with smoked tomato mayo ($10); a Steak Salad ($11); a Cheese Burger ($11); and the Steak & Caramelized Onion Sandwich ($12). The Meat & Cheese Plate costs $14. A classic Air Stream-turned-kitchen has already been brought onsite to take over the brunt of lunch service in the near future from the Hitching Post, which starts dinner service daily at 4pm.
The wine and lunch crowd has plenty of outdoor seating options, including cozy, shaded benches and a handful of secluded Adirondack chair pairs shaded by red umbrellas and fronted by valley views as far as they eye can see.
Hitching Post Wines, 420 E. Highway 246, Buellton. Sun.-Thu. 11am-5pm, Fri.-Sat. 11am-9pm. 805-688-0676. HPWines.com, @hitchingpost2.