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Donna Polizzi: Food, Wine Find a Perfect Blend in Picturesque Avila Beach

Between the Olde Port Inn and Kelsey See Canyon Vineyards, you’ll get a delicious taste of the Central Coast

Kelsey See Canyon Vineyards started out making hard cider blends from grapes and apples, but has graduated to an award-winning array of some of the finest wines in the nation.
Kelsey See Canyon Vineyards started out making hard cider blends from grapes and apples, but has graduated to an award-winning array of some of the finest wines in the nation. (Donna Polizzi photo)

If you’re looking for an idyllic setting to enjoy a day of delectable food and wine, head to Avila Beach in San Luis Obispo County.

The area is full of wonderful restaurants like the Olde Port Inn, 3993 Avila Beach Drive, at the end of the Harford Pier in Port San Luis and is well worth walking the plank. The fresh ocean air, warm sun and barking sea lions make the senses come alive.

Now let’s talk food ... This is the place to chow down on some of the best seafood on the California coast. The restaurant is unique in many ways, and one of the most notable is that the tables are glass and offer a view into the ocean below, where sea lions and seals frolic in the water.

The new owner and chef, David Whitestine, treated my guest and me to a lunch that will not be forgotten. If you love great food, read on. If not, read on and you just might change your mind.

Whitestine served up a beet salad with jicama, candied walnuts, yellow and purple beets and goat cheese, with a wonderful mustard and vinegar dressing. Next were moist crab cakes and the “Harpooner” special that included fresh scallops, jumbo prawns and fish served with a beurré blanc sauce.

“The crab cakes are made without bread crumbs, which makes them moist and gluten-free, and we will be including many more gluten-free, dairy-free and vegetarian items on the menu,” he told me.

Are you hungry yet? Let me tell you that the cioppino was savory and as fresh as it gets.

Stuffed at this point, we were delighted when crème brûlée​, a French classic dessert, was presented at our table. This finale was flavored with vanilla bean and a crispy crystallized shell that topped the creamiest dessert on the planet. Add the Olde Port Inn to your bucket list.

There are so many reasons to head out to Avila Beach. Imagine standing on the pier, overlooking the majestic beauty of Avila Bay, while pelicans swoop through the air dive-bombing for fish while sea lions and seals put on a show below.

Laurie Kelsey of Kelsey See Canyon Vineyards has a gift of making visitors feel right at home at her family’s winery and ranch.
Laurie Kelsey of Kelsey See Canyon Vineyards has a gift of making visitors feel right at home at her family’s winery and ranch. (Donna Polizzi photo)

While waddling back to the car, the decision was made to take a scenic drive. Winding along the San Luis hillsides, a sycamore-tree lined road leads to the hidden 26-acre Kelsey family farm and vineyard.

Kelsey See Canyon Vineyards, 1947 See Canyon Road, is unique in so many ways. It is nestled next to a creek with towering sycamore trees just three minutes away from Avila Beach.

I had the pleasure of spending time with owner Laurie Kelsey, learning about the family’s artistic talents that make this place so pleasurable. Hearing the stories was a delight, and they have the gift of making you feel like an old friend within minutes of arriving.

When the Kelseys first bought their ranch, there were so many apples that they had to decide what to do with them all. They began crafting unique wines by blending apples and grapes.

The technique requires pressing the apples and fermenting them with chardonnay or red blends to make delicious hard cider blends. The wine is a story of its own and must be tasted.

But don’t take my word for it. Earlier this year at the 2015 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, Kelsey See Canyon Vineyards won 12 medals — one for each wine entered. Among the awards were three Double Golds, the equivalent of a unanimous rating by all panel members.

To put this into proper perspective, this is a 12-for-12 win out of more than 6,300 entries from across the country. The results are a validation of the superb and superior quality of the Kelsey brand.                         

Colleen Gnos, Laurie Kelsey’s cousin, is the creator of the exquisite artwork that graces the tasting room. Beautiful surfboards shine with paintings of mermaids and divers.

A visitor at Kelsey See Canyon Vineyards gets a photo opportunity with one of the winery’s colorful ambassadors. Click to view larger
A visitor at Kelsey See Canyon Vineyards gets a photo opportunity with one of the winery’s colorful ambassadors. (Donna Polizzi photo)

While mermaids have enchanted sailors and people of all ages for centuries, Kelsey proudly pointed out that “some of the mermaids painted on the surfboards feature actual family members from photos and then painted by Colleen and transformed into mermaids.”

One more fun feature ... let’s talk peacocks. The Kelsey family rescued seven peacocks from an old ranch in Avila Beach. The birds kept having babies, and the vineyard became a drop-off point for people with unwanted peacocks.

More than 100 peacocks now roam the property, interacting well with dogs and people while putting on colorful displays for all to enjoy. I encourage you to get up and get out there. Sip, savor and live life with ferocity.

— Donna Polizzi is a regional travel expert and founder of Keys to the Coast, a free Central Coast travel resource providing members with a customized list of recommendations on the best places that locals want to go. She can be contacted at [email protected]. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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