Santa Maria Sun / Art
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 13, Issue 29
Zip down to wine countrySanta Margarita Ranch offers a bird's eye view, a little adrenaline, and a lot of wine
BY KRISTINA SEWELL
Living on the Central Coast, we don’t have to look very hard to find something to keep us entertained. With its pristine beaches, quaint towns, and plethora of wineries, a good time is never far away.
Take, for instance, our neighbors to the north of the Cuesta Grade at the historic Santa Margarita Ranch. At first glance, visitors could easily assume the land is home to nothing more than an old cattle ranch. It still is home to that, but a look closer reveals that this hidden paradise has a diverse ecology and a love of adventure to share.
The ranch stands at a daunting 13,900 acres and is currently owned by three local families. The site was first recorded in 1769 when Padre Juan Crespi selected it to establish an assistant mission for San Luis Obispo de Tolosa.
With its ecologically diverse landscape, rich California history, and award-winning Ancient Peaks Winery, the ranch has a lot to offer guests in search of fun, education, and good wine.
For those restless spirits craving all three experiences, Margarita Adventures, a locally owned and operated outdoor experience company, has collaborated with Santa Margarita Ranch to create a one-of-a-kind tour offering new perspectives on one of the state’s most historic landmarks.
So when Margarita Adventures invited me—and some colleagues from the Sun—to come up for an afternoon of fun, learning, and wine, we jumped at the opportunity.
The beat-up white ranch truck bounced along the gravel road as we wound our way through lush vineyards, slowly making our way to the launch point of the first of four ziplines.
The zipline canopy tours—four lines that allow you to glide over the ranch—are an extension of the existing nature, vineyard, and ranch tours. Inspired by co-owner Karl Wittstrom, the zipline adds a thrill and gives guests a bird’s eye view of ranch and vineyard life.
Wittstrom acted as our VIP guide for the day and shared some of his vast knowledge of the ranch’s history with us.
The ranch was home to indigenous people for thousands of years. It also served as a meeting spot for Gen. Jose Castro and former Mexican governor of California, Pio Pico. The notorious Frank and Jesse James once passed through.
We finally arrived at the looming hillcrest that would serve as our launch point for the first zipline, this one titled “Renegade.”
I stepped out of the truck and surveyed the endless expanse of valley below, the welcome sun beating down on my face. From my vantage, I felt like I can see everything.
The grasses, still dry from the summer heat, swayed gently in the breeze. To my right and left stretched vineyards that hugged the gentle slopes of the landscape, and 1,300 feet in front of me, a forest of majestic and white and blue oak trees awaited my arrival.
The click of the harness snapped me from my reverie. Equipped with a harness, gloves, and a ridiculous-looking red helmet, I was ready to embark. Although I wasn’t as scared as I was when the San Diego zip line, my heart rate was still faster than normal.
However, my companions from the Sun—wily Managing Editor Amy Asman and fearless Staff Writer Jeremy Thomas—were both essentially ziplining “virgins.” Despite this, they volunteered to go first.
After inking our names on the walls of the small shed, filled with signatures from zipliners who’d gone before us, we made our way to the launch point. One of our two guides took off for the other side, shortly followed by Jeremy and Amy.
I stepped once more to the precipice and waited as I was hooked to the cable. I took a deep breath, anticipating the rush I was about to feel. As prepared to step from perfectly good land and into space, I thought to myself: “Well, at least this time I can scream.” I had to be quiet at the zoo.
When Jeremy, Amy, and I finished the last of the ziplines, we stood at the bottom, munching on refreshments, reminiscing about the fun we just had: soaring over vineyards and the tops of massive oak trees, watching a group of deer graze as we flew overhead. We agreed that the third and fourth ziplines—the “Hilltopper” and the “Archway”—were the best. Instead of merely stepping off a platform, you had to get a running start, which added to the thrill.
There was a little bit of competition added to the last zipline: As you glide through two oak trees, you have a chance to shoot a numbered bean bag into one of two strategically placed tubs. If your basketball skills are in tune for the day, you could win a prize.
Unfortunately, we aren’t avid basketball players, so we didn’t make the shots.
With our adrenaline still high, we climbed back into the truck to wrap up the rest of our tour. Along the way, Wittstrom told us to keep our eyes peeled for bald eagles, bears, and foxes. The remainder of the expedition took us through vineyards and older parts of the ranch.
Wittstrom shared more along the way about the property’s sustainable ranching and wine-making practices. The ranch uses “rotational grazing,” which has allowed for the return of some grasses. In addition, it’s a member of the Harris Ranch Natural Beef Program, and vineyard pests are managed naturally.
We wrapped up the tour, which usually takes 2 1/2 hours, at the Ancient Peaks tasting room back in town, which reflects the comfortably rugged nature of the town. It was a warm and relaxing end to an eventful day.
Mason jars filled with fresh flowers added a light fragrance to the air as I sipped on my Syrah, the flavor full and smooth. I thought back on all that we saw that day, the fun we had, and all that we learned about a historic landmark right in our backyard.
Margarita Adventures and the Santa Margarita Ranch have successfully created a unique experience that blends adventure, education, and wine tasting into one thrilling experience that will make for lasting memories.
For more information on how to book your own adventure, visit margarita-adventures.com.
Staff Writer Kristina Sewell is getting to be a ziplining pro. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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