“Soon it got dusk, a grapy dusk, a purple dusk over tangerine groves and long melon fields; the sun the color of pressed grapes, slashed with burgundy red, the fields the color of love and Spanish mysteries.” – Jack Kerouac
Every time I visit Ojai, California, I am completely taken aback by its awe-inspiring beauty; the rolling hills, open skies, sunshine and ecologically friendly attitude are all things that make Ojai a very worthwhile place to visit. Whether you have a desire for some tasty farm-fresh food, want to visit an interesting art gallery, or have a sudden thirst for some top-notch wine, Ojai provides.
As a lover of all things wine, I was pleasantly surprised when Victoria and I were invited to Casa Barranca’s Wine Tasting Party. I couldn’t wait to travel to Ojai to indulge in a little (or in my case, a lot) of that miraculous nectar of the gods. As we were approaching the estate, we were greeted by a jovial security guard asking to see our tickets. After a few confused and frantic moments on our part, he chuckled, waved us on, informing us that there were no tickets and that one should always start the day off right and with a good joke. Normally, I would agree with his life philosophy but, when the ability to drink massive amounts of delicious wine flashes suddenly before my eyes, I become slightly less appreciative of the fine art of comedy. After just a few moments and some carefully maneuvered driving through the flurry of people trying to park, we checked in and headed inside the Estate.
“Casa Barranca” meaning, “house of the ravine” was commissioned by Charles and Mary Pratt in 1909 when they decided that they needed a place of serenity to escape to when the busy streets of New York became too overwhelming. To fulfill their dreams of building a house that matched the majesty of Ojai, they enlisted the help of, “…two of the most gifted architects of the Arts & Crafts Movement, the brothers Charles and Henry Greene.”
The Arts and Crafts Movement revitalized “…traditional artistic craftsmanship with themes of simplicity, honesty, function, harmony, nature and social reform. The movement promoted moral and social health through quality of architecture and design executed by skilled creative workers, and was a revolt against the poor quality of industrialized mass production.”
By the late 19th century, the American Arts and Crafts Movement, was flourishing because it was a step towards a more natural, balanced and harmonious lifestyle as well as, a direct response to the mass consumerism of the industrial revolution and the end of the Victorian era and its architectural over-embellishment.
The Casa Barranca Estate, is the second Greene and Greene creation that we have visited. The first, was the beautiful and sprawling Gamble House in Pasadena, California. Both residences have a warm, earthy, simple yet luxurious charm that I appreciate and are excellent examples of the American Craftsman style.
As soon as we entered Casa Barranca, we were greeted by a banquet table filled with glistening wineglasses and name tags. I don’t think I have ever been more excited to put on a name tag, than I was in that moment.
We didn’t waste our time, and within five seconds of grabbing a wine glass, it was filled with Rosé . Rosé is wine that incorporates some color from the grapes and may be the oldest known type of wine because of the method originally used in its production, known as the skin contact method or pigeage.
Rosé has always been one of those types of wine that I’d drink in a pinch, but when it comes down to it, I’m a red wine gal, through and through. That being said, their Rosé was decent. It wasn’t too sweet and it had the crispness of what I would typically associate with a Riesling.
While sipping our first glass, we strode around the grounds and took a self-guided tour of the Estate. The thing that most amazes me, as an East coaster, is the West coast’s mentality toward open green spaces and the absolute joy and genius of the “sleeping porch”.
The sleeping porch is a thing of beauty. A place where you can sleep outside, with all the comforts of an indoor bedroom but, with a much better view. Sleeping porches, while still used as a means of relaxation and regeneration had a much more practical use in the early 1900’s:
“Tuberculosis was the number one cause of death and fresh air was considered some of the best treatment for people suffering from this lung ailment. The population in the southern states discovered that by building a screened, private porch they could enjoy the cooler summer nights rather than sleeping in a stuffy and warm bedroom. Hospitals also made use of the fresh air by placing patients’ beds on porches.”
After spending all day wandering through a craftsman house, that was designed to promote the free flow of California air, I wish that sleeping porches had not been replaced by the modern conveniences of air conditioning.
Once we finished exploring, we headed down to the festivities on the lawn and tried Casa Barranca’s Arts & Crafts and Bungalow Red wines. Vicky’s Dad is a Casa Barranca member and receives quarterly wine shipments and while he prefers the Arts and Crafts Red blend Vicky and I love the Bungalow Red. We especially liked that the wine was made organically and the winery uses honey from their own apiary.
After filling up on wine and some delicious, much appreciated, vegetarian food, we headed over to the pool to cool off. As soon as we sat down, we met these two hooligans who dared me to jump in the pool fully-clothed.
Overall, the time spent at Casa Barranca was filled with laughs, wine and just the right amount of lunacy. If you happen to be in or around Ojai we recommend stopping into the Casa Barranca Tasting Room and having a few flights. Unfortunately, the Estate isn’t open to the public but if you join their Wine Club you might get an invite to their next event.
We are grateful that we had the opportunity to visit and would especially like to thank Victoria’s Dad, Richard, for the tickets!