Fess may no longer be with us, but the hospitable spirit of the beloved actor and entrepreneur has deep roots in Santa Barbara Wine Country, as evidenced by a recent visit to the renovated Fess Parker Wine Country Inn.
Purchased by Parker and his wife, Marcella, in 1998 and last renovated in 2012, the 19-room boutique inn — with rooms and suites on both sides of Grand Avenue, the bucolic main street in Los Olivos — manages to be a cozy combination of luxurious amenities and personal Parker family touches that make you feel like such a VIP houseguest that Fess and Marcy are going to come out and greet you in their tennis whites (or maybe a colorful caftan for her) at any minute.
Now run by General Manager Amanda Parker White, Fess’s granddaughter, who is part of the third generation of the family to join the business, each room at the inn has its own unique decor. Our Grand Spa King had beautiful new hardwood floors, a dreamy wrought-iron four-poster bed, a comfy seating area, a cozy fireplace, and lots of vintage framed photos of Fess and Marcy, along with young Eli and Ashley Parker (their children, who now sit at the helm of the business, along with various family members in leadership roles). The complimentary bottle of Fess Parker 2020 viognier and sweet peanut brittle treats (one of Fess’s favorites) added to the warm feeling of being an honored houseguest, as did the delicious morning coffee, fruit, quiche, bagels, lox, and pastry offerings included as part of our much-more-than-continental breakfast, served in yet another charming room off of a the spacious backyard grass area.
Also on the property is Toscana Restaurant Group’s separately owned but equally hospitable Nella Kitchen & Bar, a delicious sister to the nearby S.Y. Kitchen, with a wine-friendly Italian menu that includes pinsas, a Roman artisan baking dish that’s sort of a cross between a pizza and a crisp but airily light bread. It’s hard to describe but delicious and great for sharing before diving into the more traditional entrees of seafood, meats, and pastas.
Over the years, Los Olivos has become quite a desirable wine travel destination for people from all over the world, with the Parkers among the earlier business owners to have that vision. With the recent reopening of the Auberge Resorts Inn at Mattei’s Tavern just down the road, the timing seems perfect for a refresh at the cozy Wine Country Inn, which is easy walking distance to more than 30 tasting rooms in the charming downtown area, many housed in historic, Victorian buildings from the 1800s.
The Parker family’s recently renovated Epiphany Tasting Garden is one of the quaint tasting experiences just a few blocks away from the Wine Country Inn. A complimentary tasting is included for guests at the inn, and we enjoyed having the affable Bryce lead us through a sparkling wine flight that included the Fesstivity brut rosé, 2019, which he introduced by saying “Why have a mimosa when you can have a brut rosé?” Brunch is always my favorite meal of the day when I can swing it, and this notably delicious bubbly will make a perfect addition. I also enjoyed the delightfully fruit-forward summertime splash of happiness from the 2022 grenache rosé from Rodney’s Vineyard.
A vineyard visit to Fess Parker Winery was also part of the offerings included from the inn. We drove ourselves to the storied Foxen Canyon Road establishment, but the hotel also offers transportation to the winery, which is a great option for those who aren’t familiar with the winding roads through this classic Santa Barbara County wine region. Dana entertained us with family lore as she led us through a flight that included a lovely 2020 syrah and 2021 pinot noir, as well as a few library wines — including a 2006 Bien Nacido pinot noir made by Eli Parker himself (Blair Fox is now the winemaker) that drank remarkably well — that were open from an earlier tasting that day.
“As a family-owned and -operated business, we hold our heritage in high regard, while also recognizing the importance of providing a fresh and modern experience,” said Ashley Parker Snider, Fess’s daughter and co-owner and proprietor of the Fess Parker portfolio, in talking about the recent renovations, which include future plans to revamp the poor area. Based on our recent experience at the property, I’d say the family business is in very good hands indeed.
For more information, see fessparker.com.