One of the coolest things about being a Trekkie living in Los Angeles is that I’ve been able to visit a plethora of filming locations used for various Star Trek episodes over the decades. I’ve been to Vasquez Rocks and Bronson Canyon, both of which appeared in numerous episodes of multiple Trek series and movies. I’ve been to “Starfleet Academy” (the Tillman Water Reclamation Plant), “Bajor” (Fern Dell), the Franklin Canyon Reservoir (where Kirk became Kirok), the hill in “Montana” (really Charton Flats in the Angeles National Forest) where the statue of Zephram Cochrane will be built, the Ba’ku lake that Data steps into in Insurrection (really the San Gabriel Dam in Azusa), Starfleet HQ from Into Darkness (really the Getty Center Art Museum) and even stood on the spot where McCoy saw Alice and the White Rabbit in “Shore Leave” (no longer green and lush, as most of the the Soledad Canyon foliage in that area was washed away in a flood in the early 1970s).
While I probably could have found all of these spots over the years by myself, fortunately, I didn’t have to. Thanks to my membership in the local USS Angeles chapter of Starfleet International, I got to join my crew mates on away missions to these many “sacred sites” of Star Trek…
Of course, when the producers of Star Trek: Discovery chose Toronto, Ontario in Canada as their filming location, I figured my opportunities to visit Star Trek filming locations would now be limited to only the TV series and movies produced before 2016. But then Star Trek: Picard was announced, and production was set right back here in Trek‘s (and my) backyard in Los Angeles.
Time to add some more “sacred sites” to my list!
Some are easier than others. The new location for Starfleet HQ is the Anaheim Convention Center, which I visit annually to attend WonderCon. The shoreline location for the Daystrom Institute in “Okinawa” was, I believe, Golden Cove in Rancho Palos Verdes—a place I’ve been to a few times. But by far, the pièce de résistance would be the magnificently beautiful and scenic Château Picard, the winery and vineyard where Jean-Luc Picard grew up, and where he’d spent his twilight years after resigning from Starfleet in 2385.
But where the heck is Château Picard?
Late last year, our fan club’s “commanding officer,” DAVE MASON, announced to the crew a special away mission in mid-February…but he couldn’t tell us where it would be until closer to the actual date. It wasn’t until after the new Picard series premiered that Dave could finally fill us all in: we were going to visit Picard’s vineyard!
Fans have actually seen the Château Picard vineyard twice before during the run of Star Trek: TNG—in the episodes “Family” and “All Good Things.” In “Family,” there were two locations. The house that Picard grew up in was actually shot in, of all places, Encino, CA…a densely-populated urban/suburban area nowhere near any grapevines! And the “vineyard” where Jean-Luc and his brother Robert fought was filmed in a flat dryland area in Lancaster, CA in the Mojave Desert. A matte paining was used to extend the scene to make it look like the lush fields of eastern France and not a dry desert background. And if you look closely, the foliage growing is an orchard of fruit trees, not grapevines…
In “All Good Things,” however, the vineyard seen at the beginning of the episode is, indeed, a vineyard…with actual grapes growing on vines rather than trees. The filming location used was the Callaway Vineyard and Winery in Temecula, CA, about 90 minutes southeast of Los Angeles. The local club has never bothered going down there, as it’s not only a schlepp but there’s really not much to see other than rows and rows of grapes, and it’s unlikely we’d ever find the exact location(s) where they’d set up their shots for TNG.
Now, the NEW Château Picard…that is a whole different story! The location is the Sunstone Winery and Vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley, only about 35 minutes from Santa Barbara, and two hours (or so) from Los Angeles. That’s practically Dave’s backyard (he and his girlfriend live near SB), and not so bad for the rest of the crew. In fact, Dave had actually written a feature article on the winery and filming Picard there for the Santa Barbara News-Press. The away mission was set for February 22.
The Picard producers are smart people. They made certain to find a location that wasn’t completely in the middle of nowhere. Despite the beautiful vistas, Sunstone Winery is just four miles from the quaint little town of Solvang. Founded in 1911 by Danish Americans from the Midwest, Solvang (Danish for “sunny fields”) features whimsical architecture straight out of Denmark, some amazing “farm-to-fork” restaurants, about 47 different bakeries and chocolate shops, more scented candles than you could buy in a lifetime, the Hans Christian Andersen Museum…oh, and a local Indian Casino. In other words, you can take the entire production up there for a week or nine days, and there’s plenty of local hotel rooms available plus ample catering resources for the crew on-set.
Of course, the real star of the Château show is the beautiful villa that stands proudly on a hill overlooking the property. Designed with a Tuscany-inspired architecture and built only about 20 years ago, the stone facade of the villa is made of cobblestones transported over from the south of France. The inside of the villa contains beams from a French factory that was apparently owned by Britain’s Queen Victoria plus a 1,000-year-old limestone sink in the kitchen. The villa has five bedrooms and was originally the home to the winery founders, Fred and Linda Rice, until Mrs. Rice’s passing in 2010. Now the villa is rented out as a location for weddings, for weekend stays by members of Sunstone’s exclusive VIP wine club, and now to Hollywood production companies (or at least one in particular).
Last April, hundreds of cast and production crew invaded the local area, set up on the 21-acre vineyard and in the villa, and filmed every scene that would take place for the entire ten-episode season…including all of the scenes in Picard’s shipboard holo-office recreation of his study back on Earth. Everyone at the vineyard had to sign a nondisclosure and confidentiality agreement with CBS which prohibited them from even acknowledging the filming until a week after Picard had premiered. That’s why Captain Dave couldn’t tell the USS Angeles crew where we were going.
I headed out around 10am for a 1pm rendezvous with the crew. The drive is very pleasant, heading up the 101 Freeway along the Pacific coast most of the way followed by a scenic drive through the mountains of the Los Padres National Forest and past the eye-catching Cachuma Lake before arriving at the vineyard. Over the previous three years, two wildfires (the Whittier Fire and the Cave Fire) threatened the area, but neither reached the winery, and parts of the Santa Ynez Valley are already starting to recover.
A cut-off low pressure system gave me very dramatic clouds and scattered showers on my drive up, but I still managed to make it there with about 40 minutes to spare. So I headed into Solvang to visit two of my favorite bakeries (although, really, they’re ALL amazing!). I grabbed a cherry danish to bring back home to my wife, and I also purchased a strawberry cheesecake strudel loaf to share with my shipmates at the vineyard. After all, they offer wine tasting, and I didn’t want folks drinking on an empty stomach!
Although a couple of people had to cancel at the last minute, we still had a decent turnout of seven Trekkers (including me). And since the strudel was cut into eight pieces—and I’d chowed down on an end piece while driving from town because I hadn’t eaten lunch yet—it’s actually a good thing we only had seven people!
Unfortunately, when I arrived, I discovered much to my disappointment that we would not be able to see the iconic villa after all. The winery was still open, though—and it’s also got some very interesting architecture, including underground rooms built into the side of a hill—but the villa had been booked by a family staying there for the night. So no tours, and no one was even being allowed close enough to get a decent photo of the structure. Drat!
It wasn’t a total loss, though. There was a fellow playing guitar and singing in the courtyard while people relaxed, and $20/person got each one of us tastes of six different wines (two whites, a blush, and three reds). They also offered four uniquely-flavored balsamic vinegars, one of which was an amazing blood-orange infusion, along with bread to dunk. The weather was mild due to the clouds, which were just starting to break.
As I went back for my fourth wine sample (a lovely 2018 GRENACHE, if you’re curious, with a light-bodied palate containing notes of blueberries, strawberries, and baked apple pie, perfectly complemented by hints of black pepper and baking spices), I was approached by a woman named JOANN SALDANA, the Estate Experience Manager. She’d noticed my Star Trek communicator pin and apologized that the villa wasn’t open to tours today. However, she said that the winery was setting up special tours in the near future for parties of 8 or more ($175/person) where guests would be taken through all of the rooms used for Picard scenes, could snap as many photos as they wanted, and (for $30 more) could enjoy a catered gourmet meal with wine in Picard’s actual kitchen. She didn’t specify whether former Romulan Tal Shiar agents would be doing the cooking, and I forgot to ask.
If you decide you’d like to do something like that, Joann can be reached through the winery’s website which includes both an e-mail address and phone number. And hey, if you’ve got seven people and need an eighth, shoot me an e-mail, ’cause I just might be willing to make the drive again and pay the 200 bucks to eat in Picard’s kitchen!
The crew enjoyed each others’ company, and then six of us decided to walk over to one of the scenic vineyards to take a group photo. I’d brought my tripod, and I took this fun shot…
Then the sun went behind a very dark cloud, the sunlight dimmed considerably, and the gorgeous tripod selfie I wanted to take with the vineyards and the Santa Ynez Mountains suddenly looked totally blah…
But it seemed like the sun would come out really soon. The dark cloud was moving—albeit very slowly—and maybe just another 10-15 minutes would give me nicer light. So while the others walked back to the tasting area, I waited…and waited…and waited…waaaay more than 15 minutes! And then, just as the sun was finally about to poke out and light those vineyards and mountains, I swear the cloud stopped, turned around, and started heading back the other way , blocking the sun again! I’d waited nearly 45 minutes for nothing!!! So I wandered back.
By this point, one person had left, trying to get back to L.A. before it got too dark, and another few headed off to the Chumash Casino for dinner. With about 20 minutes until the winery closed, I wandered back to the tasting counter to buy a bottle of 2017 Syrah for a friend who’s a bit of a connoisseur (and a Trekkie) and then back to my car. Along the way, I passed Captain Dave and his girlfriend Lisa. They stopped me, as they’d discovered a spot where you could at least see the top floor of the villa from one particular parking space. Oh, well…it was better than nothing!
Then I realized that I could elevate myself just a little higher and see a teensy bit more if I had something to stand on…like my car! So I hustled up the gravel road, drove my car back to the empty parking spot, and climbed on top of the hood. I was able to get this shot…
I must have looked a little ridiculous, but just as I was about to offer to take the same photo for Dave with his camera, a woman from the winery walked up to the three of us and said, “Follow me.”
She’d seen us (and particularly me with my Starfleet comm badge pin) for the last couple of hours, and she knew we were fans. “I’m not really doing this, you understand, just in case anyone asks…” she said as she led us to the stone steps that led up to the villa. It was quite a climb, and I definitely worked off some of that strudel!
She couldn’t take us into the villa itself, and we weren’t allowed to get too close because there were guests staying there. But we got close enough for nice, clear photos. We shot the back of the house as well as the front…
We were only up there a few minutes. But on the way back to the parking lot, I grabbed this shot of us heading down the stone steps…
And as I drove to the front of the parking lot, back to the spot where I’d waited in vain for the sun for 45 minutes, the light was finally perfect! So I pulled over, grabbed my camera, and took this one final photo for the day…
In the end, things worked out really well. As disappointed as I was that the clouds weren’t letting the sun through, if I hadn’t waited those 45 minutes, I likely would never have had the opportunity to go up to the villa. So all good things do, indeed, come to those who wait!