The varied and amazing wines and wineries of Santa Barbara County

It’s no secret, I’m in love with the Santa Barbara County Wine Region.  It is laid back with an incredible range of variety.  “Sideways” got it right.  This is the best up and coming wine area in our country.  Up and coming actually seems a little silly, the wineries and winemakers here have quite a history.  There are giants of winemaking here including: Richard Sanford, Jim Clenedenen, Bob Linquist, Richard Longoria & Bill Wathen. And the list of amazing winemakers continues to grow and the wines they are producing are varied and amazing.

Clos Pepe in the Santa Rita Hills

Clos Pepe in the Santa Rita Hills

Santa Barbara lies in a unique area that separated from the plates along the coast.  Over the past twelve million years this little section shifted and created a Transverse valley.  This means that the valley here runs east west as opposed to north south like all the other valleys on our coast.  The transverse valley and the microclimates within it lead to a place where you can grow an amazing variety of grapes in a relatively small area.  On the western edge the valley is cool and is perfect for growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  As you move east the valley warms by a degree a mile!  This makes the middle section perfect for Rhone varieties like Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre and Roussanne and as you continue to the east side where Happy Canyon lies you have enough heat to support those Bordeaux varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Sauvignon Blanc.

So if you are a wine geek like me…this is a great place.  But if you are not a wine geek and want to avoid the intimidation of wine talk and just enjoy a glass…well this is the right place too.

So…make your first stop in the Funk Zone near the beach in Santa Barbara on the Urban Wine trail.  Stop into one of the many great tasting rooms there.  Maybe hit Municipal Winemakers first and soak up some of the funky atmosphere.  Sit down at the picnic table and enjoy a glass of rose.

AVA Santa Barbara Elkpen Mural

AVA Santa Barbara Elkpen Mural

Then if you are feeling like learning a little about where these wines come from head up the street to AVA Santa Barbara. Here you can taste wines from all the different regions in Santa Barbara County.  The entire wall over the tasting bar is a huge chalk mural by Elkpen that  shows the regions soils, microclimates and topography. The wines, by Seth Kunin of Kunin Wines are lovely and deliberately varied to feature the microclimates in this incredible area.

Au Bon Climate, Grassini, Margerum

If you head further North into downtown, you will find Grassini, Au Bon Climat & Margerum to choose between for a tasting.

Bistro Dining and Sunset Tasting at Deep Sea

Bistro Dining and Sunset Tasting at Deep Sea

Head back through the downtown shopping district and stop at  Pierre Lafond Wine Bistro for lunch.  Then take a stroll on the beach and finally enjoy a nice glass of wine at Conway Family Wines – Deep Sea Tasting room on the Santa Barbara Pier while you enjoy the sunset.

 

Saarloos & Sons & Cupcakes

Saarloos & Sons & Cupcakes

Oh, but my friend, you are just getting started in Santa Barbara County.  Tomorrow drive into Solvang, the adorable little Danish town and get some aebleskivers for breakfast at the Solvang Restaurant.  You can then stroll this town and taste at several tasting rooms that you can walk to, or drive a little further into Los Olivos where you will find over 35 tasting rooms to choose from!  And…I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a great place to dine at Side’s Hardware & Shoes.  Don’t miss Saarloos and Sons for a pairing with cupcakes from Enjoy Cupcakes.

Carhartt Patio Tasting Area

Carhartt Patio Tasting Area

They are there Thursday thru Sunday from 11-5 (or until they run out of cupcakes, so go early!) and one of my favorite tasting rooms, the tiniest one on the planet is across the street from Saarloos and Sons at Carhartt.  Carhartt stays open an hour later than the others and this often becomes quite the gathering spot on the beautiful but tiny back patio.

Are you overwhelmed yet?  There is more…I highly recommend Terrravant Winery Restaurant in Buellton for dinner and pairings.  They have an Enomatic wine dispensing system set up so you can try small tastes of many of the amazing local wines.  And the now World Famous Hitching Post II is also here in Buellton, made famous by the movie “Sideways”.

Avante Front Entrance

Avante Tapas & Wine Bar Front Entrance

Tomorrow morning you have more wine country to explore!  There are amazing wineries outside of Los Olivos in the Santa Ynez Valley like Buttonwood Farms & Beckman.  Or travel up to Santa Maria through Foxen Canyon and enjoy the morning Vandenberg Fog.  Stop at Zaca Mesa and try their Rhones.  This place has been around a while and popped out some pretty amazing winemakers!  Further up the road, you can’t miss stopping at “The Shack” at Foxen.

Zaca Mesa chess set

Zaca Mesa Patio with the oversized chess set

And…then there is the Sta. Rita Hills. If you love Pinot or good Chard you want to drive through here.  Make an appointment and stop by Clos Pepe.  Wes Hagen has more vineyard and wine knowledge than you can imagine and a tasting with him is amazing!  Just past Clos Pepe is Hilliard Bruce.  John and Christine have an incredibly beautiful landscaped property and their vineyard management is state of the art.

Clos Pepe and Hilliard Bruce

Clos Pepe and Hilliard Bruce

Keep driving down 246 to Lompoc and top into the Wine Ghetto.  Filled with small wineries working out of an industrial park you will find Flying Goat Cellars, Fiddlehead & Palmina as well as a host of others.  Check the hours though, because they are often just open on weekends for tastings.  Further into Lompoc you will find Brewer-Clifton, which again brought out my geeky side as we talked about stem inclusion and how they thin the vines to ripen the stems!

Lompac Wine Ghetto

Lompac Wine Ghetto

Have I covered it all?  Not even close.  There is so much exploring I look forward to going back to do.  But…if you are short on time…The Grand Tasting at the Santa Barbara Vintners Spring Weekend will have all of these great wineries and winemakers in one place on April 12th.

Or at anytime for information visit Santa Barbara Vintners

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Santa Barbara Urban Wine Trail – Virtual Tour

Santa Barbara’s Urban Wine Trail is unique.  Follow it and you get to explore Santa Barbara from elegant State Street and the historic El Paseo shopping center where you will find Grassini, Au Bon Climat and Margerum, to the outskirts of the Funk Zone where Carr resides in it’s Quonsit hut making you feel like you’ve walked right into a barrel.  Cross the train tracks and stop by AVA Santa Barbara where you can taste wines from all the AVA’s in the area and see the huge Elkpen mural mapping out the unique climate, soils and history of the AVA’s.  Stroll down the block and stop at Santa Barbara Winery one of the very first in this area.  Anacapa Street is teaming with tasting rooms like Oreana, Kunin and of course Municipal Winemakers which looks like a dive shop and has a wall of filing cabinets.   As you stroll between the tasting rooms take in the Funk zone with it’s murals and small artist shops and galleries.  The Santa Barbara Surf Museum is there as well as plenty of surfboard and dive shops.  Keep walking and you will hit the beach.  Grab a segway or a bike or just walk the beach.  Head out on to the wharf and visit the Aquarium or just enjoy watching the fishermen.  Stop by Conway Family Wines Deep Sea tasting room with a 2nd story patio to enjoy the view with a glass of wine.  Don’t miss sunset at the end of the wharf and the parade of boats returning to the marina.  It makes for a perfect day…although 2 would be even better.

Santa Barbara…yes Again!

Life is better with WIne

I know…we were just there in April, but ya know, the wines in this area are really amazing!  We are headed back first to the Funk Zone to visit some more tasting rooms. We have waxed poetic on ABC (Au Bon Climat) and Municipal Winemakers, now it’s time to explore some of the other Funky Wine Tasting rooms.

Au Bon Climate & Municipal

Au Bon Climate & Municipal

The plan is lunch at Pierre Lafond’s Wine Bistro on State Street for lunch and a flight.  In 1962 Pierre Lafond opened the first winery in Santa Barbara County since prohibition.  Mr. Lafond originally had a wine and cheese shop that became the place to be for Santa Barbara wine lovers.

Pierre LaFond's Wine-Bistro

Pierre LaFond’s Wine-Bistro

He started Santa Barbara Winery and later Lafond Winery.  So…we will taste some wine, have some lunch and maybe try a little of the new Kambucha made locally that is now on the menu.  And hopefully we will find a seat out on the patio where we can absorb some of the State Street atmosphere.

After lunch we will head to Grassini Family Vineyards to do a chocolate pairing. They have a tasting room near ABC and Margerum.  Their vineyards are located on the east edge of the Santa Ynez Valley in Happy Canyon.  Oddly enough for this primarily Burgundian style region, they are growing Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot, all Bordeaux varieties.  I look forward to finding out why they decided to grow Cab and what makes their vineyard Cab friendly.  They also have solar panels and are a gravity flow winery so I look forward to finding out more about that!

AVA Santa Barbara

AVA Santa Barbara

Then we head to the funkier part of Santa Barbara and stop by AVA Santa Barbara where I need to check out the amazing Elkpen murals of the region.

This winery is a wine geeks dream, the murals are all educational with details on the climate in each of the regions AVA’s.  They have wines from each of the 5 AVA’s in the regions.  They are owned by Seth Kunin of Kunin wines.  This should be a great opportunity to get a little more of the details of the area under my belt, with a big map to guide me.

Conway's Deep Sea Winery

Conway’s Deep Sea Winery

After that we will hit as many other tasting rooms as is feasible and plan to get a nice sunset time-lapse out at the Deep Sea Tasting room on Stearns Wharf that night.  Kalyra, Santa Barbara Winery, Carr, Oreana, Kunin, Riverbench, and Pali…you could all see us knocking at your door!  We will try!

Next stop Los Olivos!

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