Lompoc, the Wine Ghetto and Beyond

lompac Ghetto

We visited Lompoc.  It was a Thursday…so limited wine tasting rooms were open, but it gave us a chance to do a few tastings and scope out tasting rooms we would like to return to.  But perhaps you have never heard of Lompoc?  Let me bring you up to speed.


Lompoc is located on the Central Coast of California in Santa Barbara County.  From a wine perspective, it is the area just west of the Sta. Rita Hills AVA.  The Chumash Indians were the first known settlers here and enjoyed relative peace and quiet for what is thought to be 10,000 years until the first European Settlement was built in 1787 with the La Purisima Mission.  The original mission was destroyed in 1812 by an earthquake and was rebuilt several years after at another site.  The mission is now a state park and is host to the Wine and Fire Event held annually by the Sta. Rita Hills Winegrowers Alliance. the name Lompoc comes from the Chumash Indian word “Lum Poc” for “Lagoon” (or for stagnant waters, but lagoon sounds better).

The city of Lompoc was Incorporated in 1888 and many wharves were built for incoming supplies to the coast.  At the turn of the century the rail system took over transport of goods and slowed traffic to the coast by boats, but the new rail system ran from San Francisco to LA with a spur coming into Lompoc. The city is known as the City of Arts and Flowers and indeed they became know as the capitol for the flower seed industry.  The area became agriculturally based and still grows many flowers.

In 1941 Camp Cooke was established as a Army Training base and was renamed Vandenburg Air Force Base in 1958 when the Air Force began using it as a test site for intermediate-range ballistic missles.  In the late 1980’s this was to be the new spot for launching Space Shuttle Missions and the town grew and boomed with the expectation of people coming in to see the launches.  Sadly the Challenger shuttle explosion in 1986 ended that program and the city struggled to find a way out of the recession they found themselves in.

They turned to Tourism and now in addition to their arts and flowers, they are home to many wineries with around 30 tasting rooms, which are typically open on the weekends.

The Wine Ghetto

The Lompoc Wine Ghetto came about in 1998 when Rick Longoria moved his winery operations to an industrial Warehouse in Lompoc.  It was close to the vineyards and allowed an affordable space to make wine.  Others soon followed suit, and while Longoria moved out of the Ghetto, in to a new facility down the street (in the historic JM Club), there are still plenty of great tasting rooms in the Ghetto.

We had tasted in the Lompoc Wine Ghetto before at Palmina by Steve Clifton and a little further outside the Ghetto at Brewer Clifton back in 2012.  It seems like not so long ago, but really it has been a bit of time and things have changed.  Brewer-Clifton was founded in 2001 by Greg Brewer and Steve Clifton.  In 2015 Ken Frederickson and his team joined Brewer Clifton and recently the winery was purchased by Jackson Family Wines.

We also visited Fiddlehead Cellars during a Vintners Spring weekend event and enjoyed a great tasting with Kathy Josephs the winemaker there as well as some great home-cooked food!

Currently the Lompoc Wine Ghetto is home to 18 wineries and tasting rooms.  In addition there are individual tasting rooms like Longoria and Brewer Clifton further to the West and just east of the Ghetto is the Santa Rita Hills Wine Center Where you can find 4 tasting rooms and several other wineries.  The tasting rooms here include Zotovich, AVE, Kessler-Hawk and Transcendence.  In the Ghetto you will find Ampelos, Arcadian, Bratcher, DSP, Fiddlehead, Flying Goat, Holus Bolus, Jalama, La Montagne, La Vie, Montemar, Morretti, Pali, Palmina, Piedrasassi & Stolpman.  Check out the Lompoc Wine Trail for details and a map.

During this visit we stopped at A Taste of Sta. Rita Hills tasting room, which shares space with Moretti, located in the Wine Ghetto and then visited AVE and Transcendence located a short walk away at the Santa Rita Hills Wine Center.

You will find that most of the tasting rooms and wineries here focus on the varieties of grapes coming from the Sta. Rita Hills AVA, meaning lots of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but there are other varieties available also.

While I was unable to get there, on Friday afternoons, Piedrasassi, Sashi Moorman’s Winery also has it’s Bakery open run by Melissa Sorongon.  You can get fresh baked bread and taste some great wines all at one time.  It’s on my list.

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We will be sharing the details of our tastings in Lompoc in future posts.  Keep up to date on all of our posts by following us on Crushed Grape Chronicles  .  You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

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


The Lompoc Wine Ghetto

Breakfast at Sides

Day 3 in Santa Barbara wine country and breakfast at Sides Hardware and Shoes was in order.  I had a goat cheese and summer squash tart and a latte.  Michael had Challah toast with a blueberry compot.  Once our tummy’s were full, we headed on to the Lompac and the Wine Ghetto!

The drive to Lompac takes you out from Buellton along the 246 and you pass many of the well known Santa Rita vineyards on the way.  Melville, Sea Smoke, Fe Ciega…next time we will take the drive south and stop by Sanford where you have gorgeous views of the vineyards I am told.



I had been reading Steve Heimoff’s book New Classic Winemakers of California so tasting some of Greg Brewer’s wines were on my list.  Greg Brewer and Steve Clifton opened this winery in Lompoc to produce wines that were vineyard specific and to cleanly let the grapes of these vineyards express themselves in the wine.  They exclusively make Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  We tasted 3 chardonnays and 3 Pinots in their beautiful modern tasting room at their winemaking facility which is outside of the “Wine Ghetto”.  The first wine we tasted was the 2010 Santa Rita Hills Chardonnay which is a blend of Mount Carmel, 3-D, Gnesa, Sea Smoke and Zotovich vineyards they make 2500 cases.  This was followed by the 2010 Sea Smoke Chardonnay.  They are the only winery allowed Chardonnay grapes from this property (you will remember me mentioning earlier that only Foxen is allow access to their Pinot).  This single vineyard Chardonnay they only made 290 cases of.  Lastly we tasted the 2009 Gnesa Chardonnay.  This is a 4 acre vineyard that the Gnesa family planted in 1996.  This was my favorite…lime leaf, lemon curd, cardamom…

On to the Pinots.  The 2010 Santa Rita Hills is a blend of Mount Carmel, 3D, Machado, Ampelos, Zotovich and Sebastiano and they made 1850 cases of this.  The Single vineyards are 2010 Machado of which they produced 288 cases and the 2010 Mount Carmel of which they produced 864 cases. The Machado from a 15 acre parcel on their property and is made of 4 selections that were planted (Merry Edwards, Pommard, Mount Eden and 459).  The Mount Carmel is specifically from the Mount Carmel site and is spicy with dried orange peel, tart fruit like rhubarb and an earthiness.  All of these were beautiful.  One of the things I noticed while tasting was how subtle the tannins were.  I remembered that they believed in full cluster fermentation.  Stems are vital in their opinion to their wines.  Typically this adds tannins and a bit of vegetal quality to the wines and this was not their.  Our pourer explained how it is important to ripen the stem also. They thin leaves not only to ripen fruit, but to ripen the stems.  The result is beautiful.  This was a fascinating stop. I look forward to coming back and tasting at Melville and finding away to taste his diatom Chardonnays.  As to Mr. Clifton…well we are on to Palmina in the Lompoc Wine Ghetto.



Lompoc Wine GhettoPalmina

Palmina Winery in the Lompac Wine Ghetto


First about the Wine Ghetto.  I understood that it was a group of wineries in an industrial area, all grouped together.  Cool…I pictured large warehouses where they had their tanks and barrels stored for aging.  The warehouses were much smaller than I had pictured.  Truth is crush facilities are typically elsewhere and bottling facilities, probably a truck that comes in when needed.  So the facilities are not that large with the front being the tasting room.  We only had time for one tasting since we needed to get to the airport for our flight home so we opted to try Palmina and taste some of Steve Cliftons wines.  These are a departure from what they are doing at Brewer-Clifton in that these are Italian varieties.  This tasting room was busier and the pourer seemed to be exclusively a pourer as opposed to the pourer at Brewer-Clifton who works at the winery and interrupted what he was doing to come down and help us in the tasting room.  As a result, we tasted but were unable to have the kind of great conversation and get great information as we did a Brewer-Clifton.  We did the traditional tasting and tasted the 2010 Tocai Friulano from the Honea Vineyard, the 2010 Malvasia Bianca from the Larner Vineyard, the 2010 Dolcetto which is a Santa Barbara County blend, the 2009 Alisos (a blend of Sangioves and Merlot) from the Alisos Vineyard and the 2007 Nebbiolo from Santa Barbara County.

Our drive back to Santa Maria took us up the coast a bit and then inland to the airport where the air show continued to entertain us as we enjoyed a mexican lunch before the flight home.  This is a beautiful section of California Wine Country with some amazing vineyards and terroir!