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 Wines- the Highlight Reel!

AVA Santa Barbara Elkpen Mural Central Coast Wine Country

We are back from our trip to Santa Barbara County and Paso Robles and I wanted to quickly get the highlights out and give some shout outs to people and places that made this an exceptional trip.

Pierre Lafond Wine Bistro SB

Pierre Lafond Wine Bistro SB

We started the trip in Santa Barbara, walking the beach, exploring the murals in the funk zone and then heading up to beautiful State Street for lunch and a flight at Wine Bistro Pierre Lafond.  This beautiful café has great sidewalk tables that let you take in the romance that is State Street while enjoying great food and wine.  There is great history here, more about that in a later blog.

 

Grassini Tasting Room

Grassini Tasting Room

Our next stop was Grassini Family Cellars.  This winery is located in Happy Canyon and they specialize in Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Their tasting room is located in the historic El Paseo shopping center near Au Bon Climat and Margerum.  This is a beautiful space and Katie Grassini stopped in while we were there and we had a wonderful conversation about their wines, the winery and the sustainable practices they are using there.

 

Carr SB Tasting Room

Carr SB Tasting Room

From there we headed off the beaten track a little to Carr and we tasted through their line up.  The space here is a converted Quonset hut giving it a feel of the inside of a barrel.  They also have wines available here on tap.

 

AVA Santa Barbara Elkpen Mural

AVA Santa Barbara Elkpen Mural

Now it was back into the Funk Zone proper to AVA Santa Barbara, previously known as Anacapa Vintners.  This beautiful tasting room features wines from each of the Santa Barbara AVA’s.  On the entire wall behind the tasting room bar you will find a huge Elkpen mural that shows the AVAs and describes the climates, soils and topography.  They have soil samples on the counter to look at and the staff is incredibly knowledgeable.  For wine geeks that get into the soil and climate this is heaven.

To finish our day we headed down to Stearns Wharf to Conway Family Wines Deep Sea Tasting Room.  This beautiful tasting room is on the 2nd level on the Wharf with beautiful views of the coast and the ocean.  Their Deep Sea Wines are made with coastal grapes.  Shout out to Lauren for a great tasting!

Conway's Deep Sea Winery

Conway’s Deep Sea Winery

 

We finished the day with some sunset shots followed by dinner on the end of the Wharf at Santa Barbara Shellfish Company…tiny and perfect!

Santa Barbara Shellfish Co.

Santa Barbara Shellfish Co.

 

Just before bed I realized I had a message from Morgen McLauglin from the Santa Barbara County Vintners’ Association, she had been searching to see if anyone was harvested so we could go get some harvest shots.  Well she found a small harvest happening at none other than Clos Pepe.  So we were up early the next morning to meet her at the vineyard at 5:45.

Clos Pepe in the Santa Rita Hills

Clos Pepe in the Santa Rita Hills

This unexpected boon turned out to be so much more than we expected.  Michael jumped in getting shots and Morgen and I chatted and she walked me down to meet Wes Hagen, the winemaker.  Wes handed us gloves, clippers, a bucket and a head lamp and directed us on the finer points of harvesting pinot noir.  The harvest was for a sparkling project that he was working on with another winery. We spent about 2 hours helping to harvest 2 rows of beautiful tight clusters of pinot noir and watching the sun come up.  And…we were lucky enough that Wes invited us to tag onto a tour and tasting he was doing later that day.

 

Vines at Carhartt

Vines at Carhartt

After a quick cleanup and breakfast at Succulent in Solvang, we headed to Carhartt for a winery tour with Joe the new Wine club manager.  We got to see all the new buildings the harvest prep and then head up to the ridge to see the vineyards as well as the newly planned vineyard site.

 

Saarloos & Sons

Saarloos & Sons

We headed back into Los Olivos for a little wine and dessert!  “Enjoy Cupcakes” has cupcake flights available daily to pair with Saarloos and Sons tastings.  If you are here on a weekend, this is really something you shouldn’t miss.

We managed to have time for one more shared tasting at Presqu’ile.  This is a stunning tasting room that they unfortunately closed after Labor Day.  Don’t be too sad though, they have a tasting room open at their new winery in Santa Maria.  Everyone I have spoken to says the new winery is beautiful.  The wines here I found to have a unique flair which seems to come from their winemaker.  I look forward to stopping by the winery on our next trip.

At this point it was time to head back out to Clos Pepe.  I will have an entire post about our visit here.  Wes Hagen opens his mouth and fascinating facts fall out.  The wines were spectacular and the information and knowledge shared was beyond expectations.  If you are in the area and love wine, you should schedule a visit with Wes.

We ended our day in the world’s tiniest tasting room at Carhartt’s which becomes quite the gathering spot at the end of the day.  They are open an hour later than the other tasting rooms and end up being quite the industry gathering spot. And then caught a light dinner at Avant in Buellton.

 

Hilliard Bruce

Hilliard Bruce

The next morning we were off to Hilliard Bruce.  As I was tweeting about our upcoming trip, I had a tweet from them saying, “If you can, you’ve got to see the canopy management at Hilliard Bruce Vineyards at least once before you die.”  Well with an offer like that…  So we went.  This is a mind bogglingly beautiful property.  John Hilliard and Christine Bruce are both Certified Master Gardeners and they love their plants.  The entire property is beautifully landscaped and truly, the canopy management is beyond anything you will see anywhere else.  Again, you will get an entire blog post on this exceptional property, but let me say that between the wine, the property and the people this was really an amazing visit.

Lots more fascinating details to come as well as photos and video!

Municipal Winemakers and the “Funk Zone” wineries

Life is Better with Wine

I have wanted to visit Municipal Winemakers for a while.  We stopped in on our last trip through Santa Barbara a year and a half ago only to find that they were sold out and had no wines to taste!  Well, if you are going to have a problem in the wine industry, I think that is the one to have.  As we planned another trip through the area I did more research on the winery.

Municipal Winemakers, Santa Barbara

Municipal Winemakers, Santa Barbara

They are kitschy, located in The Santa Barbara Urban Wine Trail’s “Funk Zone”.  Their winemaker Dave Potter wants to get the wine to the people.  He loves making wine and meeting people who want to drink his wine.  Distributors and sales…that creates the distance between the grape and the glass and takes some of the heart out of the process.  So…Dave makes his wines and sells them in his tasting room.  Small lots, high quality and it’s working if he is selling out before he can release another vintage!

This is not your average wine tasting room.  Outside you have to see the sign on the sidewalk to realize that it is a tasting room, otherwise it looks like an old dive shop near the beach in Santa Barbara.  There are picnic tables set up in an area out front.  When you walk in you first notice the wall of stacked filing cabinets.

Municipal WineMakers, File Cabinet Wall

Municipal WineMakers, File Cabinet Wall

As we walked up for our tasting the person pouring pulled one drawer open and pulled out two glasses and oversized index card with a typed list of the tastings!

We tasted through the list, which included a dry, Riesling (Bright White), a Rose (Pale Pink), a Red Blend (Bright Red), a Pinot (Rita’s Crown Pinot Noir), a Cab and a sweeter Riesling (Sweetness).  The bottles have great labels and each bottle has a bottle number listed.  The rose was Grenache, Cinsault and Counoise and the “Bright Red” which I really enjoyed was the same blend with Syrah.  The Bright Red was light on the palate but with big flavor.  They do also have a “Wine Fountain” where they serve wine by the glass or in 1 liter refillable bottles.

We walked the neighborhood enjoying some more of the “Funk Zone” before heading up State Street.  Next door there is an old red phone box labeled “Book Exchange” and filled with books.  I had seen these on Facebook, but this was the first I had seen close up!  Need a book, take a book, done with a book, leave it!  It is a great concept!  Lots of other wineries have tasting rooms in the area.  Anacapa Vineyards is not even listed yet, they are so new!  They have a beautiful tasting room with big windows and chalkboards on the walls filled with all kinds of interesting information on their grapes and wines.  It is a regular wine education classroom!

Oreana Winery

Oreana Winery

Oreana Winery up the street has old trucks painted with their logo out front and a juke box in the garage that is part of their barrel room.  Pali, which is next to Anacapa, has lots of windows and a patio on the side.  Santa Barbara Winery sits in a white washed building covered in vines.  In addition to the wineries listed on the Urban Wine Trail site, there are more popping up all the time.  We saw a side door on a building that said “Drake”.  This new little tasting room evidently recently opened.  When we were later at Sculpterra in Paso, the person pouring for us said his friend had just opened that tasting room (the wine world is a small world).

While we only had time to taste at Municipal, we will happily return to spend a day or two tasting in the area and enjoying the beach.  There are around 11 tasting rooms in “The Funk Zone” and another 9 or 10 within the downtown area, including Conway’s Deep Sea Tasting room out on Stearns Wharf.

For now…we were off to take a stroll up State Street and find Au Bon Climat (or ABC as it seems to be known here).

Springtime in Wine Country – Santa Barbara to Paso Robles

Santa Barbara
Stearn Wharf Sign

Stearn Wharf Sign

Drawn to the coast we began on the beach in Santa Barbara wandering Stearns wharf and then tasting at Municipal Winemakers on Santa Barbara’s Urban Wine Trail in “The Funk Zone”.  Au Bon Climat called and we strolled up the beautiful State Street with bougainvillea petals blowing on the breeze to taste there. Jim Clendenen’s wines lived up to the hype in my book. Then it was just a beautiful drive up 154 to Los Olivos past Lake Cachuma to taste at Qupe/Verdad/Ethan in Los Olivos see some of the amazing wines Bob Lindquist creates.  A relaxing tasting on the back patio at Carhartt slowed our pace and had us waxing poetic on the glorious fragrances of Brooke Carhartt’s wines.  Dinner of small plates and a wine wall where I could enjoy tastings or a glass at Avant Tapas and Wine ended a perfect day one.

In the morning we caught the marine layer drifting through as we headed north into Foxen Canyon stopping for a great tasting at Zaca Mesa.  The property here is beautiful.  This is the winery that turned out both Jim Clendenen and Bob Lindquist as well as numerous other amazing winemakers.  After our tasting here, we headed North to Arroyo Grande and enjoyed a tour at Talley.  As we toured the winemaker Eric Johnson stopped by on a couple of occasions to say hello and answer questions.  Now it was on to our final destination of Paso Robles.  We tasted at Booker which is off of 46 West and were greeted by the winery dog who is the spittin’ image of our dear Mojo from Miramonte!

Day 3 began at Bella Luna, a tiny winery south-east of Paso, where Sherman, the winemaker was pouring their Italian style wines. Staying on the East Side we drove on to Sculpterra with their amazing sculpture garden live accordion music and lovely wines.  We made our way back to the West side of the 101 to Vines on the Marycrest where they were hosting a “Songwriters at Play” event.  The sun filtered through the tasting room windows and the music filtered in from the patio while we enjoyed a great tasting and conversation with Jennifer while Vic the winemaker and a sound engineer busily took care of cables, mic stands and making sure the sound system in the tasting room gave us the best mix.  Our day ended strolling downtown where they were having a wine and art event.  We were drawn into the Parrish Family Vineyards elegant tasting room where enjoyed tasting the Parrish Family wines with a cheese pairing from Vivant cheeses and I was treated to a wonderful conversation with winemaker David Parrish regarding yeast!

Another beautiful morning saw us enjoying a drive in on Vineyard Drive from the south. Shale Oak is a newer winery in Paso and I had been lucky enough to stumble across them on Cellar Pass.  The peacefulness of this spot in the morning with its stunning architecture topped by it’s eco friendly stance made for a beautiful start to the day.  We added a little adrenaline to the morning with a drive out Peachy Canyon Road.  The twists and turns put this West Virginia girl right at home.  We stopped at a small winery called Stacked Stone.  Winery owner and winemaker Donald Thiessen saw us pull in and came out to open the tasting room to pour for us.  The property is in a lovely wooded area landscaped with “stacked stones”.  Back up Peachy Canyon we headed toward one of the highest limestone plateaus on the West side of Paso Robles 1200 feet above the Salina Valley.  Here at Lloyd’s Lookout sits the Calcareous Winery and tasting room.  The views are amazing.  We enjoyed a tasting followed by a lunch pairing with food by Thomas Hill Organics.

Mid day saw us heading North and East to San Miguel and tasting at family owned and run Locatelli.  Raynette Gregory the co-proprietor poured for us.

From this small family owned winery, we headed further east to the big new tasting room on this block, Nigel Lithgoe’s Villa San Juliette.  The drive out is lovely with expansive views of the East side hills and the property itself is impressive.  Photo’s to come!  From here we were a little wined out…so time for a little pacific coast palate cleanser.  We headed to the coast and dinner at Moonstone beach.  We finished dinner and drove partway back to Paso to pull off and wait to watch sunset.

Our final day started with tour at Tablas Creek.  We are loyal members here and took a tour before our tasting.  The place has grown so much since our last trip here.  We saw Bob Haas arriving for the day, and while we did not see winemaker Neil Collins, we did get to hang with his dog Millie!  From here we had a little time before our tour at neighboring Halter Ranch and made a stop at Adelaida to taste the wines, the almonds, see the sheep and alpacas and meet Addy the vineyard cat.  We headed back to Halter Ranch to do our tour and tasting, and fell in love with the place.  The new winery here is state of the art and stunning.  We ended our trip here on a high note.

So that is the quick view, watch for detailed posts and pictures from these amazing wineries over the next few weeks.

Santa Barbara and it’s Urban Wine Trail

CGC logo

Tasting rooms, they come in all shapes sizes and locales.  If you are headed North from LA into wine country you might consider a stop for a day (or maybe two) in beautiful Santa Barbara.

Santa Barbara County has become well-known for some amazing wines and winemakers, beautiful wine country and vineyards as well as beautiful shoreline and beaches and some terrific shopping in Santa Barbara itself.  So take some time and mix it up, a little beach time, some lunch, some shopping and some tasting, the wine here is just fine.

I have 3 tasting rooms on my list for my trip through Santa Barbara this time.

Au Bon Climat has opened a tasting room on Anacapa Street and I am very excited to be able to do a tasting of Jim Clendenen’s wines.  With 30 years in the industry his wines are noted for balance and restraint.  And…as the Bien Nacido Vineyard is primarily the source for their grapes…I mean, it’s really hard to go wrong.  So this is first on my Urban Wine Trail Tasting list.

They share a space with Margerum Wine Company and are next to The Wine Cask if you are looking for a delicious lunch or dinner, and the Grassini Family Vineyards tasting room is right there also.

Next on my personal list is Municipal Winemakers.  We tried to stop by here on our way home through Santa Barbara awhile back.  Unfortunately, they were sold out and bottling, so they had nothing to taste!  So…we will return again.  They had (I hope they still have) an iPad program for tastings which I was fascinated by and looking to check out.  Besides that, they are close to the beach and fun and funky!  They offer free wine delivery if you show up on a bike.  They are all about making interesting wines and I am all for that!  I fell in love with their feel and their site and expect to fall in love with their wines when I taste them!  Want to see why I’m infatuated even before I taste?  Go to their “about us” page and click the top photo for a video interview with the Municipal Winemaker Dave Potter and hear his perspective.

While in this neighborhood you can walk just a few blocks to taste at 7 other tasting rooms including Kunin Wines, Kalyra Winery, Oreana Winery, Cottonwood Canyon, Santa Barbara Winery and Pali Wine Company…but we are headed out onto the water for our last tasting when we are there.  Conway Family Wines has opened their “Deep Sea Tasting Room” out on Stearns Wharf with “360 views of the Pacific coastline, Channel Islands, and the Santa Barbara Harbor or Riviera.”  So before we head inland we will head out onto the wharf to enjoy some of their white wines and some ocean air. If the view itself is not enough to entice you into this tasting room perhaps their sustainable vineyard practices will or their use of cold-soaking or fermenting with indigenous wild yeasts.  Their Estate is located in Rancho Arroyo Grande and they are committed to protecting the land and wildlife there.  Okay…are you there yet?

And…that’s not all the tasting rooms!  Silver, Jaffurs, Carr, Sanguis, Whitcraft and Summerland are just a little ways away and… I hear that Anacapa Vintners just opened a tasting room.

If you want the shortcut to find all the details head to Santa Barbara Urban Wine Trail’s site for maps and links.  And stay tuned for the details after we visit!