Our trip to the Santa Barbara Vintners Spring Weekend was absolutly amazing. The weekend was filled with events to suit any wine lover, and while there was no way that we could attend everything, I’ll give you the quick run down on the amazing events we did attend. This is just the quick version; you can look forward to more detailed posts on each of our adventures as well as photos and video.
Our weekend began Thursday night with the Sta. Rita Hills AVA Dinner & Wine Pairing. This event was held at the new Industrial Eats restaurant in Buellton. The dinner included hors d’oeuvres, 3 courses plus dessert, and included 10 wines. On hand to explain and discuss the wines and pairings were Wes Hagen of Clos Pepe, Ken Brown of Ken Brown Wines, Jeff Connick Assistant Winemaker at Dierberg Star Lane and Laura Roach, Enologist at Sanford. The evening was filled with great food, great wine, great people and great conversation. For a brief view of our evening, check out the video here.
Friday morning we took a drive out Santa Rosa Road to explore the vineyards in this part of the Sta. Rita Hills. The drive begins just south of Buellton of the west side of the 101. You pass Mosby where they primarily do Italian varieties and then come to Richard and Thekla Sanford’s Alma Rosa.
It was picturesque with the sign and the orange poppies blooming all around. Unfortunately the tasting room is currently closed as they do some expansion work. But never fear they have a temporary tasting room open in Buellton on Industrial Way. Past Alma Rosa you come to Lafond, and then finally to Sanford.
The property here is stunning and the tasting room made of reclaimed wood from a Washington sawmill and adobe bricks made on premise is beautiful, yet understated. After a tasting here we headed back to do the vineyard hike at the Beckmen Purisima Mountain Vineyard.
The Purisima Mountain Vineyard is located in the new Ballard Canyon AVA. This area lies along the winding Ballard Canyon road. This vineyard is not located with the Beckmen Winery, which is one canyon over, but is their larger vineyard with 125 planted acres of world class Rhone varieties. The vineyard reaches 1250 feet at the top of Purisima Mountain and that is where we were headed. With Steve Beckmen as our guide we walked the vineyards, learned about the soil, the grapes, the viticulture…it was fascinating. We did make a few stops along the way, two for food and wine and one for the view (that was from the top). Steve was an unending resource of information and it made for a spectacular day. I will share more of the wonderful insights I gleaned from him in another post, but for now, you can enjoy some of our hike here.
Following our hike we headed back to do one more tasting in Los Olivos.
Located in The Watering Hole at the historic Matteis Tavern, is Sandhi Wines tasting room. You will find it next to the tavern, over the lawn, under the water tank and in this lovely little cottage. Rajat Parr, Charles Banks and winemaker Sashi Moorman founded Sandhi in 2010. They wanted to produce wines of balance and the wines here are stunning with brilliant and elegant character. And…the fact that they are served in the exquisite Zalto glasses doesn’t hurt a bit! Sarah was a wealth of knowledge and was kind enough to stay late to answer all of our questions. Be aware, they will be moving into the old Epiphany tasting room around the corner soon. While they are moving (beginning May 1st) they will be available by appointment only. Visit their website for Sarah’s contact information to set up an appointment to taste these amazing wines.
Now what we needed was big and easy food and we found Chomp in Solvang. This place is diner style with burgers, fries and shakes. They do serve local wines and have some good beers on tap, but we opted for a shake to split. The place is comfortable and modern and was bustling when we got there. Aaron the owner found us a seat at the bar, which was perfect. The food was outstanding, the service really good.
Saturday was the day for the Grand Tasting located at the River View Park in Buellton. The tastings were set up around multiple tents with all the wineries conveniently in alphabetical order so you could easily find the wineries you were looking for. Interspersed among the wineries in each tent you would find a restaurant station where you could grab a bite. They also had Artists Alley where you could find wine inspired artwork, a massage station, a silent auction tent and Alan Hancock College had a space where they had information on viticulture and they were giving out wine grape cuttings. This year you could purchase wine at the festival and at the entrance was a large tent where wines could be picked up as you left. The event was a wonderful opportunity to try some amazing wines from this area and to speak with many of the winemakers themselves. It was a very enjoyable day spent with lots of other wine lovers!
For dinner Michael was inspired by some delicious meatballs he had at the festival and we drove to Santa Ynez to have dinner at Trattoria Grappolo. It was busy but they found us a spot at the pizza bar. Dinner was delicious and watching the incredible staff work together seamlessly and so fluidly to create these beautiful plates of food was truly inspirational. If you are in the area, go…and request a seat at the pizza bar!
Sunday was all about Open Houses. I believe there were 61 different winery events happening in the valley. We headed to the twice annual Au Bon Climat and Qupe Open House, which was way north in the Santa Maria Valley at their winery which is tucked way back down some back roads. If you want to find their tasting room…Au Bon Climat is in downtown Santa Barbara and Qupe is in Los Olivos. Cheese, crackers and olives and the lunch table filled with home cooked food and Barbeque done by Jim Clendenen himself were found in the front room by their offices. The barrel room was dotted with tasting stations for the 8 or so labels that Jim Clendenen and Bob Linquist have between them. There was plenty to taste and it was all available for purchase on site, at least until it sold out. After a bit we took our glasses and some cheese and headed out to the dock area outside and sat down at a barrel to enjoy the atmosphere and the view.
But of course, there was another open house to get to and it was in Lompoc!
Clos Pepe has its winemaking facility in Lompoc outside the Wine Ghetto. We made the trek from Santa Maria for their open house and for a barrel tasting. Wes Hagen, as always, was full of fascinating information and was pouring delicious wine. We had the lovely Sparkling Pinot and tasted through some Chardonnays, Pinots and his Rhone blend. Then came the barrel tastings, with Wes coming around and filling glasses and explaining each wine and where it was in its journey. Watch for another detailed blog post and movie on this. Really, someone should just follow Wes around recording him, he is an encyclopedia of wine knowledge and he imparts his knowledge in the most entertaining way.
After the Barrel Tasting we headed to the Ghetto for some corned beef sliders. Oh…and some amazing wine and more inspiring wine knowledge from Fiddlehead’s owner and winemaker Kathy Josephs. Fiddlehead does Sauvignon Blanc & Pinot Noir. She had two stations set up in the winery and got you moving back and forth between the two. They were of course pouring 728, their Pinot from the Fiddlestix vineyard, which is at mile marker 7/28 on the Santa Rosa Road and the Doyle, which is their reserve Pinot that they do not make every year. The wines were fantastic, we met great people there, and…yes we closed the place. We were there to watch Kathy turn up the music and start dancing as cleanup began.
So our tastings for the day were done, now it was time to enjoy our last dinner of the trip, so we headed to the newly renovated Matteis Tavern. We had eaten at this historic venue a couple years ago and had a great meal. It had since closed and then reopened in July of last year. The Tavern itself has been around since 1886 and is a historic Stagecoach stop. Our dinner here was spectacular. The food, service and surroundings all made for the perfect end to a day. We will entice you with a photo here, but watch for a full blog post on this historic location.
Our last day was just a partial day and we had a couple places we wanted to get to. We began with a drive north headed to Presqu’ile North in the Santa Maria Valley. I often speak of beautiful properties, but…you know when you go to a parade of homes and get to the most beautiful house…well Presqu’ile is the winery equivalent. “Presqu’ile” means “almost an island” in French and was the name of the Murphy Family property in Mississippi that was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. The family looked for a place to rebuild their family gathering spot and came upon this property in Santa Maria.
The wines are unique and delightful and the place…well, let the pictures speak.
Our last tasting in Santa Barbara was at the tiny Larner Tasting room in Los Olivos. They are located in the Los Olivos General Store (you will see the old gas pump out front).
The Larner Vineyards are in the new Ballard Canyon AVA and Michael Larner was the person who got the ball in motion to create the AVA. We spoke with Michael at the Grand Tasting and did some tasting there, but wanted to see the tasting room and pick up some wines to take home. Their entire selection is exceptional and the people are genuine and wonderful. This is their inaugural year of Larner Wines being produced, they grow Rhone varieties: Viognier, Grenache, Mouvedre & Syrah as well as Malvasia Bianca. We will post our full discussion with Michael Larner in another post shortly.
With our tasting done, it was time to have some lunch before the drive home. We had spoken earlier about trying the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Café. (photo of the restaurant) As Michael said, the patio is always full and that must be a good sign! Emily from Larner had recommended the Beets and Burrata appetizer and the Mykonos Pizza (with pesto, oven dried tomato, tapenade, feta, cucumber & four cheeses). This 12” pizza was more than enough for the two of us. The menu here is local, delicious and a little unexpected. This is definitely a place that we will return to.
So…that was our weekend and it doesn’t even begin to cover all the events that were happening with the Vintners Spring Weekend! This area is producing astoundingly good wines and the fact that they are so laid back and you have so many opportunities to speak with winemakers makes it a truly exceptional place to visit if you are a wine lover. Clear your calendars for October 10-13 and head up for the Celebration of Harvest Weekend! Or visit anytime! You can find information on the entire Santa Barbara region at the Santa Barbara Vintners website.