by Brain “The Timeless Winer”
Santa Barbara is an absolutely beautiful city located just to the North of Los Angeles, on the Southern coast of California. You come ashore from the Pacific and within a mile, at most, you start to climb into the hills that are the signature feature of the area. The other Winers and I were lucky enough to have the chance to explore the area in February of 2014. It was a great trip full of wonderful memories and wonderful wine.
Santa Barbara County covers an area of about 3,789 square miles and, aside from holding the city of Santa Barbara, it also contains a number of small towns that are the hub of the wine growing activities. Visit http://www.sbcountywines.com/wineries.html to get tons of information on the 123 wineries and tasting rooms in the county. I would also recommend visiting the County Historical site https://www.sbcountywines.com as it is chalk full of interesting tidbits. For example:
Santa Barbara County has a history of winemaking and grape growing stretching back more than 200 years, beginning in 1782 when a certain Father Junipero Serra planted Mission vine cuttings in what is now the Milpas District of Santa Barbara. Should be a saint, don’t you think?
1884: Justinian Caire imported grape slips (Vitis vinifera) from France and planted a 150-acre vineyard on Santa Cruz Island.
1962: Pierre Lafond opens Santa Barbara Winery, the first winery since Prohibition.
Tip of the info iceberg, don’t you know.
Now, I said that there were 123 wineries and tasting rooms in the county but we did not, of course, visit all of them. We did, however, get to 14 of them! (A memorable if somewhat hazy journey). That was a lot of wine.
Consumed with thirst, we found the delightful little Plan B Wine Cellars in Santa Barbara itself. Could have fooled me, man. The locale looked like a warehouse area where you rent storage units. Great cover for a really nice, unpretentious place.
After executing Plan B, we took off and followed the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail and visited:
Fess Parker Winery & Vineyard, owned by the Parker Family. That’s right, old Davey Crockett his own bad self. A real step back in time to the 50’s and 60’s for me. (My mother assures me that I could stand behind my father while traveling and sing the theme song until his eyes got kind of psychotic looking.) Our favorite, the 2011 Chardonnay.
Foxen Vineyard &Winery, founded in 1837 by William Foxen, an English sea captain, who charmed one of the daughters of the local Grandee and married into the family. Our favorite (of which we did not buy enough) was the Volpino (little fox in Italian).
Rancho Sisquoc Winery, founded by the James Flood family. I don’t know if they bought it or ‘married it, but it’s built on land that was part of a Spanish Land Grant. It became and remains a 37,000-acre working cattle ranch with about 300 acres in vines. We all liked the Cabernet Sauvignon.
Cottonwood Canyon Vineyard & Winery, owned by Norm Beko. Norm built his very own wine cave. It’s built into the side of a hill and is where they store the casks and let the ‘wine magic’ happen. It was amazing. Creepy, but amazing none the less. Here the Bistro Classic Chardonnay won us over.
Next was the Lompoc Wine Trail, which is actually an industrial park full of tasting rooms and is called the Lompoc Wine Ghetto. How can you not go to the ‘wine ghetto’?
Moretti, owned by Jeni and Antonio Moretti. Their specialty is ‘food friendly’ wines. A cozy little place where they made us feel like they had been waiting for us all day. The Vermentino was excellent, but the real star for us was Bianchetto.
Palmina Wines, owned by Crystal and Steve Clifton. By far the busiest tasting room I’ve ever been in. Here we all liked the Lumina, a sparkling Sisquoc Nebbiolo.
After those two trails, we cast ourselves adrift and just hopped around the county looking for interesting places to visit and sip.
AmByth Estate, owned by Mary and Phillip Hart, is located in Templeton. It was an interesting ride trying to locate the vineyard but very worthwhile. Their wine, ‘Maiestas’ (Latin for Majesty or Dignity), is a blend of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre and Counoise grapes and it won the tasting for us.
Summerland Winery, owned by Bilo Zarif. We did not go to the vineyard but rather to the tasting room which is located in the seaside town of Summerland. Found out that Bilo is a champion Polo player and a philanthropist of some note in the local community. All of the wines we tasted were excellent, in our opinion, but the winner for us was the Vintner Select Pinot Noir.
Sunstone Vineyard and Winery, owned by Linda and Fred Rice, is located in Santa Ynez. This place is absolutely stunning with a look and feel of Old World France everywhere around you. We wandered from the tasting room into ‘the back area’ and it was fabulous. Lots of arches and candles and small side rooms. One of them was behind a steel gate and looked like the kind of place where ‘dark deeds and murder most foul’ were planned. We all picked the excellent 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon.
All in all, the trip to Santa Barbara was a smashing success and one I would gladly repeat. The people were friendly and full of information, the countryside fabulous to see. I tell you, wine trailing in Santa Barbara is a good time waiting to happen!
And now, my personal rant: