End-of-the-year Santa Barbara invasion: DAY 1
As is becoming the annual tradition here at Vines & Steins, I am planning another late December wine tasting trip. Last year it was Sonoma County with an emphasis on Russian River Valley, this time we’re headed to the wine regions of Santa Barbara county.
Santa Barbara County is where I got started with my wine tasting adventures, during a Central Coast trip back in 1997. Sure, I had wine before, but this was getting out into the countryside and opening up my palette to a wider variety of wines and learning about the varietals, the climate, and the winemaking process. Right away I was a big fan of the “Rhone rangers”–Central coast winemakers who were eschewing the usual Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon in favor of grape varietals from the Rhone River valley of France: Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache, Viognier, Marsanne, and Roussanne. Perhaps you’ve had some of these wines…Syrah and Viognier have grown in popularity such that they are among the most common grapes being grown throughout the state nowadays.
Later, I became more of a Pinot Noir enthusiast, or Pinotphile….(see Sideways). The Santa Rita Hills AVA of Santa Barbara County was made famous in that movie for its cool climate favorable to growing this finicky thin-skinned grape, that when done well….is an indulgence of pure sensuality. Either that, or you will lose your inhibitions about opening your wallet to buy more Pinot for prices you’d probably never spend elsewhere.
So here’s the itinerary SO FAR….I’m a meticulous planner and trying to get in as many good tasting rooms each day as humanly possible! If any of my readers have recommendations or comments, please chime in!
DAY 1: SANTA BARBARA/Lower SANTA YNEZ VALLEY
Early morning drive up from San Diego
Breakfast in Santa Barbara
SANTA BARBARA WINERY – this is one of the older wineries in the county, and a good starting point for any SB County tasting. They’re located in downtown Santa Barbara, under the same ownership as LaFond Winery (located further up to the northwest in the Santa Rita Hills). Not too expensive if you find something you like; they make some really good red blends.
GAINEY VINEYARD – Located right after you get into the valley. One of the bigger wineries. I think I may have been here once before, but I can’t really remember.
BRIDLEWOOD WINERY – Also fairly big. We’re gonna score some free tastings and the place is supposed to be really nice, so why not check it out? I just picked up one of one of their cabs from Ralph’s (30% off six more wines, that’s another post!) so I’ll get a little advance taste.
Lunch – I’m thinking the LOS OLIVOS CAFE, the one where they go to dinner in Sideways. And no, I’m not having any stinking Merlot!
BECKMEN – I’ve heard good things about this winery, looking forward to trying their Rhone varietals. This might be the place where I start a new wine club membership!
RIDEAU – Located just off Alamo Pintado Road on the way back down to Solvang from Los Olivos…I think I have missed this one in years past. I’ve heard good things, gotta check ’em out.
BUTTONWOOD – Now here is one that I’ve been to plenty of times. Their all-around wine portfolio is not too impressive, but I do like their Marsanne and they are one of the few wineries to make a Marsanne. Since their wine tasting fee is (unhappily) non-refundable with purchase, this might just be a pit-stop to pick up a bottle of Marsanne (which might be a moot point if I will have just picked up some nice Marsanne from Beckmen!) Note to Buttonwood: Make your tasting experience more friendly to my limited time and budget, and I’ll spend more time at your place!
In Solvang – check in at our hotel, hit one or two of the in-town tasting rooms that stay open past 5 PM. Probably CARIVINTAS or SEV TAP.
Here are a few good web sites that I have used for exploring Santa Barbara wine country and deciding on an itinerary:
Wine Questers – one of my all-time faves! Used this one for mapping out the Russian River Valley trip last year. It’s very comprehensive, with searchable indexes and regional maps dotted with wineries. They also make a so-so iPhone app that will set you back a few bucks, but consider it an investment toward their improved future app!
Santa Barbara County Vintners’ Association – very good, they also have a free iPhone app!
Stay tuned for my next posting: DAY 2: SANTA RITA HILLS & LOMPOC WINE GHETTO!!!