The annual Santa Barbara County Vintners' Festival Weekend attracted wine lovers from all over the country for an opportunity to meet member vintners, taste their wines, and enjoy great food and music over a long spring weekend.
Within Santa Barbara County there are four distinct appellations: Santa Maria Valley, Santa Ynez Valley, Sta. Rita Hills and the newly approved Happy Canyon.
In addition, the Los Alamos Valley region, between the Santa Maria Valley and Santa Ynez Valley appellations, remains a strong and successful grape growing region. Slightly less than half of the grapes grown in Santa Barbara County are used by local vintners, with the balance are exported to wineries outside the area.
Breathtaking valleys and mountains studded with ancient oaks, brilliant wild flowers and magnificent vineyards are always the scene when you visit Santa Barbara County.
Before the festival a leisurely country drive allowed us to fully appreciate the winemaking experience as we transversed the valleys and sampled some excellent wines.
The Santa Barabara County Vintners Festival is a wonderful discovery for any wine lover and foodie alike. You'll find great restaurants, galleries, country inns and exceptional tasting rooms located in the small towns of Solvang , Lompoc , Santa Ynez , Los Olivos and Santa Barbara itself.
In the cellars this time of year, winemakers are bottling their first whites and pinks from the 2009 season, as well as their red wines that ready from previous vintages. You can feel the excitement in the air as they wineries are anxious to show off their latest creations.
As most wine people would agree that great wine starts in the vineyard with great grapes. This area has been blessed with an excellent climate, soil and topography that is unique and you can taste that signature in the wines. Santa Barbara County's winegrowers bring modern growing methods to the age-old art of viticulture and produce some of the finest wine grapes and wines in the world.
The wines of Santa Barbara County have always been the main attraction of this area. However , Las Vegas's own Bradley Ogdan has come to town with his restaurant , Route 246. Chef Bradley himself was at the festival treating us all to a few of his great dishes.
The property that’s now home to Root 246 was known for years as the Meadows Restaurant. When the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians purchased the Meadows in 2007, the tribe looked to transform the old restaurant into a contemporary elegant dining destination unlike anything the region has ever seen.
The tribe hired Chef Bradley Ogden. This award-winning chef enjoys a phenomenal track record as a restaurateur, having successfully launched and overseen the creation of several critically-acclaimed restaurants. Chef Ogden’s expertise should help ensure that the tribe’s new venture in Solvang will meet the high level of quality guests have come to expect.
Whether it’s wild asparagus from Santa Ynez, or fresh spiny lobsters from Santa Barbara, Root 246 is has brought a whole new type of dinning experience to the area and serves their guests the finest produce and proteins the region has to offer.
There are so many great wines made by big names in the industry such as Ken Brown , Doug Margerum , Kenneth Volk and Kris Curran just to name a few we could literally write a book about each one of them. We try to not only sample their wines but are always searching for others that we feel stood out along with the great wines of the area.
Ampelos Cellars is always a stand out that we look for when in the area. Peter and Rebecca Work are firm believers in the old adage that the “wine is made in the vineyard”. Their estate vineyard has been planted to those varietals that showcase the location, soils and climate of their vineyard . The varietals Ampelos has planted are Pinot Noir, Syrah, Grenache and Viognier.
In addition to their estate grapes, Ampelos continues to produce wines from fruit sourced from other vineyards in Sta. Rita Hills, FiddleStix for Pinot Noir and Quatro Vientos in Santa Ynez Valley for Viognier and the Syrah for their rosé .
The Buellton Hitching Post was established in 1986, but their roots started at the Casmalia Hitching Post in 1952. It was there that Frank & Natalie Ostini brought "Santa Maria Style BBQ" to its peak of perfection and where children Bill, Bob, Terri & Annette continue to this day.
At the Hitching Post II in Buellton, they honor that tradition and also embrace contemporary cooking styles. By combining the old and new, they have created exciting cuisine that is uniquely their own.
Along with their outstanding steaks, ribs and chicken, they serve items such as smoked duck breast, ostrich, home-made soups and outstanding pastries; along with what the Los Angeles Times has called the "best" French Fries in Southern California.
We are always on the "look out " for new wineries and talented winemakers. One of those wineries that is beginning to make a big name for themselves is Dragonette Cellars . Dragonette is a partnership between brothers John and Steve Dragonette and close friend Brandon Sparks-Gillis who joined forces in order to pursue a mutual, long held dream to make wine in the Santa Ynez Valley.
Utilizing their contacts with excellent growers and viticulturists, they obtain fruit farmed for low yields and high quality from optimally located sites throughout the Santa Ynez Valley . In the cellar, they personally attend to each wine operation, from fermentation in small lots to aging in the finest French barrels . They believe this level of attention and focus markedly increases quality. We have meet these very talented partners on numerous occasions over the years. They are passionate and committed to producing small lots of ultra-premium Pinot Noir, Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc. Dragonette is a winery we will continue to watch .
We had the opportunity to visit Lafond winery in the past and were impressed with their estate wines. Lafond produces Pinot Noir, Syrah and Chardonnay at the estate winery in Sta. Rita Hills. The estate vineyard was first planted in 1971. Winemaker Bruce McGuire was one of the pioneers in the development of Pinot Noir and Syrah in Santa Barbara County and in California.
Bruce controls the total process, from the selection of varieties and clones to plant in the vineyard, to farming practices, cultivation, pruning and when to pick. Accordingly the wines reflect his style and philosophy of winemaking.
Jaffurs Wine Cellars is a well known and respected winery dedicated to producing great Rhône varietal wines . Their Syrah, Grenache, Petite Sirah, Viognier, and Roussanne - are among the best in the county.
The wines are carefully made in small lots and only about 3,000 cases are produced each year . They work closely with growers in the Santa Ynez, Santa Rita, Los Alamos, and the Santa Maria growing regions and limit vineyard yields and require that optimal farming practices .
In addition to new wineries the festival also treats is guests with legendary wine makers in attendance as well. One of those very special renown wine makers that is always pleased to show off some of the best wine in the country is Kathy Joseph .
Kathy established Fiddlehead Cellars to capture the pure essence of the two grape varietals that she loves best – Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. Kathy continues to passionately pursue her goal of creating stylistic Sauvignon Blancs and silky, intense Pinot Noirs.
Of course the main event is the festival that features the wines of the 130+ member Association, live music, a silent auction and wine country cuisine by the area’s finest chefs.
The wineries also host events all throughout Santa Barbara Wine Country starting on Friday with tastings of library wines or barrel samples, vineyard barbecues, winemaker dinners, wine & food pairings.
The best way to experience this wonderful region is to make it a 4 day weekend and enjoy the best Santa Barbara County has to offer. The SBCVA now has seven times the membership they had in 1983 and twice the number of AVAs. This region has grown significatly over the years and is probably best known for its diveristy as 60 different varietals are planted there.
This is one event that we mark on our calender every year and know that we will be coming back again and again. For more information about this world class area for Wine and Food please visit Santa Barbara County Wines
See you next year in at the 29th Festival for another great experience. Experience the Festival with Elaine and Scott from VINO LAS VEGAS as they show you what a wonderful event this is.