Published, October 4, 2001*
The Santa Barbara Independent's Definitive Guide to Wine Tasting in Santa Barbara County
by Bob Senn
|The Definitive Guide to Wineries & Wine Tasting in Santa Barbara
County was published one month to the day after the worst act of war and
aggression on our country in the history of this nation, October 11, 2001
in the Santa Barbara Independent. *This is the unabridged version. It has
some changes and additions that do not appear in the print version.
America will never be the same. It's time to think local and drink local and appreciate what we have for we might not have it tomorrow. What follows is the Santa Barbara Independent's annual Wine Crush Issue for the fall of 2001.
SANTA BARBARA-A WORLD CLASS TOURIST DESTINATION KNOWN FOR ITS FINE EATERIES
Santa Barbara Winery, the county's oldest winery founded in 1962, is located two blocks up from the beach at 202 Anacapa Street. Take the Garden Street off ramp off US 101. The winery grows eight varietals at its vineyard on Santa Rosa Road in the Santa Ynez Valley. The tasting room is open daily from 10 to 5 with tours at 11:30 and 3:30. (805) 963-3633. www.sbwinery.com.
Meridian Vineyards, a Santa Barbara County winery which is based east of Paso Robles, had a tasting room in Paseo Nuevo. This tasting room is now closed. Beringer, Meridian's parent company, owns about 8,300 acres in Santa Barbara County; about 5,000 acres are now planted, representing about one quarter of the county's total winegrape acreage.
But out on the county's back roads there's wine country! Three wine routes, or trails if you will. First, the new Lompoc Loop, the Santa Ynez Valley trail which includes the independent tasting rooms like the Los Olivos Wine & Spirits Emporium, and finally, the Foxen wine trail which includes the Santa Maria Valley.
LOMPOC LOOP AND THE NEW SANTA RITA HILLS APPELLATION
I like the name Lompoc Loop for a description on the newly emerging wine trail for those wineries between Buellton and Lompoc. I believe the term was coined by wine writer Richard Nalley who wrote an incisive piece on Santa Barbara wines in the June, 2001 issue of Expedia Travels magazine.
Visiting the six wineries and one taproom on this loop from Buellton to Lompoc and back again will take you through the newly approved Santa Rita Hills appellation. But since the approval was given by the BATF several months ago, Chile's large Santa Rita winery has sued the BATF in federal court.
I suggest you start out Santa Rosa Road, and loop back to Buellton on Highway 246, wrapping up your day of wine tasting of Hitching Post Wines at the Hitching Post Restaurant in Buellton. Another good reason for visiting Buellton is a visit to the taproom of the Firestone Walker Brewing Company.
Starting on Santa Rosa Road
Mosby Winery & Vineyards is located at 9496 Santa Rosa Road, just south of Buellton, where Santa Rosa meets US 101. Winemaker Bill Mosby produces fine Cal-Italia wines from estate grown fruit. His preference for Italian varietals is rooted in terroir-complimentary soils, slopes and microclimates. The tasting room is open daily from 10 to 4. Picnic area. (805) 688-2415. www.mosbywines.com.
Established in 1981, Sanford Winery & Vineyards is located at 7250 Santa Rosa Road, five miles west of US 101, where cool maritime breezes create ideal grape growing conditions. The winery has three certified organic vineyards. Five miles further west on Santa Rosa Road is Sanford's new La Rinconada Vineyard with its magnificent adobe winery facility. Sixty thousand square foot first phase has just been completed, and Sanford's winemaker Bruno D'Alfonso is in the throes of doing his first crush at the new facility. The new facility has no tasting room planned. The Sanford tasting room at 7250 Santa Rosa Road is open daily from 11 to 4. Picnic area. (805) 688-3300. E-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
One of the newest wineries in Santa Barbara County, Lafond Winery & Vineyards is located at 6855 Santa Rosa Road. This property, owned by Pierre Lafond who founded Santa Barbara winery in 1962, straddles the Santa Ynez River in the beautiful Santa Rita Hills region and appellation which has been under siege in federal court. The tasting room is open daily from 10 to 5. Picnic area. (805) 688-7921. www.lafondwinery.com.
The city of Lompoc has several winery operations but none have tasting rooms and therefore, not open to the public. Richard Longoria Wines are made in Lompoc. Doug Braun of Presidio has a winery in the planning stages there. Fess Parker is in the process of transforming an almost ten acre industrial eyesore at Lompoc's southeast entrance into a large wine processing facility.
Presidio Winery, with a future crushing facility in this part of Santa Barbara County, can be tasted in Solvang at Wine Country. Call the winery at (805) 740-9463 or 1-888-930-9463. www.presidiowinery.com.
Clos Pepe, a prominent vineyard, is located north of Highway 246 and west of Babcock and Melville: The vineyard is managed by Wes Hagen, wine lover, mover and shaker, and the main spokesman for the new Santa Rita Hills appellation. www.clospepe.com.
Looping back toward Buellton on Highway 246
You'll find Babcock Vineyards located on the left at 5175 East Highway 246. This small family-owned winery had its first vintage in 1983. The tasting room is open Friday-Sunday 10:30 to 4 or by appointment. Picnic area. (805) 736-1455. www.babcockwinery.com.
One of the newest wineries in the county, Melville is located in the western end of the Santa Ynez Valley at 5185 East Highway 246. Extensive clonal diversity, fastidious vine management and traditional winemaking practices, spearheaded by winemaker Greg Brewer, produce wines that uncompromisingly display the personality and pedigree of the vineyard. Greg Brewer, by the way, is the Brewer of Brewer Clifton winery. The tasting room is open Friday-Sunday 11 to 4 and by appointment. Picnic area. (805) 735-7030. www.melvillewinery.com.
Buellton is home to some winemaking facilities not open to the public, with tasting rooms elsewhere in the county, most notably Arthur Earl, Daniel Gehrs and Los Olivos Vintners (all of which have tasting rooms in the town of Los Olivos.) Also, Theresa Stanton of Theresa Cuvee, produces her wine in Buellton. Besides the world famous Hitching Post Restaurant, Buellton is home to some other mighty fine eateries. For breakfast and lunch I would recommend Ellen's and Mother Hubbard's, both on Avenue of the Flags. For Mexican food, I would suggest Taco Roco, also on Avenue of the Flags.
Any good winemaker will tell you, "It takes a lot of beer to make a lot of wine," and I would bet you the beer of choice by the county's best winemaking talent would be Firestone Double Barrel Ale. The Firestone Walker Brewing Company taproom is located at 620 McMurray Road in Buellton. It's open daily from 11 to 8. (805) 686-1557. www.firestonebeer.com.
A highly acclaimed restaurant that makes wine! That's what the Buellton Hitching Post is, located at 406 East Highway 246. "A must stop for beef and pinot lovers" wrote the New York Times, owner Frank Ostini and Gray Hartley use a hands-on approach to make balanced, intensely flavored pinot noirs, plus great syrahs and chardonnays that taste delicious too! Tasting hours for their Hartley-Ostini Hitching Post Wines are daily from 4 to 6 p.m. The restaurant opens for dinner at 5. (805) 688-0676. www.hitchingpostwines.com.
|SANTA YNEZ VALLEY
To start your wine tasting journey with the Lompoc Loop, I would suggest driving to Buellton on US 101. It's a direct shot from Santa Barbara, and there's no Solvang traffic congestion, if you end up doing the Loop from the Santa Ynez Valley.
If you plan to make the Santa Ynez Valley your first destination, take Highway 154 over San Marcos Pass. Bare in mind, 154 attracts more and more impatient, cell phone-using drivers and is not considered to be a particularly safe road since Caltrans requires headlines to be turned on during daylight hours! I have been a witness to road rage on 154, some fourteen years ago, even before the term road rage was coined by the media.
A great breakfast, lunch or dinner stop is Cold Spring Tavern on Old San Marcos Pass Road.
Gainey Vineyard, at 3950 East Highway 246, is the closest valley winery to Santa Barbara. For over 16 years now, the Gainey Family has been committed to producing premium, handcrafted wines. The tasting room is open daily from 10 to 5, with tours at 11, 1, 2, and 3. Picnic area. (805) 688-0558. www.gaineyvineyard.com.
The western town of Santa Ynez boasts a number of boutiques like the Lady Bug Boutique, eateries and now one winery tasting room and one new B&B called the Santa Ynez Inn which opened October 1. Two places I really like a lot and heartily recommend are the Longhorn and Grappolo. Conveniently, they are next door to each other. The Longhorn is open for breakfast and lunch. Grappolo has great Italian food-I really like the carpaccio there-I call it "real man's sushi" made with raw beef! I also hear really good things about the Vintage House in Santa Ynez, although, I must confess, I have never eaten there.
Owned by Fess Parker's son, Eli, a new enterprise called Epiphany Cellars is located at 3563 Numancia Street. Epiphany is a winemaker's wine, one which satisfies Eli Parker's passion for, and fascination with, winemaking. Crafting single vineyard wines of exquisite quality is the sole reason for the conception of Epiphany. The tasting room is open Tuesday-Sunday 11 to 5 and by appointment. (805) 686-2424. www.epiphanycellars.com.
LinCourt Vineyards, located off of Highway 246 at 343 North Refugio Road was the old Santa Ynez Valley Winery, a pioneering enterprise started by the Davidges and Bettencourts, with Fred Brander as the original winemaker. LinCourt is owned by Bill Foley of Foley Estates and named for his daughters, Lindsay and Courtney. The tasting room is open daily from 10 to 5. Picnic area. (805) 688-8381. E-mail at: email@example.com.
It's not a tasting room, Sunstone Vineyards & Winery is a hospitality center a la Napa perhaps. It's at 125 Refugio Road, and you can enjoy your al fresco picnic surrounded by Old World, country French ambiance and picturesque scenery overlooking the Santa Ynez River and mountains. The tasting room is open daily from 10 to 4. Picnic area. (805) 688-9463. www.sunstonewinery.com.
The Danish community of Solvang hosts world famous PCPA Theaterfest, several mighty good restaurants, several winery tasting rooms and lodging for all tastes and pocketbooks. Two lunch places I like are the New Danish Inn Restaurant and the Alisal River Grill (firstname.lastname@example.org) at the Alisal public golf course. One of the great places to stay in California is the quintessential Alisal Guest Ranch several miles out of town on Alisal Road. An other place I would recommend is the Meadowlark Motel off of Highway 246 as you approach Solvang.
Morovino has a tasting room located at 433 Alisal Road. Since 1994, owner-winemaker Gerry Moro has been producing zinfandel, merlot, barbera and chardonnay from Santa Barbara County vineyards. Hours are Thursday-Monday 10 to 5. (805) 347-1272. www.morovino.com.
The newest tasting room in the county is Mission Meadow Winery, located in Solvang at 1659 Copenhagen Drive, Suite A. Winery owner and Napa transplant Ken Plam has 55 acres called Plam Vineyards planted between Solvang's Mission Santa Ines and the Alisal's River Golf Course. The plans are to eventually build a winery on the property. The tasting room is open daily from 11 to 6. (805) 693-1344. www.plam.com and www.missionmeadow.com.
Wine Country is an independent tasting room located in downtown Solvang at 1539 Mission Drive. The retailer was the tasting room for three winery members of the Vintners' Association-Lucas & Lewellen, McKeon-Phillips and Presidio Winery, plus other brands. Wine Country still pours these wines, but is not listed as the "official" tasting room on new wine maps. Tasting room hours at Wine Country are daily 9 to 5:30. (805) 686-9699. www.winecountrytoo.com.
Los Alamos-based Lucas & Lewellen Vineyards is owned by pioneering vineyardist Louis Lucas who founded Tepusquet Vineyards and Royce Lewellen, a prominent and retired Superior Court Judge from Santa Maria. Since pioneering the growing of premium vineyards in Santa Barbara County, Louis Lucas has continued to provide grapes to many of California's best wineries. (805) 344-3000. www.llwine.com.
McKeon-Phillips was founded by Susan McKeon and winemaker Ardison Phillips in 1982. Ardison Phillips is also an artist of some renown; he did the labels for Quady's Essencia and Electra. (805) 928-3025. www.mckeonphillipswinery.com.
Presidio Winery is a tribute to the early Spanish settlers that brought vitis vinifera to California in the eighteenth century. Since 1991, Presidio has produced premium, handcrafted, unfiltered wines. 1-888-930-9463. www.presidiowinery.com.
Buttonwood Farm Winery, a pioneering winery and vineyard which was planted in the early 80s, is located at 1500 Alamo Pintado Road between Solvang and Los Olivos. The winery specializes in Bordeaux and Rhone varietals, and like the vintners' map says-"Wanted: Wine tasters-no previous experience necessary. Taste great wine poured by fun people in a sweet setting. To apply, come on over. Bring a good attitude and a smile." By the way, vineyard owner, Betty Williams has been honored as a "Local Hero" by the Santa Barbara Independent. The tasting room is open daily from 11 to 5. Picnic area. (805) 688-3032. www.buttonwoodwinery.com.
Nestled among ancient oaks, the Rideau Vineyard tasting room is located at 1562 Alamo Pintado Road, in Alamo Pintado Adobe built in 1884. The tasting room is open Friday-Sunday from 11 to 4:30 and by appointment. Picnic area. (805) 688-0717. www.rideauvineyard.com.
Foley Estates Vineyard & Winery, a charming, picturesque winery, is located at 1711 Alamo Pintado Road right near the town of Ballard. The first vineyards at the property were planted in 1973, and the original winery, J. Carey Cellars, was owned by three doctors-a father and two sons. The original winemaker was Rick Longoria, who went on to Gainey, and now owns his own winery with his wife Diana. In the late 80s, Carey was bought by Firestones, and eventually the name was changed to Curtis. In the 90s, Foley bought the winery on estate-grown varietals and wine from premium Santa Maria Valley vineyards. The tasting room is open daily from 10 to 5. Picnic area. (805) 688-8554. E-mail: email@example.com.
Rancho Santa Rosa, on Highway 246, is also owned by Bill Foley. Vineyards have been planted, and a new winery is well underway.
The Township of Ballard
The sleepy and quaint little town of Ballard has the Ballard Inn B&B with its restaurant, Café Chardonnay. The restaurant is worth a visit-a real find. Food's great! Across the street on Baseline is the Ballard Store Restaurant which is under new ownership; I hear it has a martini cart, but I haven't eaten there.
Approaching Los Olivos, you will find Blackjack Ranch at 2205 Alamo Pintado Road. Blackjack Ranch is what happens when a passionate, dedicated wine lover completely loses his mind. Owner Roger Wisted's goal is producing extraordinary wines to please the palate and challenge the intellect. The tasting room is open Friday-Sunday 11 to 5, and daily 11 to 5 during the summer. Picnic area. (805) 686-9922. www.blackjackranch.com.
The town of Los Olivos serves as the hub for a number of tasting rooms, five restaurants, including the Los Olivos Café which I especially like, and Fess Parker's Wine Country Inn & Spa. The town is also known for its fine art galleries.
The Los Olivos Wine & Spirits Emporium, is set back in a field and located a half-mile south of the Los Olivos flagpole, at 2531 Grand Avenue.
The Emporium serves as the official tasting room for eleven Santa Barbara County wineries:
Arroyo Grande, Edna Valley and Paso Robles appellations of San Luis Obispo County:
Selected Spirits-World Class from California-which are sold but cannot be offered for tasting:
Los Olivos Wine & Spirits Emporium Tasting Room hours are daily from 11 to 6. (805) 688-4409. www.sbwines.com.
"Downtown" Los Olivos
Bernat Vineyards & Winery, one of the newest tasting rooms is located just before the flagpole at 2879 Grand Avenue. The tasting room is open daily from 11-8. Picnic area. (805) 686-9845.
The Andrew Murray Vineyards tasting room is located at the flagpole, corner of Grand Avenue and Alamo Pintado Street (not to be confused with Alamo Pintado Road-the way back to Solvang.) at 2901 A Grand Avenue. The winery produces Rhone varietals exclusively. The Provencal-style winery located on Foxen Canyon Road is not open to the public, but is open for special events and tastings April-October. (805) 686-9604. www.andrewmurrayvineyards.com.
The Los Olivos Tasting Room & Wine Shop, 2905 Grand Avenue, specializes in premium wineries without public tasting rooms. It is the exclusive tasting room for Au Bon Climat, Il Podere, Ojai Vineyard and Vita Nova. Also represented are Costa de Oro and Makor. This retail operation provides wine tasting for five winery members of the Santa Barbara County Vintners' Association:
Arthur Earl, located at 2921 Grand Avenue, produces about 3,000 cases. This means truly handcrafted premium wines with a new emphasis on varieties to the Rhone and Piemonte region of Italy. The tasting room is open daily from 11 to 6. Picnic area. (805) 693-1771.
Los Olivos Vintners, located at 2923 Grand Avenue, was once upon a time Austin Cellars. The winery produces chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, pinot noir, merlot and cabernet. The tasting room is open daily from 11 to 6. Picnic area. (805) 688-9665.
Winemaking pioneer, Rick Longoria has his tasting room for Richard Longoria Wines at 2935 Grand Avenue. Twenty-four years of winemaking in Santa Barbara County (including J. Carey Cellars and Gainey) allows this small producer to secure the finest grapes in the region. "A must stop for connoisseurs," says the vintners' map. The tasting room is open Friday-Sunday 11 to 4:30, Monday, Wednesday and Thursday noon to 4:30, and is closed on Tuesday. Picnic area. (805) 688-0305. www.longoriawine.com.
The Daniel Gehrs Wines tasting room in the Heather Cottage is located at 2939 Grand Avenue. Daniel Gehrs Wines is the culmination of 25+ years of winemaking experience in the Santa Cruz Mountains and Santa Barbara County. Open daily 11-6. (805) 693-9696. www.dgwines.com.
Kahn Winery, at 2990 Grand Avenue #A, bills itself as the "smallest tasting room." But visitors call Kahn the most eclectic tasting room in Santa Barbara County, featuring handcrafted Rhone varietals, outdoor patio, vintage jazz, fine cigars, and turtle ponds, all in a cozy, intimate location next to the John Cody Art Gallery. Open Thursday-Sunday noon to 6. (805) 686-2455. www.kahnwines.com.
Outside Los Olivos
From the town of Los Olivos, the four wineries which follow, can best be reached by backtracking down Grand Avenue to Roblar Ave.
When Royal Oaks Winery is built, it will be at the scenic corner of Highway 154 and Roblar Avenue. The vineyards were planted in 1998. Majestic oak trees and young vines embrace the future location of the winery. (805) 693-9396. Rowine@silcom.com
When you are on Roblar Avenue, follow the signs to Beckmen Vineyards which is located at 2670 Ontiveros Road. This enterprise is a family owned and operated winery dedicated to producing ultra-premium wines. Purisima Mountain Vineyard, adjacent to Stolpman and north of Rusack Vineyards in Ballard Canyon is dedicated to Rhone varietals. Open daily 11 to 5 June through September 15; open Friday-Sunday 11 to 5, September 16 through May. Picnic area. (805) 688-8664. www.beckmenvineyards.com
The tasting room for Brander Vineyard/Domaine Santa Barbara is located at Highway 154 and Roblar Avenue. Tasting room hours are daily 10 to 5 during the summer and daily 10 to 4 in winter. Picnic area. (805) 688-2455. www.brander.com
Bridlewood Winery, at 3555 Roblar Avenue, sits on 105 acres, surrounded by vineyards, lakes, gardens, horses and picnic areas. It's easy to find-just a half-mile east of Highway 154. The facility is located in what was once an opulent horse ranch. With its magnificent Spanish architecture, some tasters have quipped, "it looks like Taco Bell's corporate headquarters." The tasting room hours are daily 10 to 5. Picnic area. (805) 688-9000. www.bridlewoodwinery.com
Ballard Canyon Road
Going west on Alamo Pintado Avenue from the Los Olivos flagpole, you end up on Ballard Canyon Road. If you stay on it, it will take you back to Solvang (when it tees into Chalk Hill Road) or to Buellton.
In the surreal Ballard Canyon, Rusack Vineyards is located at 1819 Ballard Canyon Road, site of the old Ballard Canyon Winery that was founded back in the 70s by Gene and Rosalie Hallock. At Rusack you'll experience fine wine in the context of breathtaking views on the redwood deck. Open daily 11 to 5; winter hours may vary. Picnic area. (805) 688-1278. www.rusackvineyards.com
FOXEN CANYON & THE SANTA MARIA VALLEY
The two best options for getting to Foxen Canyon from Santa Barbara are to stay on Highway 154 to just past Los Olivos (about 30 miles from Santa Barbara), turning right on Foxen Canyon Road or to take US 101 north to the new Zaca Station Road overpass which was completed in the summer of 2000.
Koehler Winery, located at 5360 Foxen Canyon Road, is located on the famous Foxen Canyon Wine Trail. The property is part of the old Douglas Vineyards owned by TV producer Douglas Kramer. Bring a picnic, relax and enjoy the tranquility of their beautiful setting. Open daily 10 to 4. (805) 686-8484. www.koehlerwinery.com
When Douglas Kramer lived in the Santa Ynez Valley, he had his own private art museum where Zaca Station Road intersects Foxen Canyon. That building at 5249 Foxen Canyon Road is the Curtis Winery tasting room. Established by the Firestone Family, Curtis focuses on Rhone varietals. For a brief period, and perhaps old literature, will show Curtis on Alamo Pintado Road, now Foley Estates. Open daily 10 to 5. Picnic area. (805) 686-8999. www.curtiswinery.com
Established in 1972, Firestone Vinyard is located at 5000 Zaca Station Road. Firestone and Curtis are connect by a 1.2 mile hiking trail. Open daily from 10 to 5 with tours a quarter past each hour from 10:15 to 3:15. Picnic area. (805) 688-3940. www.firestonewine.com
Fess Parker Winery & Vineyard, a family owned and operated business, is located at 6200 Foxen Canyon Road. The tasting room is open daily from 10 to 5 with tours at 11, 1 and 3 p.m. Picnic area. (805) 688-1545. www.fessparker.com
Another pioneer in Santa Barbara County, Zaca Mesa Winery is located at 6905 Foxen Canyon Road in the breathtaking backdrop of Foxen Canyon and the Santa Maria Valley appellation a bit to the north. Hike the trails or picnic under the oaks outside the tasting room. Hours are daily 11 to 4, and private tours can be arranged by appointment. (805) 688-9339. www.zacamesa.com
Just past Zaca Mesa, at the windmill, Alisos Canyon Road tees into Foxen Canyon. If you take Alisos Canyon Road toward Los Alamos, about 4.5 miles down, at 9303 Alisos Canyon Road, you'll find Bedford Thompson Winery & Vineyard. Under old oak and pine, a rustic farmhouse and barn serve as the tasting room and winery. Stephan Bedford and David Thompson produce distinctive wines that emphasize varietal integrity. Other producers like Jaffurs produce vineyard-designated syrahs from Thompson Vineyards. Tasting room hours are daily from 10 to 5. Picnic area. (805) 344-2107. www.bedfordthompsonwinery.com
Going up Foxen Canyon Road toward Santa Maria, you'll find Foxen
Vineyard on the right at 7200 Foxen Canyon Road. The "Foxen Boys,"
Dick Dore and Bill Wathen produce handmade wine from the estate vineyard,
Tinaquaic, as well as from other fine Santa Barbara County vineyards. Foxen,
whose name has been coveted by another local winery, is limited in production
and high in quality. The tasting room is open Friday-Monday from noon to
4. Small picnic area. (805) 937-4251. Foxen@thegrid.net
|Rancho Sisquoc Winery, another pioneering winery and
vineyard is located at 6600 Foxen Canyon Road, with a Santa Maria address.
Their tasting room and picnic area provide a lush setting for spending
a tranquil afternoon. The tasting room is open daily from 10 to 4. (805)
Byron Vineyard & Winery is located at 5230 Tepusquet Road. Winemaker Byron "Ken" Brown combines Old World tradition with modern technology to produce estate grown varietals. One of the estate vineyards at the property is the Nielsen Vineyard, first post-Prohibition vineyard planted in Santa Barbara County. Grower Uriel Nielsen planted it in 1964. Byron and Io, by the way, are owned by Robert Mondavi. The tasting room is open daily 10 to 5, April-October, and daily 10 to 4, November-March. Picnic area. (805) 937-7288. www.byronwines.com
Io, a label dedicated to Rhone varietals can be purchased and tasted at 5230 Tepusquet Road, the same address for Byron. Io, though, is its own winery, and Io-one of the moons of Jupiter and Greek goddess of Rivers-is a combination of the classic Rhone varietals syrah, grenache and mourvedre. Io is a single wine with variations in the blend depending on the vintage. The tasting room is open daily 10 to 5, April-October, and daily 10 to 4, November-March. Picnic area. (805) 937-7288. www.iowine.com
Cambria, on the Santa Maria Bench, is located at 5475 Chardonnay Lane off of Santa Maria Mesa Road. Cambria's location is the key to the quality of its wines. The estate enjoys California's longest growing season, according to the winery, and its vineyards produce intense, opulent fruit. The tasting room is open Saturdays, Sundays and holidays from 10 to 5. Picnic area. (805) 937-8091. www.cambriawines.com
Cottonwood Canyon Vineyard & Winery is located southeast of the city of Santa Maria at 3940 Dominion Road. The winery specializes in age-worthy estate chardonnay and pinot noir, embracing traditional Burgundian winemaking. Cave tours and tasting are available every Saturday for $10 per person all inclusive. The tasting room is open daily from 10:30 to 5:30. Picnic area. (805) 937-9063. www.cottonwoodcanyon.com
LOS ALAMOS & THE LOS ALAMOS VALLEY
Your best bet for getting to Los Alamos is to take US 101 north from Buellton (about 14 miles) or to take Alisos Canyon from Foxen Canyon.
You can also get to Bedford Thompson from US 101 too. As you approach Los Alamos, turn right on Alisos Canyon Road. The tasting room is on the left about 1.5 miles from 101. Under old oak and pine, a rustic farmhouse and barn serve as the tasting room and winery. Stephan Bedford and David Thompson produce distinctive wines that emphasize varietal integrity. Other producers like Jaffurs produce vineyard-designated syrahs from Thompson Vineyards. Tasting room hours are daily from 10 to 5. Picnic area. (805) 344-2107. www.bedfordthompsonwinery.com
Los Alamos, with a population of about 1,000 was founded on our nation's Centenial-1876. Veteran grower and resident Joe Carrari told me once he thinks Los Alamos will be the future St. Helena. It just may well be, but it will take several decades for it to happen. The town has one winery, one in process with county planners and a number of fun eateries. I especially like Café Quackenbush at the General Store (an impressive art gallery), Twin Oaks, and Charlie's for burgers and Mexican food. Ghostriders is also a great place to hang out, have sandwiches and drink beer; bring your Harley. For lodging, there's the Sky View Motel which I recommend to friends. They're still my friends too. While Los Olivos is known for its art galleries, Los Alamos is noted for its antique stores.
With no tasting room at the present time, Lucas & Lewellen Winery calls Los Alamos its home. For tasting information, call (805) 344-3000. P.O.Box 648, Los Alamos CA 93440. The wines can be tasted, however in Solvang at Wine Country. www.llwine.com
Chimere, the French word for "daydream" is located in the rough and ready western town of Los Alamos, at the Alamo Motel, 425 Bell Street. The tasting room is open Friday-Monday 11 to 4 and by appointment. Picnic area. (805) 922-9097. www.silcom.com/~chimere
The eyesore "wine.con", under construction in the 200 block of Bell Street, will be called the Los Alamos Wine Cooperative if it is ever actually constructed and opened. The owner really has a screw loose! According to a piece published in the Santa Barbara News-Press written by Mark van de Kamp, Jon P. Remalia, the owner, has been fined thousands of dollars for building without obtaining county permits. According to the article, "He has filed for bankruptcy, claiming $1 million in debt, spent six months in jail until his release in February , has been sued by an investor and then countersued, and has been named in 33 other lawsuits-most concerning debts, according to public records."
Neighbors sort of, this Shangri La is surrounded by my neighbor Joe Carrari's six square mile property, Rancho Alamo on the west end of town. A project of Michael and Natalie Werk, Camp 1 has planted four acres right now with eleven to go-all chardonnay, pinot noir and syrah, Natalie told me. The plan is to eventually produce about 7,500 cases.
Future Projects out Highway 135
The Los Alamos Valley has the most vineyard acreage of any area of Santa Barbara County. With the cool ocean breezes wafting in over Lompoc and Vandenberg AFB, the valley is one of the coolest growing regions in California-perfect for chardonnay, pinot noir, syrah, viognier, riesling and other premium varietals. Highway 135 is the road. If you stay on it, it becomes Broadway, Santa Maria's main drag.
Both Kendall Jackson Wine Estates and Beringer, parent company of Meridian, have applied with the county to build processing facilities. Beringer would like to put its facility on White Hills Vineyard in the Los Alamos Valley.
SANTA MARIA, ORCUTT AND CASMALIA
Two wineries not open to the public, and one new tasting room operate in Santa Maria. One of the wineries is Central Coast Wine Services, former home of Jaffurs; the facility is the winery for such prominent producers as Lane Tanner, Hitching Post and Whitcraft Winery. Lisa Bodrogi, former county planner who now specializes in winery development told me a small winery is contemplated in Orcutt. About 100 acres of grapes have been planted.
McKeon-Phillips was founded by Susan McKeon and winemaker Ardison Phillips in 1982. Ardison Phillips is also an artist of some renown; he did the labels for Quady's Essencia and Electra. They have a brand new tasting room at 2115 South Blosser Road. It's open Saturday-Monday 11-6 and by appointment. (805) 928-3025. www.mckeonphillipswinery.com
Places I like to eat at in this part of the county: The original Hitching Post restaurant in Casmalia for dinner (www.hitchingpost1.com) - it just doesn't get any better than this; for lunch or dinner, Chef Rick's Ultimately Fine Foods in Orcutt; for breakfast especially or lunch, Kay's Orcutt Country Kitchen, and also Jack's in Old Orcutt; for Sunday breakfast as well as lunch, the Far Western Tavern in Guadalupe (www.farwesterntavern.com) ; and for great Mexican food in Guadalupe, try Nardo's; across the county line in Nipomo, there's Jocko's which I especially like for breakfast and lunch, especially breakfast-great for first pork of the day! Back in Santa Maria, two Mexican restaurants of note are Casa Manana and El Taco de Mexico - great Mexican food.
For lodging in the area, there's the historic Santa Maria Inn and the Santa Maria Airport Regency.
OUT OF SANTA BARBARA COUNTY: NEIGHBORS TO THE NORTH
Arroyo Grande, Edna Valley and Paso Robles appellations of San Luis Obispo County
Barnwood Vineyards is located in the serene Cuyama Valley at a 3,200 food elevation, in the far northeast corner of Santa Barbara County. The altitude and separation from the coast are good conditions for producing complex Bordeaux, Rhone, and perhaps Spanish varietals. The wines are made at Laetitia Winery (the old Maison Deutz property) which Barnwood also owns, south of Arroyo Grande. Barnwood wines can be tasted at Laetitia, 453 Deutz Drive. (805) 481-1763. www.barnwoodwine.com
Meridian's Vineyards tasting room is located at their winery, east of Paso Robles at 7000 Highway 46 East. At the tasting room, you'll taste limited release wines and reserve wines sold only from the winery. By the way, Meridian's parent company Beringer Wine Estates is the largest vineyard owner in Santa Barbara County. Open daily from 10 to 5. Picnic area and herb gardens. (805) 237-6000. www.meridianvineyards.com
MID-YEAR UPDATE - FEBRUARY 2002
Clos Pepe's first releases are now available and can be purchased at the Los Olivos Wine & Spirits Emporium. The estate-grown wines proudly carry the new "Santa Rita Hills" appellation on the labels.
Since February 2002, LinCourt's tasting room has moved
to the Foley Estates premises. Mike Brown's Kalyra Winery is now at the
old LinCourt location on Refugio Road. Mike Brown made wine at that facility
The famous Brothers Restaurant is finally going to reopen. Brothers Matt and Jeff Nichols will be taking over Mattei's Tavern in Los Olivos.
The Santa Maria Regency is now a Radisson property.
MID- YEAR UPDATE II- APRIL 2002
More new and exciting!
Brewer-Clifton, based in Lompoc is doing great things. Greg Brewer got his start in the business apprenticing under Bruce McGuire at Santa Barbara Winery. He is now winemaker at Melville, near Lompoc in the new Santa Rita Hills appellation. Steve Clifton, when I first met him, worked over at Rancho Sisquoc. Later he kept things in order over at Brander. And now, with Greg Brewer, is performing magic in winemaking-so much so, wine writer Robert M. Parker Jr. listed them as one of only three great North American winemakers (along with John Alban and Brian Talley) in his December, 2001 issue of "The Wine Advocate." (805) 452-5609.
As an aside, the label Palmina is produced by partner Steve Clifton. You can reach Palmina at (805) 331-1940.
Wes Hagen is the vineyard manager and winemaker at Clos Pepe Vineyards. The property on Highway 246 east of Lompoc is located in the new Santa Rita Hills appellation of Santa Barbara County. It specializes in the great cool climate Burgundian varietals: chardonnay and pinot noir. Wes is producing hard-to-find seminal quaffs; it's thanks to winemakers like him that Santa Barbara County wines are considered the best in the New World. Wes Hagen, the impassioned wine geek that he is-by his own admission-will be Santa Barbara County's second generation international wine ambassador. (805) 735-2196.
Kahn Winery has a tasting room that flanks the north end of Los Olivos. It's located at 2990A Grand Avenue, and the sign out front says it's "the county's smallest tasting room." It's cozy, eclectic, and charming-much like Andy Kahn's wines that you can taste there. Kahn is dedicated to producing high quality Rhone and Italian varietal wines. Visit their tasting room. (805) 686-2455.
Katabasis is small and a winery to watch. I tasted their two premiere releases at Easter. One was a 2000 Sisquoc sylvaner from grapes grown at Rancho Sisquoc; the other was a 2000 Alisos gewurztraminer from grapes grown at Alisos Vineyard near Los Alamos, a vineyard owned by very good friends. Both wines were delicious! George Fakinos of Santa Barbara Winery told me Graham Tatomer makes the wine. He previously worked for Melville, Brewer-Clifton and Santa Barbara Winery. The wines are produced in Lompoc. (805) 570-7513.
Another Easter treat was one of Seth Kunin's wines-his 1999 viognier made from grapes grown at Stolpman Vineyards. I have known Seth for quite a few years. He managed the Wine Cask restaurant for a long time, worked in the cellar at Gainey, was the oenologist at Central Coast Wine Services in Santa Maria, and produces his stunning offering of handcrafted wines-hard to find and wines to look out for! (805) 689-3545.
Winemaker/software engineer Brian Loring of Loring Wine Company has an obsession-it's pinot noir. He makes his wines near Santa Maria at Cottonwood Canyon. Loring Wine Company is so named as an hommage to Josh Jensen at Calera Wine Company "since he was the guy who first showed me that great pinot noir could be made in California," reads his press material. I've had two of his vineyard-designated pinot noirs, the Clos Pepe and the Garys' Vineyard from the Santa Lucia Highlands of Monterey County-both peerless! 1-877 LWC WINE.
Benjamin Silver is producing exemplary wines of note. His nebbiolo from Sanford & Benedict Vineyard and cabernet franc from Stolpman are wines to search out. Benjamin was the "glue" that kept the winemaking going at Zaca Mesa for many years. (805) 963-3052.
Another guy to watch is Joey Tensley. His wines are hard to find. I had one several years ago at the Paradise Cafe with Bob Lindquist of Qupe. Joey produces some outstanding syrahs. For Easter I served two magnums of his vineyard-designated wines-a 2000 Purisima Mountain Vineyard, and a 2000 Colson Canyon Vineyard syrah, from a vineyard east of Byron. He produces the wine in Lompoc.
MID- YEAR UPDATE III- JULY 2002
A hallmark event in the Santa Barbara County wine country - Brothers Restaurant has finally reopened. When Brothers Restaurant was located in Solvang, my web designer-an unquestionable epicure-described Brothers Restaurant as having the best food in a hundred mile radius.
It still does.
Brothers Restaurant has the epitome of California cuisine-well prepared dishes from the freshest ingredients available, a comprehensive wine list featuring the best local wines on the scene, and great service which is transparent and never in your face!
In a nutshell, Brothers Matt and Jeff Nichols get it. They have finally reopened at the old Mattei's Tavern in Los Olivos. I had dinner at their new location last week. The fresh chicken entrée with asparagus and baby carrots with mashed potatoes, the puree of corn soup, classic crème brulee for dessert and Fiddlehead Cellars sauvignon blanc and pinot noir!
I don't know if it's the Nebraska in me, but I just might be more passionate about corn (and definitely tomatoes) than I am about wine! And Matt and Jeff being Iowa natives have a flair for their puree of corn soup unequalled in the universe, in my humble opinion! Brothers food is to die for. People who know the restaurant are excited to see it reopened, especially in an historical setting like Mattei's Tavern built in 1886. For those of you who have never experienced Brothers Restaurant, now is your chance. You will find Brothers one more great excuse for visiting Santa Barbara County's wine country.
The restaurant is open daily from 5 p.m. For reservations call (805) 688-4820.
New Maps for New Wine
The Santa Barbara County Vintners' Association has just published its new wine map. Perusing it, I find some exciting new labels. Probably the most exciting is Flying Goat Cellars, named for their "kids" Epernay (a wine yeast and appellation in France) and Nevers (a forest in France known for producing the densest oak for wine barrels).
Flying Goat Cellars winemaker, Norm Yost, has produced a splendid pinot noir from the venerable Santa Maria Hills Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley. Norm's "day job" is making the wine at Foley Estates and LinCourt. And his Foley Estates reserve chardonnay won "Best of Show-White Wine" honors at the Santa Barbara County Fair commercial wine competition.
The map also shows a number of new tasting rooms opening in Solvang
such as the new Lucas & Lewellen tasting room and Royal
Oaks tasting room.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Senn, called a "fount of information on local wines" by New York
He has been the wine columnist for the Santa Barbara Independent
since 1984. He also writes the monthly wine
He lives in the bucolic Los Alamos Valley and owns the Los Olivos Wine & Spirits Emporium which he established in 1993.
A wine lover since college, he produced a radio wine show during his fifteen year tenure as the program director of the Santa Barbara radio station, KTMS FM. He considers the program's hosts, Chris Whitcraft and Jim Fiolek his main mentors along with Bob Lindquist of Qupe.
News Leads . . . .
Information . . . .
Complete Listing Of Area Wineries, hours of operation and more