Santa Barbara Wine Country

Santa Barbara County contains two of our go-to California pinot noir regions, Santa Maria Valley, and especially Santa Rita Hills.


Santa Maria Valley

We made a fast stop in Arroyo Seco to visit Latetia. Then we drove down the Santa Maria Valley, which is the northern most appellation in Santa Barbara County. We made stops at:

  • Cambria Estate Winery which is a women-owned winery; and
  • Foxen Vineyard. We especially enjoyed their Santa Maria Valley Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay as well as five of the six wines in their Pinot Noir Flight (and especially 2014 John Sebastiani Vineyard and Melville Vineyard pinot noirs (both from Santa Rita Hills).

We then followed the valley to Los Olivos, where we stopped at a few of the tasting rooms along the town’s main streets. We enjoyed Nielson Vineyard’s 2015 Stainless Steel Chardonnay and especially Dragonette Cellar’s 2015 Duvarita Vineyard (Santa Rita Hills) pinot. Although we were also anxious to try Byron’s line of Single Vineyard pinot noirs, we were, unfortunately, unable to coordinate schedules.

That led to our second disappointment of the day, an inability to score reservations  at the Ballard Inn’s Gathering Table restaurant as it was Restaurant Week and they were filled. We were, however, quite pleased with the somewhat less adventuresome fare at Brothers at the Red Barn.  Here we enjoyed a nice roasted rack of lamb (with goat cheese mashed potatoes and red wine-rosemary sauce) and roasted chicken breast (stuffed with goat cheese mashed potatoes and herb jus) with a pleasant, 2012 Longoria Lovely Rita, Santa Rita Hills pinot noir).

After a night and breakfast at the lovely For Friends Inn,  we were off to the main event—a day of tasting through the Santa Rita Hills.

Santa Rita Hills

We began in the Lompoc Wine Ghetto, a conglomeration of a couple dozen, mostly smaller, specialty vintners, . We particularly enjoyed Longoria’s 2008 Bien Nacido Santa Maria Valley and Brewer-Clifton’s 2014 Santa Rita Hills and Acin Vineyard pinot noirs.

We then took a drive through the Western Santa Ynez Valley and found a number of treats. These included:

  • Melville Winery’s 2015 Donna’s Estate Syrah;
  • Pence Vineyard’s 2016 UNUM Estate and 2015 FUGIO pinots
  • Clos Pepe Estate’s 2013 unoaked “Homage de Chablis” and tastefully oaked Barrel Fermented chardonnays, 2012 /13 Axis Mundi (Grenache, Syrah) and 2014 pinot noir; and
  • Babcock Winery, where we enjoyed virtually every wine more than the previous one. The line-up began with one stainless and one barrel-aged “Ice Cream” 2016 chardonnay, 2014 Estate, and 2015 Déjà vu pinot noirs and 2014 “Naughty Little Nectar” 2015 Late Harvest Pinot Gris.

We ended up in the town of Buellton, with:

We also had two meals in Buellton. We fully enjoyed the trendy, fast-casual, Industrial Eats’ wild mushroom, camembert and garlic confit pizza, ending with a craving for a number of its other innovative pizzas and varied “Not Pizza” dishes. It also offers some intriguing sandwiches, such as its tuna, egg, anchovy and arugula. Greatly appreciated was their bring the pizza next door, where we were able to enjoy it with a flight of wine samples from Alma Rosa.

Dinner, as usual for us, was at the Hitching Post, where we lucked into two very nice, bargain-priced, three-course, Restaurant Week meals. We both began with the reasonably tasty New England clam chowder. From there, Tom had a dish combining grilled quail and top sirloin (with a baked potato) and a creamy cheesecake. Joyce had grilled shrimp with peppers and onions (also with a baked potato) and an ultra-dense chocolate cake. Both were quite good, and incredible bargains. A bottle of 2014 Bien Nacido pinot noir certainly didn’t diminish our dining experience.

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