With the holiday season in the rearview mirror, we bid goodbye to Santa Claus and say hello to another Santa, Santa Barbara. We’ll be visiting this wine region in April with my family to celebrate my father’s birthday. In deference to him, I won’t reveal his age, but it is a milemarker, hence this big family vacation.
Like much of California, winemaking in Santa Barbara began during the Missionary period and then stagnated during Prohibition. While its modern period of viticulture began in the 1960s, it certainly came upon the world scene with the launch of the movie Sideways. During my last visit to the region, I was much too young to drink (~12), so I have no reference point, but I am looking forward to getting to know some of these wineries first hand.
Also part of the area is the town of Solvang, which was recently featured in an episode of the Girls Next Door, and a place I do recall from that childhood visit long ago. Solvang is an authentic Danish village that looks like you stepped out of reality into a Grimm’s Fairy Tale. Fortunately, the big, bad wolf is no where to be found.
I’ve already visited the Santa Barbara County Vintners’ Association and requested (and have already received) their touring map, which will help us plan our travels. My parents have taken care of the accommodations (we are renting a house), plane tickets have been purchased and we’ve booked a birthday dinner at bouchon, which has a terrific list of local wines, 40 of them available by the glass. The only thing left to do is to select which wineries to visit.
We had the pleasure of meeting Steve Clifton of Clifton Brewer and Palmina at the Long Island symposium back in August, who hails from this region, so we hope to visit with him or at least visit the tasting room to enjoy some of the wines he didn’t bring east with him.
Unlike my previous visits to wine regions, where it is generally just my husband and myself, we will be traveling as a group of six. The consequences are that it will be more challenging to agree upon which wineries to visit and I think we may need to make reservations in advance given the size of our group.
We arrive in Santa Barbara on April 18, which coincidently coincides with the annual Vintners’ Festival, held at River Park in Lompac. The main festival doesn’t start until 1:00 PM on Saturday and we are scheduled to arrive at 9:30 AM, so it should be doable. The only issue will be whether we can stay awake since we have a 6:00 AM flight from NYC.
Other festivities are held at the various wineries throughout the weekend. Tickets for the main festival are $75.00/person and a “Vintners’ Visa” which permits its holder to have the tasting fees waived at up to 12 wineries over the four-day period, is $35.00/person. They offer a designated driver Vintners’ Visa at $25.00/person, which is a bit confusing. While I laud their efforts in advocating responsible drinking and abstention from drinking and driving, I’m not sure why someone has to pay not to drink. 🙂 Likely they provide the driver with some sort of nice recognition, but nothing is specifically stated on the website other than price.
Santa Barbara is highly regarded for its Pinot Noir wines, but certainly isn’t exclusive to this grape. Yet the cool climate, thanks to the maritime influence of the Pacific, truly creates beautiful wines from this variety. Not surprisingly, Chardonnay also does remarkably well here. Inland, where the climate is warmer, one will find some Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. And, the aforementioned Palmina specializes in Italian varietals.
Within Santa Barbara County are three AVAs, which sound like a line-up of Christopher Columbus’ ships: Santa Ynez Valley, Sta Rita Hills and the Santa Maria Valley. A fourth area, , Los Alamos Valley, is not an official appellation, but it is a well-demarcated area within the region.
The Vintner’s Association has outlined six different wine tasting routes, but I don’t think we’ll hit them all in sequence. I have much more research to do in deciding where I want to go and then, of course, run it by the committee. Regardless of where we go, I am sure we will taste lots of wonderful wines and I am very much looking forward to the trip.