Santa Barbara is a paradise for wine tasting tours. Located approximately 90 miles north of Los Angeles on U.S. 101, it is without doubt one of the most picturesque cities in the state of California. Besides sweeping vistas of the Pacific Ocean and Santa Ynez Mountains, Santa Barbara offers the wine tourist access to the top-quality wineries located in the nearby Santa Ynez Valley, in the southern end of the Central Coast viticultural region. Santa Barbara County is home to over 100 outstanding wineries, vineyards and tasting rooms.
Central Coast wines, particularly those produced in the Santa Barbara area, have been steadily gaining recognition and rave reviews from wine critics such as Robert Parker in recent years. The region has seen a vast and impressive improvement in both the number of its wineries and the quality of the wines they produce. Santa Barbara County now has four distinct AVAs, or appellations: Santa Ynez Valley, Sta. Rita Hills, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara, and Santa Maria Valley. That’s all well and good, but it does present visitors to the area with a bit of a quandary: with so many wineries to choose from, which ones should I visit?
To narrow things down a bit, I would recommend the Santa Ynez Valley as the best of the four appellations for a wine tasting tour because it has the highest density of wineries and is located the closest to the city of Santa Barbara–by far the nicest place in the area to stay.
But even if you do restrict your wine tasting activities to the Santa Ynez Valley, you still have a lot of wineries to choose from–the Santa Ynez Vistors Guide lists over 50 wineries and tasting rooms. So, If you would like to taste the great wines the region has to offer, who should you turn to for advice on which wineries make the best vino? The best informant, undoubtedly, would be a knowledgeable Santa Barbara native. Fortunately, I happen to be well acquainted with just such an individual. It just so happens that my father has been visiting the region’s wineries and tippling their wares for the past 45 years, during which time the Santa Barbara wine industry grew from insignificance to being the wine lovers’ mecca it is today. His recommendations follow :
“The very best winery in Santa Barbara city is Jaffurs Wine Cellars, on Montecito Street near Milpas. It is kind of funky, but they make truly outstanding syrah and you will often be able to talk to the winemakers. The rest are over in Santa Ynez Valley, and for ambiance and good wine I would recommend Gainey Vineyard (both reds and whites), Sunstone Vineyards and Winery (reds), Blackjack Ranch Vineyards and Winery (reds), and Rideau Vineyard (reds and whites). These wineries are all situated not too far from each other. The best places for wine and a picnic lunch are Beckman Vineyards (reds) and Rideau. I would recommend Kalyra (reds and whites) in the valley (it’s near Sunstone) to the younger set because it’s fun, but a bit noisy. For someone who wants to drive farther out, I would recommend Brander Vineyard (whites), Curtis Winery (whites), Fess Parker Winery and Vineyards (reds and whites), and Zaca Mesa Winery and Vineyards (reds).”