Santa Barbara County’s rise to wine-growing eminence was immortalized by the 2004 film “Sideways,” a tale that not only put the region on the viniculture map but also caused a decline in merlot consumption due to the film’s lead character’s infamous disdain for the varietal. This shift saw merlot’s share of California’s red wine market dwindle from 20% to 13%. Conversely, “Sideways” extolled the virtues of pinot noir, a grape synonymous with the Central Coast of California, proclaiming its flavors as “haunting, brilliant, thrilling, subtle, and ancient.”
Set in the vinicultural expanse of Santa Ynez and Santa Rita Hills within Santa Barbara County, “Sideways” artfully showcased the area’s premier crop: wine, the county’s foremost agricultural gem. The star of the show remains pinot noir, reigning as the most planted grape varietal with 5,500 acres dedicated to its cultivation, as reported by the Santa Barbara Vintners association. Chardonnay and syrah follow closely with 4,176 and 2,500 acres, respectively, while the county proudly boasts 70 diverse grape varieties and a staggering 275 wineries. This commitment to quality earned Santa Barbara Wine Country the title of Wine Enthusiast Magazine’s esteemed Wine Region of the Year for 2021, outshining even the famed Napa Valley.
For two decades, I’ve been a fervent explorer of the Santa Rita Hills and Los Olivos District – two pivotal wine regions in Santa Barbara County. Now, it’s high time you embarked on a Central Coast winery adventure if you haven’t already. With grapevines lush and ripe for harvest, the summer tourist rush ebbing, and a mere three-hour drive from Orange County, the stage is set for an idyllic weekend escapade. As a fellow wine enthusiast, I have my go-to wineries in Santa Barbara County. However, I also derive immense pleasure from discovering hidden gems beyond my usual repertoire. Recently, I partook in tastings at three remarkable wineries: Zaca Mesa, Foley, and Roblar – organized by Santa Barbara Vintners and The Wine Militia. While Zaca Mesa and Foley were somewhat familiar, Roblar was an exciting newcomer. Each winery left an indelible mark, enriching my journey through the exquisite world of wines. For in-depth insights into Santa Barbara County’s lodgings, eateries, and wineries, delve into sbcountywines.com.
Established in 1973 and marking its golden jubilee this year, Zaca Mesa stands as a family-owned haven of winemaking heritage in Santa Barbara County. Pioneering the cultivation of syrah in 1978, Zaca Mesa’s innovation was pivotal in the Santa Barbara Rhône movement. A commitment to revealing the genuine essence of their wines shapes their identity, evident in their impressive array of around two dozen distinct wines – many boasting 100% varietal purity. What sets Santa Barbara County apart is its unique ability to nurture an eclectic array of grape varietals – both Bordeaux and Rhône styles. This makes it a haven for connoisseurs relishing pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon, and syrah. A scenic drive through the vineyards along Foxen Canyon Road will lead you to Zaca Mesa in the Los Olivos District, a serene testament to the beauty of the journey. With Zaca Mesa celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year, don’t miss the chance to partake in the elegant Harvest Wine Dinner on Oct. 28 or the 50th Anniversary Fall Fiesta on Nov. 18. More details can be found at zacamesa.com.
A sojourn in Santa Rita Hills would be incomplete without a visit to Foley Estates. Launched in the late 1990s by vintner Bill Foley, this establishment’s 500-acre vineyard boasts an abundance of chardonnay and pinot noir. The excellence of the harvested fruit is the result of meticulous winemaking protocols and the distinctive terroir of the vineyard sites. The meticulous approach extends to a micro-farming initiative, using soil pits and aerial photography to map soil and topography for the finest yield. Bill Foley, a prominent vintner, was acknowledged with a Wine Star Award and a Lifetime Achievement Award from Wine Enthusiast Magazine for his contributions. Delve deeper into the essence of the winery with an ATV tour of the estate, exploring vineyards, the barrel room, and the rich history of the winery dating back to the mid-1880s. These insightful tours are open to the public, offering an intimate connection with the winemaking process. Foley Estates, nestled within Lompoc along Highway 46, invites you to savor its creations and bask in its legacy. More about their offerings can be found at foleywines.com.
Roblar Winery & Vineyards emerges as a versatile producer, crafting a palette of wines spanning sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, and pinot noir. With a delightful tasting room and a charming rustic patio hosting daily lunches, Roblar’s allure is undeniable. The Gleason family, proprietors of Roblar and Refugio Ranch, found their hearts drawn to the region’s unruly spirit two decades ago, giving birth to a journey that led to the establishment of Gleason Family Vineyards. Callie Gleason Bieszard, Director of Marketing, reflects on her family’s journey – a love story with the central coast. In 2017, Roblar joined their portfolio, enriching their commitment to quality. Roblar also extended its influence to Roblar Farm, fostering agriculture and offering a unique experience complete with produce, livestock, and accommodation. The allure of Santa Rita Hills and Santa Ynez as vibrant wine destinations is unmistakable, making Roblar an exquisite representation of the region’s spirit. With a mere three-hour drive from Orange County, its competitively priced wines beckon discerning palates. Discover more at roblarwinery.com.
Should circumstances keep you from visiting Wine Country this year, fret not! Wine Country will come to you through the resplendent Pacific Wine & Food Classic, set against the backdrop of Newport Dunes Waterfront Resort on September 30th. This event promises tastings from over two dozen wineries and culinary delights from thirty-six esteemed chefs. According to Pamela Waitt, the OC Restaurant Association President and founder of the Pacific Wine & Food Classic, this year witnesses the inclusion of more than half new wineries. The event brings novelties like the Gelsons experience, TacoTuesday.com Silent Disco, and The Big Tent featuring San Luis Obispo wineries. As a cherished tradition, the event continually evolves while preserving its essence. Premium cocktails by Ketel One, Maker’s Mark, El Tesoro Tequila, and Ron Zacapa Rum are also part of the celebration. Don’t miss this waterfront extravaganza!
Embrace the allure of Santa Barbara Wine Country, where every sip is an invitation to discover the heart of the Central Coast’s vinicultural treasures.