Do a wine tasting with this Santa Barbara wine guide
In case you haven’t heard, Santa Barbara is one of the hottest places for American wine right now. The unique qualities of California’s Central Coast provide exceptional viticultural conditions and highly refined wines. This is by far the most exciting part of the region’s wine history to date.
The city of Santa Barbara is located along the Pacific about 100 miles north of Los Angeles. The surrounding wine region is located somewhat inland, encompassing a total of seven AVAs (American Viticultural Area), including the prestigious Sta. Rita Hills and Santa Ynez Valley appellations. One of the most interesting components of the region is the pronounced maritime influence thanks to several valleys that jut directly towards the ocean. This means a temperate climate that calls for many types of wine grapes, from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir to Rhône varieties like Syrah. You’ll even find Chenin Blanc, Gamay, Picpoul, Sémillon and many more in this extremely diverse American wine-growing area.
California has a lot to offer as the country’s premier wine producer, from Temecula Valley in the south to Sonoma in the north. But the Santa Barbara area is perhaps the most intriguing of them all, especially right now. Here’s how to take advantage of all it has to offer.
Sanford Winery and Vineyards
Located next to one of the country’s most revered wineries, Sanford offers a Burgundian twist on the West Coast wine scene. Here you will taste excellent Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, as well as sparkling wines full of life and texture. There are a host of interesting tasting options, including one that involves an ATV ride, and you do it all in the company of some of the region’s most sought-after vines. First planted in 1971, the site is home to the oldest Pinot Noir vines in the county, which thrive in the predominantly limestone soils located just 10 miles from the Pacific Ocean.
Founded by Greg Brewer in the mid-1990s, Brewer-Clifton embodies the very potential of Sta. Rita Hills. The wines are nuanced and reflect the different aspects and terroirs of the appellation. You will be able to taste the relationships that the winemaking teams have with its four different and yet popular wine sites. Look for small-batch Syrah available from time to time in the Los Olivos tasting room.
Jaffurs Wine Cellars
Located right in downtown Santa Barbara, Jaffurs is all about Rhone wines. This means an elegant Syrah, above all, with Roussanne and Viognier, and a dessert wine made from the latter variety. The label also produces Chardonnay and makes its wine from the same compelling structure it pours from. So if you’re looking to please the senses and sip the scene while watching it unfold, this is a great place to do it.
If there’s a crown for the region’s top Riesling producer, it should probably go to Tatomer. The Santa Maria winery produces an excellent family of dry Rieslings, as well as fantastic Grüner Veltliner. This is perhaps no surprise, given that the winemaker has spent a long time in Austria working closely with beloved producer Weingut Knoll. Production is small at around 4,000 cases per year, so buy it while you can. The guided tasting is very vineyard-focused, so if you want to see how the land and climate shape one of the world’s most famous varietals in wine, this is a must.
At the Good Climate
Talk to Central Coast wine lovers and they might drop this name. Au Bon Climat specializes in beautiful white blends that often showcase Pinot Blanc, as well as single-vineyard Chardonnay and Pinot Noir options galore. The label, an inverted triangle, is instantly recognizable and has become synonymous with real quality on the Santa Barbara wine circuit. Tasting, of course, is half the fun, and the brand’s airy and welcoming bar in Santa Barbara is a great place to hang out. Better still, it’s home to a few other sister labels in spades (library releases too), plus a well-organized bottle list if you need it for the road.
Located in Ballard Canyon, Rusack is a gem in many ways. First, the scenery is stunning – a 48-acre estate surrounded by rolling hills dotted with oak trees and artistic shadow play. The outdoor tasting experience on a remarkable oak terrace is top-notch. Look for charming Domaine Sauvignon Blanc, as well as charming Cabernet Sauvignon. They even make a Zinfandel, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from fruit from a vineyard on the remote island of Santa Catalina.
There is no shortage of great things to see and do in Santa Barbara. Eaters have their work cut out for them, from classic Mexican food at La Super-Rica Taqueria to Bettina’s incredible pizza. Cocktail lovers are invited to test Test Pilot and its clever tiki drinks. Beer drinkers will enjoy the craft scene, with plenty of options around town. Check out Figueroa Mountain for a nice range of IPAs and a refreshing Mexican lager and citrus beer.
Where to lay your head? Well, we love The Eagle Inn, located in the heart of the West Bench neighborhood. For something closer to wine country, try the Fess Parker Wine Country Inn. Beyond the city limits, you can enjoy outdoor fun in the nearby Los Padres National Forest. Those who seek to revive Next to can push further north to lovely Solvang and wine-centric Paso Robles.