Welcome to Santa Barbara Wine ToursI am a Santa Barbara native and wine enthusiast. I created this site, Santa Barbara Wine Tours, because I’m eager to introduce as many people as I can to the wineries of my home town, and the opportunities for fun, casual and delicious wine tastings at the many outstanding wineries and vineyards in the adjacent Santa Barbara County wine country.
Santa Barbara is a perfect place for anyone, from the connoisseur to the novice, to enjoy an unforgettable wine tasting tour for a bunch of reasons.
For one thing, it boasts a host of wineries, vineyards and tasting rooms serving up top quality wines made from in a diversity of styles from an array of grape varieties.
As for geographical diversity, you can choose from four AVAs, or designated wine appellations: Santa Ynez Valley, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara, Sta. Rita Hills and Santa Maria Valley, in the beautiful Santa Ynez Mountains of Santa Barbara County.
These AVAs are home to over 100 wineries, many of which produce world-class wines. In fact, two wines produced in Santa Barbara County were included in Wine Spectator’s top 100 wines of 2010: Tensley’s Syrah Santa Barbara County, Colson Canyon Vineyard 2008, at no. 17; and Zaca Mesa’s Syrah, Santa Ynez Valley 2006, at no. 29. Just to clarify, that’s no. 17 and no. 29, not just in California or America, but in the world (California in general did very well this year with fourteen of the top twenty, and four of the top five wines being from the Golden State).
As this result makes clear, some of the world’s best Syrah is made in the Santa Barbara Wine Country.
Two other varietals that Santa Barbara wineries excel in are Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. These cool climate, Burgundian varietals do especially well in the Sta. Rita Hills and Santa Maria Valley appellations, both excellent locations for wine tours.
The east-west orientation of the mountains surrounding these AVAs allow cooling fogs to roll in from the Pacific Ocean during the morning, and later in the day, on-shore breezes keep things cool. This maritime influence combined with the area’s terrain – which is located on the oceanic Pacific Plate rather than the continental North American Plate – and soils favored by the Burgundian varietals, have allowed the wine makers of these two appellations to achieve stunning successes with both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Their Pinot Noirs have received more than their fair share of accolades. In fact, some wine tours focuse solely on visiting wineries that excel in producing stunning wines from this popular grape variety. Speaking of California Pinot Noir in general, 2007 was a fabulous year for this famously difficult to grow and vinify fruit; the best year ever, in fact, according to California Wine author James Laube, who writes in the September 2009 issue of Wine Spectator that,
“The breadth and depth of quality in 2007 California Pinot Noir is unparalleled…2007, offering the greatest assortment of outstanding wines in the 25 years I’ve been tasting and writing about Golden State Pinot.”
A number of Sta. Rita Hills wines are featured among his picks for the top Pinots of 2007. The Santa Maria Valley is no slouch either when it comes to making stunning Pinot Noir wines. Not least because it is the home of both the Au Bon Climat Winery and Bien Nacido Vineyards. Jim Clendenen, Au Bon Climat’s owner and winemaker, makes traditional, Burgundy-style Pinots which are well-balanced, refined and complex. The fact that the winery has no tasting room has long been a sore point among fans of Santa Barbara wine tours. Fortunately, Jim Clendenen recently opened the Au Bon Climat tasting room and “wine library” in downtown Santa Barbara.
Au Bon Climat sources most of its fruit from the Bien Nacido Vineyards, which is renowned for producing some of the finest grapes for Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay and Syrah in California, for a long list of big name wineries. In fact, if you see the name “Bien Nacido Vineyards” on a bottle of wine, I recommend that you buy it. It will probably be a superior bottle.
Being a Burgundy lover, I’m a big fan of Au Bon Climat’s Pinot Noir because it’s made in a very similar style to its old world cousin: elegant and low-alcohol as opposed to the powerful, high-alcohol style of most California Pinot Noirs. AuBon Climat also makes excellent Burgundian whites, including Aligote, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and of course Chardonnay. By any standard, they has achieved success. According to their website: “In 1989 and 1990 Au Bon Climat was on Robert Parker’s short list of Best Wineries in the World, and in 1991 was selected by Oz Clark as one of fifty world-wide creators of Modern Classic Wines.”
Speaking of Oz Clarke, he know of where he speaks when it come to Santa Barbara wine tours, having recently gone on one himself. Click on the links below to see three videos of Oz Clarke and James May’s adventures on their Santa Barbara wine tasting tour:
Chardonnay is another varietal that some Santa Barbara County wine makers are doing great things with. This is what Steve Heimoff, the West Coast editor of Wine Enthusiast magazine, wrote in a blog post entitled Tasting Santa Barbara County Chardonnay that,
“Santa Barbara County is one of California’s great Chardonnay areas and a case can be made that it is the greatest.” He especially recommends Chardonnays crafted in Santa Maria Valley and Sta. Rita Hills. By the way, here’s a good wine buying tip from Mr. Heimoff: “…both 2007 and 2008 were very great years for Chardonnay in Santa Barbara County.”
One of the things that makes a wine tour of the Santa Barbara Wine Country so appealing is its diversity. While Sta. Rita Hills and Santa Maria Valley excel in producing superior Burgundian varietals, another of the regions AVAs–Santa Ynez Valley of Sideways fame–is remarkable for the wide range of quality wines it produces in an area densely packed with wineries.
As I mentioned above, the region is mostly known for its Rhone varietals, especially Syrah, but there are also some excellent Bordeaux blends and Italian and Spanish varietals being made in Santa Ynez Valley.
The Santa Barbara Wine Country has so much to offer. First and foremost, an incredible number and variety of fantastic wineries and vineyards to visit including: the beautiful Curtis Winery, the environmentally conscious Sunstone Vinyards and Winery, the unassuming Kalrya Winery, the stately Bridlewood Estate Winery, the quaint Brander Vineyard, the elegant Gainey Vineyard, the cozy Buttonwood Farms Winery, the bucolic Beckman Vineyards, the rustic Foxen Winery, the colorful Blackjack Ranch Vineyards and Winery, and the grand Fess Parker Winery.
And it’s not just the wineries. In the Santa Barbara Wine Country, you can enjoy golden Southern California sunshine, sweeping, bucolic vistas, fine restaurants and friendly people when you embark on your own wine tour. One of the best ways to do that is by limousine. Click on the link for info on renting your own Santa Barbara wine tours limo.
Below is the trailer for the award-winning movie Sideways, which put a spotlight on the Santa Barbara Wine Country when it came out in 2004. It’s a great movie–it’s one of those movies that you appreciate more the more time you see it–and I’m thankful that it raised the profile and increased the popularity of California Pinot Noir with the so called “Sideways effect.” I wouldn’t take Miles famous abhorrence of Merlot too seriously though. The wine geek joke in the movie is that Miles’ most prized bottle of wine is a Château Cheval Blanc, which is an unusual Bordeaux in that Merlot plays a predominant part in the blend, up to 60%.