I recently made a trip out to California for work. I know, lucky me! I am fortunate to have a job that allows me to get to sunny Santa Monica a few times a year. I left just at the right time as Toronto was calling for a snow storm. Being in Santa Monica in late February was a real treat. It was sunny and warm with flowers beginning to bloom. I could get used to that kind of winter. For a few years now, I've always wanted to visit the Santa Barbara wine country. This region was featured in the movie Sideways. Every time I was in the LA area, my plan of visiting the wine region was put on hold due to fires around the Santa Barbara. It seemed that California was always burning when I was there! This past trip, it seemed that luck (and nature) were on my side. Santa Barbara is about 2 hours or so from Santa Monica and then another half hour inland to wine country. The drive up to Santa Barbara is really gorgeous. You will go through the Malibu Canyon where windy roads and steep cliffs await you. Then you'll find yourself driving along the ocean coast where on one side, you'll see the snow covered mountains and on the other side, restless waves crashing against the beaches. The most beautiful of all the wine trails in the Santa Barbara wine region is the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail (Foxen Canyon Road). It's one of the more scenic routes and has some great wineries along the way.
We started our journey at the small town of Los Olivos. Note that when coming to this area, make sure that you have enough gas as finding a gas station around here can be challenging. Los Olivos is a cute town full with tasting rooms and cafes. All the wineries of the area have tasting rooms here in the town just in case you can't get out to the wineries themselves.
Driving along the Foxen Canyon wine road, my eyes opened wide as I took in this picturesque area. It was pretty spectacular. There were rolling hills with sharp contrast between the green of the grass and the blue sky. The landscape was barren with funny looking trees and cattle grazing. The pictures attached to the end of this post really don't do this region justice. It felt like my husband and I were the only two people in the whole area as it was so quiet. We took the top down on our red Mustang convertible and soaked in the sunlight. We had such a relaxed, slow-paced day. Driving along the road, we really took our time to take in the sunshine and enjoy the scenery. At each winery visited, the people were laid back and cheerful. They were eager to share the history of the area and the wines with us. The tastings were usually no more than $10 plus you could keep the glass as a souvenir. The tasting fee was usually waived if you purchased a bottle. This region is well known for Rhone-style wines as well as for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. It would have been great to have continued driving all the way out to the Paso Robles region. That will be for the next trip!
"We specialize in Syrah, Grenache, Viognier and other artisan Rhône-style wines from Santa Barbara County's Santa Ynez Valley. Here, we put down roots as one of California’s first wineries dedicated exclusively to Rhône-style wines. Since then, nothing has changed. We still live for Rhônes." - Curtis website
I liked everything I tried! Since this was my first stop, I had to be conservative in my purchases. I ended buying the 2005 Mouvedre from grapes grown in the Santa Ynez Valley.
"If you don’t know FOXEN,
you don’t know Dick . . . or Bill." - Foxen Vineyard website
Haha! I just love that quote above. I love it as much as I love the wines coming out of this winery! This winery actually has two locations. One location is the new solar-powered winery and tasting room. Here, Burgundian-style wines are featured such as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The other location is located up the road and is now called Foxen 7200 (because the address is 7200 Foxen Canyon Road). This is where the famous Foxen "shack" is located. I remember seeing the tasting bar in "Sideways". I can't believe that I was there! It really is a shack! This location has wine for tasting that focuses more on their "Bordeaux and Cal-Ital-style" wines. We were given some snazzy anchor temporary tattoos too. :)
Located in the Santa Maria Valley, this winery is creating some lovely Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. I purchased the 2007 Estate Chardonnay. I preferred the Estate to the Reserve. A week later, I was enjoying the bottle with a few friends and it was a great success.
"Riverbench Vineyard was established in 1973, when its first Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes were planted on the property. For years since then, some of the most renowned wineries in Santa Barbara County have purchased our fruit for their own wines. Over time Riverbench has become a prominent name for high quality Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in the Santa Maria Valley." - Riverbench Winery website
"At Kenneth Volk Vineyards, our main focus is on vineyard designate wines from Santa Barbara. We understand the importance of terroir, unique soil, and the sea influence in this region, which is gaining renown for its cool climate and ideal growing conditions.
Our second focus is on Bordeaux varietals from Paso Robles. These quality wines boast ripe fruit flavors and are suitable with a variety of cuisine." - Kenneth Volk website
I purchased the Kennth Volk 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon made from some of their vineyards in the Paso Robles region. What was interesting about this winery is that they had a wine made from the Tempranillo grape variety which is normally seen only in Spanish wines. It was delicious.
"You are on the eastern edge of the Santa Maria Valley in Santa Barbara County. The temperature is mild, the wind is steady and the terrain is gentle and rounded. In the winter these hills are tinted gold and raw sienna. In the summer they are all shades of green. Our wines are a reflection of their surroundings. Every time you taste one of Byron’s wines you are surrounded by the flavors, textures and scents that can only come from here the Santa Maria Valley." - Byron Wines website
We ended our day back in Los Olivos at the Byron tasting room. Wines from another winery called IO were also available here for sampling and purchase. I believe that the founder of Byron started IO. We ended up buying the IO Nielson Vineyard Viognier 2007. It was delicious! I'm really into Viognier right now. My wine rack is seeing an increase in the number of bottles filled with this yummy grape.
I think 5 wineries in one day is a great effort! I am definitely planning another trip out to this region. It was visually breathtaking and mouthwatering delicious. These are the wineries that I hope to visit on that next trip:
Also, the town of Solvang, a cute Danish-inspired town. It's a must!
Visit the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail:
For more information about the Santa Barbara Wine Region:
I just had to throw this in:
Yes that's right! You can tour every location from the film "Sideways". I have to do that next time I'm in the area.
In my honest opinion, I found the geography of the Santa Barbara wine country to be more beautiful than both Sonoma and Napa. Maybe I'm just a more rustic-kind-of-gal. Sure, you don't see the grand estates like you do in Napa but this region is breathtaking in a different way with fantastic wines to back it up. Sadly, I didn't run into Miles...maybe next time! I also drank some wonderful Merlot. Shhh.