the 17-foot olive tree, is the focal point at Alma
Rosa's new tasting room in Buellton, Calif., on May
"Sideways" and pinot.
varietals rule in Santa Barbara County. Ballard Canyon is
Rhone central. The Santa Maria Valley is a rising
chardonnay mecca. The vibe is hip and the energy electric.
years post-"Sideways," Santa Barbara County’s
wine country has exploded. When the wine flick debuted in
2004, there were 85 wine tasting rooms. Today, there are
at least 150, and much of that growth has come in the past
five years. Yet vintners say Santa Barbara County is still
a young and undiscovered wine region.
now is the time to discover it, before the crowds descend.
We’ve put together an itinerary that takes you from
Santa Maria Valley to Santa Ynez Valley, through little
hamlets and lively towns, sipping and noshing along the
way at some of the newest and most exciting spots.
that winemaker Clarissa Nagy has opened her own label’s
tasting room in this small, unincorporated town in the
northwest corner of Santa Barbara County, you’ll want to
exit Highway 101 and head straight for this inviting
boutique tasting room in Orcutt.
grapevines, sans leaves, provide eye-catching, twinkle-lit
accents on one wall. An art piece of woven wine barrel
staves covers another. The tasting bar is actually a sleek
glass and steel table, where you’ll find Nagy pouring
her pinot blanc, viognier, pinot noir and syrah most
weekday, Nagy is the winemaker for Riverbench Vineyard
& Winery in the Santa Maria Valley, where the focus is
chardonnay, pinot noir and sparkling wines. Nagy’s Rhone
varietals are a departure for her. She launched her label
in 2004 and opened her tasting room last fall. Nagy is
part of a complex that’s home to several other wineries,
including William James Cellars, Core Wine Company and
Lucia’s Wine Company, making this a great starting point
for our Santa Barbara wine country adventure. Next stop:
sips: The beautiful aromas of the 2013 White Hawk Vineyard
Viognier ($24) boast honeysuckle and jasmine, ripe yellow
peach and a back note of stony minerality. The 2012 White
Hawk Vineyard Syrah ($48) is rich and full-bodied, with
velvety violets and ripe black berry fruits sprinkled with
black pepper. Minutes after you swirl the wine in the
glass, a savory bacon and smoke note rises.
details: $10 tasting fee for four wines. Open 1-5 p.m.
Wednesday-Thursday, 1-6 p.m. Friday, noon-6 p.m. Saturday
and by appointment Monday and Tuesday. 145 S. Gray St.,
Suite 103, Orcutt; www.nagywines.com.
Alamos, a sleepy wine country town, is becoming a hot
location for wineries and artisan food producers. Even so,
the tasting room for Municipal Winemakers, which opened in
September, is in a most unlikely spot. The dark green,
one-room structure sits on the Alamo Motel’s front lawn.
You’d drive right by, were it not for the chalkboard
sign on the sidewalk.
this little house, the wood is left bare, a backdrop for
the tasting menu written in chalk, and a rustic contrast
to the sleek wine labels. Municipal’s name conjures
images of city utilities, like municipal water works—and
winemaker Dave Potter’s labels are bold, eye-catching
and almost industrial, with names that tell you exactly
what’s in the bottle: Bright White, Pale Pink, Bright
room manager Vanessa Price pours five tastes and chats you
up about the wines. No fancy wine speak here; everything
is "delicious" and "pretty yummy."
Once you’ve tasted through the wines, you can buy a
glass or a bottle and sit outside with a picnic. And soon,
Municipal will be front and center to a newly renovated
sips: Prices are reasonable for the quality of the wines.
The crisp 2014 Pale Pink ($22) sells out quickly, thanks
to its strawberry, pomegranate and watermelon flavors with
a dash of spice. The 2013 Grenache ($27) fills the mouth
with rich black fruit and spice. Our favorite is the MCS
($27) a savory wine that explodes with earthy, deep, dark
details: Taste by the flight ($12 for five wines) or the
glass ($10-$11). Open noon-7 p.m. Friday-Sunday. 425 Bell
St., Los Alamos; www.municipalwinemakers.com. This winery
also has a tasting room in downtown Santa Barbara.
west on Highway 246 to enter a wilder area of this wine
country—the Sta. Rita Hills, an area many winemakers
consider one of the best regions for growing chardonnay
and pinot noir. One of the valley’s newest wineries lies
beyond a substantial wood and rusted metal gate: Hilliard
Bruce, a ranch that’s home to grapevines and horses.
Husband-and-wife owners John Hilliard and Christine Bruce
favor Burgundian-style wines, but they want theirs to
reflect their vineyards. Hilliard makes pinot noir; Bruce
often start in the stable’s courtyard, then move on to
Hilliard and Bruce’s winery, a contemporary structure
that’s all glass and rusted steel, with LED light panels
that change from blue to green and pink in a colorful
show. It’s the county’s first LEED Silver certified
winery. Solar panels produce 85 percent of the ranch’s
electricity, and a water reclamation system captures
runoff during harvest and day-to-day winery production.
sips: Bruce’s 2012 Chardonnay ($45) has aromas of orange
blossoms and lemon citrus. It’s an elegant wine, with a
soft mouthfeel and mineral notes. Hilliard’s 2011 Sky
Vineyard Pinot Noir ($55) is fresh, with rhubarb and
pomegranate fruit flavors, a hint of ginger spice and a
details: Tasting details vary. Open by appointment. Call
805-736-5366 or email firstname.lastname@example.org;
huge brown and white cow stands guard at the entrance to
Buellton’s Industrial Eats. Chef Jeff Olsson’s
year-old eatery is home to artisan butchers and pizza
makers. The menu, jotted on butcher paper and hung on a
wall, is divided into "Pizza" and "Not
Pizza," which includes bruschetta, salads and
sandwiches. And the libations include local vino served on
tap ($9 a glass) and local craft brews ($6).
a seat at a communal table or near the wood-fired ovens,
where you can watch the show. Nearly everything on the
menu gets the oven-roasted treatment.
fava and ricotta bruschetta ($8) is spring on a plate:
Toasted bread is smeared with creamy ricotta and topped
with bright green fava beans, shoots and greens. We loved
the slightly sweet, spicy and earthy flavors of the
Indian-inspired cauliflower ($9) with vadouvan curry,
cashews and raisins.
most popular pizza on the menu—braised wild boar ($14)
— was sold out on our visit, so we consoled ourselves
with the fennel sausage, tomato and mozzarella pie ($14).
The perfectly blistered dough was crisp and chewy, and the
housemade sausage added a spicy, meaty kick.
the sandwich board, the beef and ricotta meatball marinara
($15) is a substantial serving, with three big meatballs
and pecorino on a toasty baguette. And the rich, housemade
pate banh mi ($15) is creamy, decadent and divine.
out for a wine country picnic? Industrial Eats a has a
deli case full of artisan cheeses, housemade charcuterie
and local fish and meats to go.
details: Open daily 10 a.m.-9 p.m. 181 Industrial Way,
Alma Rosa Vineyards & Winery
full bellies, head next door to Alma Rosa. A Buellton
warehouse may seem an unlikely spot for a winery tasting
room, but from the moment you see the 17-foot tall olive
tree in the middle of the tasting room, you know you’re
in for an interesting experience.
no tasting bar in sight, just a long wooden bench,
ottomans, wood tables with metal stools, and a large
canvas with images of clouds. A large skylight lets the
sunshine in, bathing the room in natural light. A massive
concrete fireplace draws you into the backroom, where
there’s a table for 14.
idea was to bring the country into an urban space,"
says owner and winemaker Richard Sanford. He is one of the
region’s wine pioneers, the first to plant pinot noir
and chardonnay grapevines here in 1970. His Sanford Winery
opened in 1981 (Terlato Wines owns it now), and he
launched Alma Rosa in 2005. Together with his daughter,
sculptor, photographer and video artist Blakeney Sanford,
Sanford opened Alma Rosa’s new tasting room in December.
7-year-old olive tree—is the main focal point of the
space. For Sanford, it represents nature. The fireplace
represents the hearth. And the timber—for the wall of
wine shelves, the tabletops and the 20-foot long bench
running along one wall—all came from the original
Sanford tasting room. The rocks at the base of the tall
tables and the grapevine trunks on display all come from
Sanford’s ranch, where the El Jabali Vineyard is
planted, one of the sources for the Alma Rosa wines.
that large "painting" of clouds is actually a
time-lapse video installation, shot by Blakeney at the
Sanford ranch. Look closely, and you’ll see clouds
moving, birds flying and the light changing.
sips: Rich with white floral and nectarine aromas, the
2013 Santa Barbara County Pinot Gris ($19) has a nice
weighty body balanced by bright acidity. The 2014 Pinot
Noir Vin Gris ($30), a lighter style rose, is lively with
strawberry and raspberry notes and a spicy finish. Our
favorite pinot was the 2011 Mount Eden clone Pinot Noir
from the El Jabali Vineyard ($45), with brambly notes of
black cherry and black plum fruit accented with baking
details: Open 11 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, until 7
p.m. Friday-Saturday. The classic tasting is $12 for five
wines; the reserve tasting is $15. 181 Industrial Way,
Andrew Murray Vineyards
Alma Rosa, it’s an easy hop east to Los Olivos, where
the Andrew Murray Vineyards tasting room represents a new
vintage for its owner. Murray is celebrating the 25th
anniversary of his eponymous label this year—and the
first anniversary of his new Santa Ynez Valley tasting
you’re familiar with this area, you may recognize the
address as the Firestone family’s former Curtis Winery
tasting room. But extensive renovations have turned the
space into a fresh, hip destination. There’s a
traditional tasting bar, but there are also comfy leather
chairs and a leather scrap shag carpet underfoot, which
lends a mod vibe. The dramatic dark wood on the walls,
flooring and custom table tops is reclaimed European oak.
Metal accents on tables and sconces give the place an
edgy, industrial aesthetic. And the sound system that
Murray, an audiophile of the first order, installed
throughout the tasting room and patios, pulses with tracks
from the Pandora station "Broods," including
"Beggin for Thread" by Banks and
"Fifteen" by Goldroom Feat.
indoors or decamp to the terrace or patio and enjoy sips
outside. And bring the family. Murray stocked a bin full
of gift bags, stuffed with arts and crafts materials.
"We figured the parents would stay longer," he
Rhone tasting flight ($20 for 5 wines) includes chocolate
pairings, with four truffles from Santa Barbara
chocolatier Jessica Foster matched to four of the wines.
We especially liked the 2013 Curtis Estate Grenache paired
with the milk-chocolate cinnamon-apple truffle, which
played up the spice in both.
sips: We were enchanted with the 2013 Enchanté ($25), an
aromatic white blend of roussanne and grenache blanc, with
notes of white flowers, blood orange and stone fruits. We
loved the 2013 Roasted Slope ($40), a syrah co-fermented
with viognier in the style of a Côte-Rôtie blend from
the Rhone Valley. It has a complex nose of violet, earth
and black pepper, and rich blackberry, black plum and
earthy flavors that linger.
details: The new tasting room is open 10:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m.
at 5249 Foxen Canyon Road in Los Olivos. You also can
taste Andrew Murray wines at his downtown Los Olivos
tasting room from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily at 2901A Grand
The Bubble Shack
can’t help but think of the B-52’s "Love
Shack" when you see this tasting room sign. This may
not be the love shack, but it is a "funky little
shack," home to sparkling wines. And it really is a
shack, albeit a little more fancy than the name suggests,
set off the courtyard of the Epiphany Cellars tasting
room. Both wine brands are owned by the Fess Parker
family, a collaboration by Parker’s children, Ashley
Parker Snider and Eli Parker.
wanted this to feel like a garden cottage," Snider
its whitewashed walls and garden tables repurposed as a
tasting bar, the 4-month-old shack is charming. Retro
metal cabinets are stocked with bottles of sparkling wine
and glasses, old wooden windows are transformed into
mirrors and a water trough has been converted into an
icing bin. It’s bubbly chic.
wines are made in the traditional method of Champagne, but
there’s nothing stuffy here. In fact, Sibling Bubblery—a
dark pink sparkler—is completely nontraditional.
"It looks dangerously like Cold Duck," Snider
says, "but tastes nothing like it."
lots of fun to be had at The Bubble Shack, even for kids.
A bubble machine will keep them entertained while parents
sip adult bubbles inside or relax on the patio.
sips: In addition to Sibling Bubblery, you can try the
2013 Blanc de Blancs ($37), a 100 percent chardonnay
sparkler with classic apple and pear notes and a toasty,
yeasty note. The 2013 Brut Rose ($40) is made from 100
percent pinot noir, with raspberry and blood orange
aromas, tart raspberry and cranberry fruit flavors and a
bright, tangy finish.
details: Open 11 a.m.-4 p.m. weekends. Tastings are $12
for three wines. 2970 Grand Ave., Los Olivos;