Santa Barbara County Wineries
After sleeping in and enjoying some grub at Pete’s Pierside Cafe in Avila Beach, it was time to get back to wine-tasting. This time, the WWG headed south to Santa Barbara county, the area immortalized in the Academy award-winning movie, Sideways. My travel buddy and I had already staged our own Pinot Noir and Merlot showdown prior to this trip down the coast (conclusion – our Pinot was better on its own and the Merlot was better with our pizza), so we didn’t feel compelled to revisit the debate on our travels. Besides, Santa Barbara County’s wine country has so much more to offer than just Pinot.
Kenneth Volk Vineyards
Experience – The WWG started on the northern end in the county with this diverse wine producer. The usual suspects of wine varietals (including Chardonnary, Pinot Noir, Merlot, and Zinfindel) were all accounted for, but the ‘heirloom’ grapes really were the impetus for the visit. In particular, the WWG was eager to taste an American version of Verdelho, especially after being introduced to (and falling head over heels for) the varietal in Australia this past January. Perhaps expectations were too high or the Michael Bolton and Celine Dion that were traveling over the airwaves at KVV ruined the vibe, but Volk’s Verdelho wasn’t the clear winner of the tasting. In fact, the WWG went with an old standard, Chardonnay, which was also a significantly better value wine than the Verdehlo.
WWG Purchased – 2007 Chardonnay, Santa Maria Cuvee ($24/bottle)
Details – 5230 Tepusquet Road, $10 tasting fee includes wine glass, daily tastings from 10:30am to 4:30pm.
Foxen (7200 – ‘The Shack’)
Experience – The owners of this winery must be kicking themselves for building a new state of the art tasting facility, as it appears to be routinely avoided in favor of the original shack down the road. ‘The Shack’ has a relaxing tasting area with umbrellas for guests seeking refuge from the warm sunshine. Unfortunately, it doesn’t offer the Pinot Noir that Robert Parker praises so warmly on the winery’s home page. The WWG was also disappointed not to see Chenin Blanc on either Foxen tasting facility’s menu. Hopefully, that will change soon, as the rest of ‘The Shack’s’ offerings were lackluster besides a big Cabernet Sauvignon ($50 per bottle) and the WWG’s key dessert wine weakness, port.
WWG Purchased – 2007 Mission ($30 per bottle; Port-style with ‘native’ Cali grapes.)
Details – 7200 Foxen Canyon Road. $10-$12 tastings available, including wine glass and (fake) tattoo. Daily tastings from 11am-4pm.
Zaca Mesa – WWG’s Favorite in Santa Barbara County!
Experience – Given this winery’s history with the grape, the WWG entered Zaca Mesa expecting to taste killer Syrah. Although not blown away by the Syrah, I loved, loved, loved nearly everything else at this winery. The ambiance was wonderful, from the stylish tasting room and outdoor picnic area with great hillside views in the distance. The value of the wine was great, too, especially compared to the other wineries on this trip; most bottles were in the $16-$28 range. And most importantly after tasting 8 wines, it was a struggle figuring out which one to buy because there were so many fantastic options. The WWG highly recommends visiting Zaca Mesa when in Santa Barbara County.
WWG Purchased – 2007 Estate Roussane ($25 per bottle) – This bottle was the second Roussane purchased on the trip (the first was a blend from Paso’s Denner Vineyards), so keep an eye out for Roussane if you are looking for a full-figured (in terms of mouth feel) yet elegant white. We definitely reached the ‘promised land’ when drinking it here, just as Zaca Mesa suggested with its description of apricots, figs, and honey on the wine’s nose.
Details – 6905 Foxen Canyon Road, $10 tasting fee including glass, daily tastings from 10am to 4pm.
Experience – Koehler had a tough act to follow, but it came very highly recommended by a close friend and fellow wine enthusiast from home. The WWG and travel buddy were able to drink dueling flights even with a blind first taste. In what became a trend, the cheaper (in price) wine won the first battle, and the WWG (with my cheaper list) wound up with 5 winners out of 6 tastes. So don’t be afraid of ’value’ wines at Koehler. They are great and are even helping Koehler start to rack up big Wine Enthusiast Magazine points and other awards.
WWG Purchased – 2008 Grenache Estate ($25/bottle)
Details – 5360 Foxen Canyon Road, $10 tasting fee including glass, daily tastings 10am-5pm.
Evening Resting Place = Solvang’s Hadsten House, which has tastings in the evening and breakfast included in the room cost.
Evening Dinner Place = Root 246 in the Corque Hotel. WWG’s wine tip for this restaurant - stick with the wines by the glass and beware of the half bottle prices. Fried chicken and mashed potatoes were elevated here, but they were still just plain delicious!