If there was ever any doubt that Santa Barbara was anything but a premiere wine making region, then last month’s series of wine themed events hosted throughout the Santa Ynez Valley were more than enough to position the region as one of California’s greatest treasures.
Last month, the Valley played host to two jam packed weekends of wining and dining, with events highlighting the rich history of Santa Ynez as a winemaking region as well as celebrating the future!
The festivities began with the 33rd annual Santa Barbara Vintner’s Spring Weekend, which was reconfigured this year to include a series of winemaker dinners, vineyard hikes and educational activities alongside the annual walk-around grand tasting, held this year at Buellton’s own River View Park.
I began my wine-filled weekend with a hike through the Purisima Mountain Vineyard with none other than Beckmen Winery’s own, Steve Beckmen. With multiple wine and food stations positioned throughout the vineyard and stops to enjoy the exquisite views of the valley and inspect the numerous rows of vines, it was quite easy to forget that I had just hiked up an entire mountain. Steve was an entertaining host and filled the hike with stories about the winemaking process, his work in the vineyards, and why being biodynamic/organic means so much to him. We were able to enjoy numerous tastes along the way of Beckmen’s prized Rhone varieties. There really is something special about tasting a delicious Grenache while overlooking the very vines that produced it.
For a change of scenery, after the hike I headed down to Santa Barbara for the very first 90+ Wine Dinner and Sparkling Soiree. Held at the Fess Parker Doubletree Resort outside in the gorgeous pavilion, the 90+ Wine Dinner celebrated many of the Santa Barbara wineries which have received 90 point scores or higher from one of the many reputable wine critics. While hardly a dinner, the walk around tasting featured tiny bites from several local restaurants as well as both winery favorites such as Melville, Foxen and Kaena. A rooftop sparkling soiree preceded the event, acting as a welcoming reception for guests and winemakers alike.
The following morning, Santa Ynez newcomer Pence Ranch opened their doors to the public for an inside look at both their forthcoming tasting room and their estate vineyards. A local favorite of mine, Pence Ranch was quite the host, offering complimentary wine tastings, Santa Maria style tri-tip sandwiches and vineyard tours. The only ones more friendly than owner Blair Pence were the pack of Rhodesian Ridgebacks and Mastiff that greeted entering visitors. The wine was stellar as always and with the assumption of rock star wine legend Sashi Moorman as their head winemaker, I can’t even fathom the heights these wines will reach!
Following the open house was the Vintners’ Festival Grand Tasting, which was as could be expected: a large gathering of the region’s top wine producers, filled with all the wine you could possibly enjoy and more.
The following weekend, Santa Barbara darling Les Marchands, run by local somms Brian McClintic and Eric Railsback, played host to the second annual Santa Barbara Futures Tasting, an event highlighting both the newcomers in the winemaking world as well as their 2013 unreleased wines.
Highlights included the always delicious Grenache and Syrah offerings of Blake Sillix of Sillix Wine, an awesome Gruner from Tatomer Winery, and an orange wine from Sashi Moorman, soon to be released under his Piedrasassi label. Yet while the tasting was enjoyable, it was the winemaker’s dinner hosted the night before that really stole the show. A Burgundian harvest style dinner had attendees bring a favorite bottle of Santa Barbara wine to share which ranged from great everyday drinking wine to magnum and library wines of the many winemakers present’s personal collections. Served alongside a hearty tri-tip feast, the night ended with a Burgundy tradition: a sabering of a Champagne bottle by none other than Wenzlau Vineyard’s own Bill Wenzlau.
The two weekends’ many events served to highlight the very best that Santa Barbara Wine Country has to offer, ranging from relaxing vineyard visits to swanky ocean front soirees, all united around celebrating the great wines and the great people who make them.
Stay Tuned: To get in on the next Santa Ynez Valley wine-filled weekend, check out the newly introduced Key to Santa Barbara, held on June 20-22nd. Available for the incredibly reasonable price of $100 for the entire weekend, every “key” purchase allows the holder access to a list of numerous winery hosted events held over the three day weekend. Events range from special library tastings, food pairings, cellar tours, vineyard walks, and luncheons and dinners with winemakers.
A list of featured events can be found here:
For ticket purchases, click here.