Last weekend, the Santa Ynez Valley played host to the first ever Key to Wine Country wine weekend, a three day jam packed weekend filled with wine related events centered around unlocking some of the hidden treasures that Santa Barbara has to offer. With numerous possible events to attend at over 30 different wineries, the Key to Wine Country got off to a great start and the weekend proved this new event has all the potential to become a main staple in the Valley.
While I was only able to make it to the Sunday events, the entire weekend was filled with numerous winery open houses with special library offerings, vineyard walks, picnic lunches, winemaker seminars and barrel tastings.
My first stop for the weekend was Fess Parker for a horseback ride through Santa Ynez back country and through Fess Parker’s own Rodney’s Vineyard. Hosted by Vino Vaqueros, a local company that organizes frequent horseback riding trips throughout Santa Ynez, the hour and a half early afternoon trail ride offered a leisurely ride with breathtaking views of the Valley. Alongside rides through the Fess Parker vineyards, Vino Vaqueros also offers rides through the Estelle vineyard and soon, the Firestone vineyard.
A bit further down Highway 246 in Lompoc, Zotovich Winery opened their doors for an open house that featured some excellent older vintages poured alongside current releases. The 2010 Zotovich Estate Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir I sampled was simply stunning so of course a bottle found its way home with me.
I then headed over to Buellton to take part in Cold Heaven Cellars’ interactive wine tasting that involved identifying various aromas in an attempt to better understand the typical tasting notes in an exercise they called their “Rhone Scentual Experience.” A truly unique event, this tasting gave participants the chance to discover wine aromas for themselves by smelling individual mason jars of some of the more common aromas found in wine. On the red wine table, there were jars of fresh berries, black pepper, leather, and cinnamon that matched their Syrah perfectly. On the white wine table, jars of dried apricots, beeswax and vanilla mirrored the aromas offered by the Late Harvest Viognier. While one was free to work alone to discover the aromas they felt matched best, Kara from Cold Heaven was on hand to help guide tasters to the aromas best represented by each wine.
Following the tasting, I headed down the road to the Buellton Bodegas. Normally a private facility, the Bodegas opened their doors to the public with a special afternoon of pizza by Solvang’s Cecco alongside wines by those wineries who utilize the facility including Bonaccorsi, Liquid Farm and Larner Vineyard.
Liquid Farm is a perennial favorite of mine, producing elegant Chablis-style Chardonnay out of the Sta. Rita Hills. While normally producing solely whites, this year they released a fantastic rosé of Mourvèdre sourced from Happy Canyon. I was lucky enough to be invited back into the winery by owner Jeff Nelson for some barrel samples of their next vintage which is sure to be a very exciting release.
I next tasted through the lineup of another favorite of mine, Larner Wines, with winemaker Michael Larner, whose wines were, as can be expected, phenomenal. An interesting Malvasia Bianca and a Reserve Syrah from the newest Santa Barbara AVA, Ballard Canyon, are both definitely worth searching out.
For those who missed out on this special weekend, fear not – the Santa Barbara Vintners Association has scheduled a repeat occurrence December 6th-8th. Can’t wait until then? Check out the Sta. Rita Hills Wine and Fire weekend on August 16th – 17th and the Santa Barbara Harvest Festival taking place October 10th-13th.
For tickets to Sta. Rita Hills Wine and Fire click here
For Harvest Festival tickets and information click here
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