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Picnics, Pinots, and Panoramic Views

Touring and tasting through Santa Barbara wine country.
June 25, 2009
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/202412

Picnics, Pinots, and Panoramic Viewsy

Santa Barbara And What Makes A Tasting Room Great
The majestic county of Santa Barbara stretches over four distinct winegrowing regions, two small cities, and several distinct towns--making it an ideal area to investigate what makes a tasting room great.

"When I direct customers to a tasting room, I first ask if they want to walk or drive, as well as what kind of wine they like," says Priscilla Vazquez, Wine Director and Wine Store Manager of Los Olivos Café and Wine Merchant. If they're standing in Priscilla's establishment, they're already in an enviable spot, in the heart of Los Olivos, a center for winery tasting rooms. Wine Merchant offers more than 50 different wines by the glass and they have a tasting available called "Tailor to Your Taste" where you can choose any five wines from the by-the-glass list for $15.

But hitting the road is fun, too. Santa Barbara County's breathtaking countryside teems with tasting rooms just waiting to be discovered. The wine trails wind past pastures of ancient oaks, steadfast cattle, and, of course, rows of hearty grapevines. Designate a driver and reward him or her with a bottle (or more) of wine from the tasting rooms you enjoy most along the way.

Picnic Possibilities
Wine tourers who bring along a basket of cheeses, bread, cold cuts, and fresh salads, watch for wineries with open spaces, large shady trees, and sturdy picnic tables. Many great tasting rooms offer this and more, like memorable views, lawn games, and mood-setting music. Don't miss: Zaca Mesa Winery & Vineyards The oak-shaded picnic site features a life-size chessboard. Around back, there's a short hiking trail that leads to a stunning view. Rusack Vineyards The tasting room is fronted by a redwood deck that overlooks the estate vineyards and the rolling oak-studded hills. Beckmen Vineyards Three gazebos overlook the winery's peaceful duck pond.

Rooms with a View

Whether it's a mountain vista or an urban thoroughfare, a tasting room providing a view gives guests more to drink in and remember. In Santa Barbara County, visitors are treated to vistas of mountains and valleys sprinkled with summer wildflowers. Don't miss: Bridlewood Estate Winery Still a working horse ranch, the tasting room leads to a pleasant courtyard, just steps away from the horse paddocks and lakes encircled by a racetrack. Foley Estates Vineyard & Winery From the Hospitality Center you can take in spectacular vistas of neighboring mountain ranges, coastal oaks, and contoured hillside vines. D'Alfonso~Curran Wines Located on the main drag in the Copenhagen-inspired town of Solvang, this tasting room has expansive picture windows, allowing guests to imagine they've stumbled upon a distinctive tasting room in a European town.

Fun, Knowledgeable Pourers

Tasting room staff members who greet you warmly, ask you about your likes and dislikes, and eagerly answer your questions are key. Wine snobs need not apply, and it seems that very few have in Santa Barbara County, where tasting room personnel are particularly approachable. Don't miss: The Brander Vineyard The winery's pink palace features a congenial tasting room with staff members who not only know the nuances of Brander wines, but often spend their days off touring and tasting themselves. This makes them great resources for deciding where to visit next. Buttonwood Farms Vineyard and Winery Surrounded by lovely gardens and farmyards, the idyllic tasting room is staffed by wine-savvy pourers who encourage tasters to take their time. Costa del Oro Winery & Marketplace offers a unique tasting room experience as a farm fresh produce market complete with field fresh strawberries and a former sommelier manager to expertly guide customers with food pairing suggestions.

Food, Glorious Food

Wine tasting builds a hearty appetite and savvy tasting rooms stand ready to provide some form of sustenance. Some include small displays and coolers with deli meats, cheeses, and crackers, while others go an extra yard. Palmina Wines Based on the philosophy that wine is an extension of the plate, this tiny tasting room located in the Lompoc Wine Ghetto is equipped with a full working kitchen where Italian delicacies often simmer and fill the air. Roblar Winery Spacious and welcoming, the tasting room offers recipes to pair with the wines, plus cooking classes and dinner events every Saturday night. Rideau Winery & Vineyards The festive tasting room has recently opened a bistro featuring Creole-inspired gourmet cuisine to celebrate Co-owner Iris Rideau's New Orleans roots. Customers walk up, order, and then wait to be delighted at quaint wicker tables on the shady wraparound porch.

Savoir Flair!

Beyond fine wine, wine tourers appreciate imagination. Great tasting rooms recognize that they are often one of several stops on a visitor's agenda, and find fun ways to demonstrate their uniqueness. Riverbench Vineyard & Winery Designated drivers can treat themselves to all the Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Rosé they like here, as long as they're Vignette Wine Country Sodas (all natural, non-alcoholic, and made from California grapes!). Carr Vineyards and Winery Known for their fun get-togethers in a downtown Santa Barbara Quonset hut (next to a brewery, to boot), the tasting room offers a series of Friday Flight Nights. Foxen Vineyard Sometimes though, less is more. This rustic country tasting room charms visitors with its relaxed, no-fuss feel and down-to-earth, wine-smart staff.

Walking Distance Only

Some wineries don't wait for the tasters to come to them. In the towns of Santa Maria, Lompoc, Los Olivos, Buellton, and Santa Barbara proper, you can tour and taste without ever getting in your car. Great "urban" tasting rooms are good neighbors. They listen to their guests, learn what wines they like, and suggest other wineries to visit just up the street. Lompoc Wine Ghetto More than 20 wineries make their home in this gritty, industrial park. A handful has tasting rooms including Ampelos Cellars, Fiddlehead Cellars, and Flying Goat Cellars. Los Olivos Promenade has it all. Wine tourers can stay at Fess Parker Wine Country Inn & Spa and visit umpteen tasting rooms including The Bench, Epiphany Cellars, and Daniel Gehrs Wines all on foot.