Mrs.Wine Guy and I had a few free days between the holidays so we took a couple of those days to do some wine tasting in Santa Barbara county. It is one of our favorite places to go because first and foremost the wine is always good, the scenery is beautiful, it is not crowed, and the tasting fees and wine prices are generally reasonable.Day one we focused on some old favorites and made a new discovery along the Foxen Canyon Road, and day two we visited the Lompoc Wine Ghetto. We also made a stop at the Hitching Post Restaurant/Winery in Buellton.The Hitching Post you may recall is the restaurant where the Virginia Madsen (Maya) character works in the movie Sideways. The movie is credited with putting Santa Barbara wines on the map, increasing the popularity of Pinot Noir, and killing the demand for Merlot (If you have seen the movie you understand). The restaurant features steaks grilled over an open oak fueled fire and a variety of other dishes. Their roasted garlic is not to be missed. They also produce their own wines, mostly Pinot Noir. If selecting one of their Pinot’s I would stick with one of their blends like Hometown ($20) , Cork Dancer ($29). Their prices are more reasonable than the single vineyard selections (@$42) and the you will enjoy them every bit as much. If you go in the summer and want to bring back a souvenir then pick up a bottle of “Pinks” rose ($15). I love rose and this one is quite enjoyable.
On our trip along Foxen Canyon Road we visited two old friends and made a new one. Our old friends are Koehler and Rancho Sisquoc. Their tasting rooms are inviting and the friendly staff always makes it a great experience. Koehler hired a new winemaker a couple of years ago and they are producing more and more red blends. The star of this visit for us was a red blend called. “Rebel” ($48) comprised of 60% Cabernet and 40% Syrah. We also enjoyed their “Accomplice” (62% Syarh 38% Grenache, $42). They also produce a nice Chardonnay that has just a touch of oak that is quite nice ($24).
Rancho Sisquoc features great wines at great prices. In addition to all the better known varietals try their Sisquoc River Red ($20) or their Tre Vin ($18, 54% Sangiovese, 31% Petit Verdot, 15% Petit Sirah). If you want to try a unique white try their Sylvaner ($14). Sylvaner is a grape not generally planted in the US that is widely planted in Germany. Unlike other german wines in is generally dry. It’s kinda sorta like chardonnay but is crisper and a little tart. If you visit make sure you give it a try.Our new friend on Foxen Canyon Road is Demetria. Unlike Rancho Sisquoc their prices fall outside of reasonable. Their tasting fee is $20 per person (as opposed to $10 at most other places) and they make a point to tell you that it does NOT include a souvenir logo glass. They feature Burgundy and Rhone style wines with a wide variety of interesting whites, and an amazing view from the courtyard where they do their wine tastings. Unlike other tasting rooms instead of having to take your place at the bar they bring the wine to you at your table. Nothing is under $40 with many wines $50+. All the wines were unique with the stars of the show being the two Pinot Noirs we tasted, the 2012 “Le Belier” and the 2012 “Haleyon Days”. They were like no other Pinots we had ever experienced. Initially they started out softly but the taste grew more intense and flavorful at the finish. At $55 a bottle they are not for everyday consumption but they are definitely worth a splurge.
If you care more about the wine then the experience, the Lompoc Wine Ghetto should be on your list of places to visit. The Wine Ghetto is a nondescript industrial park that several small winemakers have moved into because of its low overhead. What you lose in beautiful surroundings and views of vineyards you gain several tasting rooms in close proximity to one another. In the Ghetto (can’t get the Elvis song out of my head) we visited three tasting rooms Fiddlehead Cellars, Flying Goat, and Moretti.Fiddlehead is the best known of the three. The owners of Fiddlehead own Fiddlestix vineyards one of the most well regarded vineyards in the area. Many of the local wine producers source their grapes for them, Hitching Post being one of them, often naming the wines produced from those grapes “Fiddlestix”. Fiddlehead focuses on sparkling wines and Pinot Noir. We found their sparkling wines disappointing, they were more fizzy then flavorful but we were really impressed with their Pinots. The star of the show is their 728 Pinot (728 being the mile marker on the the road outside of their vineyard). It was fruity without being jammy and was extremely pleasant to drink but at $42 it was a bit pricey. If we had not already blown our splurge budget at Demetria we may have brought home a bottle. Almost as good and $14 cheaper was their “Missing 7 Pinot” (Got its name from it’s $28 price which does not have a “7” like the 728 Pinot, I know too much information). It has both structure and fruitiness and it is quite drinkable and a better value than the 728. .Flying Goat was a disappointment. They focus on Sparkling wines and Pinot. We did not try the sparkling and we found their Pinot to be listless and unremarkable. If we go back we will try the Sparkling.Moretti was our favorite tasting room in the ghetto. Moretti focuses on producing small lot food friendly wines. To back that up they serve cheese, meats, and breads along with their wines. We thought their 2010 Vineyard Pinot Noir ($32) was outstanding as was their 2010 Rosso Mio (60% Dolcetto, 30% Barbara, 10% Nebbiolo, $25). They have a truffle cheese that is amazing and available for sale in the tasting room.We then decided to leave the Ghetto behind and go back out to the countryside for one last tasting. We had been to Rideau Vineyard & Winery several years ago before I had started to study wine and that was the only winery in the area that I had negative feelings about. They specialize in Rhone varietals including several whites and rose wines. I wanted to see if the new me felt any different. Once we got there old memories about the wine came back to haunt me. First of all the place is beautiful, they had a jazz band band playing in the courtyard, and they have a kitchen that makes what looks like wonderful flat breads. A perfect place to have a picnic lunch. We found the wines unremarkable and you can find wine that are as good or better at many other places, like Rancho Sisquoc,at more reasonable prices.Let me know if you have any questions.