When recently given the option of doing any weekender trip in Southern California I replied with no doubt whatsoever: “Santa Barbara wine tasting!”
Rolling hills, cowboys herding cattle on horseback, and rows and rows of vineyards with tasting rooms. Just 35 miles north of Santa Barbara, wine tasting from the Santa Rita Hills to the Santa Ynez Valley combines all of the awesome elements that I embrace through the Edible Skinny: learning how what we put in our mouth is made, exploring the art of craft, and gaining knowledge that gives us the wisdom to decide what we should eat and drink.
Our first stop for the wine tasting weekend was Firestone Winery (5000 Zaca Station Road in Los Olivos). The tasting room on the vineyard only does tastings of wine (if you want to do beer you need to go into Buelton to it's Tap Room.) Established in 1972 as Santa Barbara’s County’s first estate winery, Firestone Vineyards specializes in Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot.
We did the $10 tasting which offered a Gewurztraminer, Chardonnay, Riesling, Merlot, Cab, and Syrah. It was interesting to note that at Firestone between tastings they washed out their wine tastings glasses with wine instead of water because they felt that it allowed for a cleaner glass.
For me, the breakout bottle was the 2009 Gewurztraminer; dry and crisp, zesty and tangy with notes of citrus such as Tangerine and Pink Grapefruit: it had the potential to go great with spicy food. And at $14 a bottle (less if you join the Firestone Cellar Club) it was almost a steal.
Firestone was sold to the Foley Family Wine Group in 2007 (which also includes Chalk Hill, Eos, Kuleto, Lincourt, and Sebastiani in California, and Three Rivers in Washington State) so paying for a tasting at Firestone entitled us to a free tasting at Foley Estates which we totally took advantage of the next day. (Foley also houses a tasting room for the amazing amazing Los Olivos Olive Oil Company (which you’ll learn about in another post.))
Foley Estates Vineyard and Winery located in Lompoc (6121 East Highway 246) is nestled in the Santa Rita Hills, one of California’s smaller AVA (an acronym for American Viticulture Area, which is American version the appellation system. Unlike Europe, where there are tons of rules, in America the only requirement is that 85% of the wine must have come from grapes grown within the geographical AVA boundaries). This area is exposed to daily fog and coastal breezes from the nearby Pacific Ocean, helping to build up complex flavors which are found in the Chardonnay, Pinot Noirs, and Syrah’s that Foley is known for.
Our tasting (a Rose, 2 Chardonnays, and 3 Pinot Noirs) had some great wines. My sister was in love with the 2009 New Release Chardonnay, Rancho Santa Rosa which was buttery to the core. Full of flavors of toast and vanilla this wine had a lovely long finish that showed our taste buds the difference between a $30 bottle of Chardonnay and Colombia Crest. I instead fell in love with the 2009 Pinot Noir, Bar Lazy S which tasted of both smoke and the sea. Caramel, Oregano, Vanilla, and Plum this wine was a symphony in your mouth!