Friday, December 01, 2006

Tasting Wine in Santa Barbara

Thursday we drove out to spend the day in Santa Barbara, dividing our time between two of the county's appellations: Santa Ynez and Santa Rita Hills. We tasted some great wine--too much for just one post. For your designated driver (if you are lucky enough to have one) there's good shopping in the area, and beautiful early winter landscapes to soothe the soul, so it's definitely worth a trip if you're in southern California or the central coast. I hope that readers who regularly make day-trips out to the area will post their own itinerary suggestions in the comments.

Here I've jotted down some general points about making day trips out to Santa Barbara. It can be difficult to figure out where to go and what to see because the viticultural areas span well over 50 miles north and west of Santa Barbara, which makes it important to target your areas carefully. The internet is not always a lot of help--despite the popularity of the movie Sideways. Of course there is a site that tells you where the movie was shot, and it gives maps and mini winery descriptions (click here), but the directions provided are not reliable at all so make sure that you have a good map of local vineyards. The one I've posted here is from the Santa Barbara County Wine Guide which is hands down the best and most comprehensive guide to the area that I was able to find online. It is produced by the Santa Barbara Vintner's association, has downloadable maps of all three major appellations, and extensive lists of wineries and tasting rooms and their hours.

Because the wineries are so spread out, we picked the two southernmost appellations, the Santa Rita Hills AVA and the Santa Ynez AVA. Appellation America has a great site that explains the differences between the two AVAs (American Viticultural Appellations). The Santa Ynez AVA has the largest concentration of wineries in the county, and is especially appropriate for Rhone varietals, and in some areas they are planting pinot noir and chardonnay. The Santa Rita Hills AVA, on the other hand, has much more of a marine influence and pinot noir and chardonnay predominate, though vintners are planting and growing increasing amounts of syrah. Targeting these two appellations provided us with a good range of wines to taste, and a reasonable distance to cover in about five hours.

Our experiences taking folks wine-tasting up north in Napa and Sonoma convinced us that when it comes to day-trips devoted to tasting wine, less is often more. There is nothing worse than racing from one winery to another, gulping down pours, rushing through some notes, picking up your "complimentary" glasses (when and why did this become pervasive?) to help you remember the experience, and bolting out the door. You don't remember anything, you get major palate fatigue unless you are really used to tasting 60 wines in a day, and you don't enjoy yourself. Who needs that? Of course, if you are making a big trip across country or across the world, you might feel differently. But we target 3-4 places usually for a day, and that's it. As it was, we tasted 19 wines in just three tasting rooms--more than enough for a full day, if you include the all-important lunch pit stop and covering 30 miles in between wineries.

Tomorrow I'll put up the tasting notes for the wines we had, and some impressions of the wineries themselves. And if you're interested in wine and travel, be sure to click over to Brooklynguy's site and check out his posts about his recent trip to Burgundy. They're really good--almost like being there!


Brooklynguy said...

Hi Doc - I was wondering where you went. Glad you took it out to the road. Thanks for the nice comment and the link to my Burgundy trip posts. I am looking forward to hearing more about your trip.

Credit Score Online said...

The photo of the map is really helpful. I was there last year but got lost and by the time I found the wineries, they were already closed :(