What to Drink Now: Santa Barbara County and the Santa Ynez Valley

Vineyards at Melville

The wineries in Santa Barbara County may not be as publicized as some of their friends up the road in Napa or Sonoma, though Sideways did help make towns like Solvang a destination instead of just a stop over.

Santa Barbra County wineries are producing stellar, high quality wine from local vineyards with a focus on Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Rhone varietals, especially smoky, spicy Syrah.  Still a young region, it is not uncommon to see vineyards bookended by large cattle ranches instead of just seeing a spread of vineyard after vineyard, and the laid back attitude of Southern California permeates the air throughout the County.  The oldest winery established in the area was aptly named Santa Barbara Winery located in the heart of downtown Santa Barbara, but some of the real stars of the region are coming out of the Santa Ynez Valley.  I visited a handful recently that left me wanting more and anticipating my next trip to the region.

Foley Estate

Started in 1996 Foley Estates is one of the largest in the region, with their estate winery under the Foley Family of Wines umbrella, as well as Lincourt, Firestone and Curtis in the region.  Though all a part of the same brand, each offers something different to the consumer, i.e. the Lincourt wines being affordable and approachable, producing many different varietals; the Foley Estate wines being a bit more refined and elegant, and primarily offering Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  The Lincourt Sauvignon Blanc is a subtle wine with a well rounded palate filled with passion fruit, melon and tropical fruit.  The Lincourt Pinot Noir has similar coastal influences that can be found in some Pinot Noir from Sonoma, with violets and wild flower aromas and big berry flavors.  A great Pinot Noir for about $30 a bottle.  Foley’s Barrel Select Pinot Noir comes from the best 15 barrels of Pinot Noir produced each year.  The 2008 was rich with cedar and cola aromas with cola, bing cherry and strawberry on the palate.  More on Foley in an upcoming post.

Melville Winery

Melville has been a favorite winery of mine since their first releases in the early 2000’s, so it was a treat to visit their beautiful property in Santa Ynez.  Known for their Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, I have always been a fan of their Syrah and was ecstatic to try the 2008 Donna Syrah.  A big, meaty wine with lots of smoky, spicy aromas leading to cherry, black pepper and maple on the palate.  An incredible wine that is only available at the winery, and unfortunately the current release is sold out, but their website allows you to sign up to receive notification on the next release.

The 2009 Carrie’s Pinot Noir is a beautiful garnet colored wine with raspberry, vanilla and cedar on the palate.

Bridlewood Estate made a decision in 2010 to really invest in their property, people and processes, improving the well established product they already had, to ensure that everyone who visits their winery or tastes their wine has the best experience possible.  And the wine shows it.

Though their Santa Lucia Highlands Reserve Pinot Noir doesn’t come from vineyards in the area, it is wonderful with lots of cherry, cola, spice and berry with both subtlety and power.

The Six Gun Syrah was the favorite, bold and intense with earthy aromas balanced with black cherry and smoke.

Blue Cheese Souffle by Chef Bradley Ogden

Over dinner at Chef Bradley Ogden’s Root 246 we enjoyed a lively Qupe Syrah.  I have been drinking Qupe for years, it used to be the by the glass Syrah at Ferre in West Village back in the day.  Paired with dishes ranging from a savory blue cheese souffle with fresh rhubarb and strawberries to heirloom greens from local farms to a mammoth pork chop with fava bean tortellini this wine was the perfect match.  Fruit forward with plum, blackberry and a layer of spice on the finish.

Conway Family Wines is just opening their tasting room in Santa Barbara proper.  Their Deep Sea wine is a great example of how coastal influences can really impact a wine.  Their Central Coast Chardonnay is filled with mineral, flint, big citrus and tropical fruit notes.  Their red blend of  predominantly Syrah with Petit Sirah, Lagrein, Merlot and Mourvedre is filled with big black fruit, rose petal, smoke and lavender, but the real stunner comes from their Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir.  Bing cherry, raspberry and blackberry with lots of cola, cedar and a hint of baking spices like nutmeg and clove.  Their tasting room is set to open in the next few weeks, just in time for summer travelers to this beautiful region.

One comment on “What to Drink Now: Santa Barbara County and the Santa Ynez Valley

  1. I’m very familiar with the wines from the Central Coast of California and although we grew great Syrah grapes at our vineyard in the Russian River area of Healdsburg in Northern California personally, I always preferred the Syrah’s of Santa Barbara County and especially those from the Santa Ynez Valley. Arguably, the best in the world.
    Thanks for the article, Hayley.