You don’t have to go far for good wine.
Northern California may get all the credit for great wine in this state, but there are incredible wine experiences much closer to Los Angeles, especially in and around Santa Barbara. An area mostly known for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara County also makes surprisingly noteworthy Rhone and Bordeaux varietals at many of its 283 wineries, and at price points that are much more affordable compared to Norcal’s wine country.
The other great thing about wine tasting in Santa Barbara County is that you can take two approaches: hop between tasting rooms in the Funk Zone and the Presidio in Santa Barbara, or explore the region’s vineyards. In Santa Ynez Valley alone, there are 110 of them, clustered around the tiny towns of Los Olivos, Los Alamos, Ballard, Santa Ynez, Buellton, and Solvang. The valley also has a growing culinary scene that’s starting to get recognition on a national scale, with restaurants like Bell’s in Los Alamos and Coast Range’s Vaquero Bar. Here are nine wineries across Santa Barbara County that are worth making the drive up from LA:
Blair Fox Cellars
Santa Barbara native Blair Fox is the winemaker for Fess Parker Winery and its other labels, Epiphany and The Bubble Shack. All three are worth a taste, but Fox and his wife Sarah have something special happening at Blair Fox Cellars, their ultra-boutique label that focuses on some of the best Syrah coming out of Santa Barbara County, as well as Vermentino and a small amount of Viognier. Some of which are made from grapes on their own private family vineyard.
How to book: Reservations are not required, but are recommended on weekends. Tastings available Thursday-Monday 12–5 pm.
This winery is in the newly designated Alisos Canyon AVA, defined by its high elevation and sandy soil perfect for growing Rhone varietals. The estate-grown reds at this small-production winery truly shine, made even better by the scenery of the ranch: grapes ripening on the vine, horses grazing just beyond, and the mountains rising up all around.
How to book: Tastings are by reservation only, available daily until 5 pm. Book online or call Kristen at 805-570-0443.
Opened in 1996 by Iris Rideau, the first Creole-American woman to own and operate a winery in the U.S., Rideau Vineyard pays tribute to Iris’s New Orleans roots through the music and decor in the tasting room, and through some of the winery’s vintages, like The Brassman Malbec and The French Countess Sauvignon Blanc. The tasting room is nestled in a historic adobe building on a 14-acre, organically farmed estate vineyard. Book a tasting with lunch and you’ll experience a perfectly paired menu, too. Virtual tastings can also be arranged, including six wines in convenient two-ounce vials shipped directly to your doorstep, followed by a one-on-one tasting over Zoom.
How to book: Tastings are available 11am-4pm daily on a reservation-only basis. Book here.
Crown Point, named for its perch in Happy Canyon, isn’t just making the best Cabernet in Santa Barbara County — it’s making some of the best Cab and Bordeaux blends coming out of California, full stop. Experiencing them at the vineyard, sitting atop some of the most beautiful scenery on the Central Coast, is going to cost you, but it’s absolutely worth the splurge.
How to book: Tastings with cheese pairings on the private estate are available Monday through Saturday. All tastings are private, require a two-bottle minimum purchase and must be booked in advance here.
A Tribute to Grace Wine Company
A Tribute to Grace’s winemaker Angela Osborne left her native New Zealand in search of a climate more friendly to growing Grenache. Now, she works only with those grapes, making single-vineyard vintages of sparkling, rose, and many different expressions of red Grenache that, with Osborne’s finesse, somehow all manage to taste completely unique. Their coyly named Space of Grace tasting room opened just before the pandemic in February 2020 and has nine different Grenache bottlings on offer.
How to book: Tastings are available Thursday through Monday. Reservations not required.
Happy Canyon Vineyard’s gorgeous location in the easternmost part of Santa Ynez Valley only offers private, by-appointment tastings for their impeccable Bordeaux blends. The winery also has a tasting room in Santa Barbara’s Presidio, as part of the Wine Collection of El Paseo, a collection of close-by tasting rooms that basically allow you to sit in a picturesque courtyard all day, just moving from winery to winery.
How to book: Tastings available in Santa Barbara daily 12–6 pm. Reservations are encouraged (and required for groups of six or more). Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 805-203-0749.
Owners and winemakers Amy Christine and Peter Hunken have a fresh approach to winemaking—all you need to do is check out Amy’s Tasting Room Diaries on Instagram to appreciate the humor they have about what they do—which also comes across in their bright, cool-climate Syrahs they produce under their Holus Bolus and The Joy Fantastic labels.
How to book: Tastings are available Friday–Sunday 12 pm–5 pm by appointment only. Book here.
SB Wine Collective
Wine tasting in Santa Barbara is both very easy and more than a little overwhelming, just from the sheer volume of choices of tasting rooms in the Funk Zone. Simplify your decision-making process at this collaborative, which offers curated tastings from wineries throughout Santa Barbara County’s six AVAs, like Fess Parker, Stolpman, Pence and Notary Public, without having to drive anywhere.
How to book: Open daily 12-7pm. Reservations not required.
High Roller Tiki Lounge is one of Solvang’s few cocktail bars, but specializes in wine-based tiki cocktails made with their own wines, which are also available to taste sans-mixers. Owner Michael Cobb was a longtime cast member at Disney, and there are plenty of tongue-in-cheek nods to the Mouse, including Jungle Cruise-inspired “Backside of Water” Grenache Rose and “Walt on Main St.” Cabernet wines, and hidden Mickeys inside the bar.
How to book: Open daily 1-6pm. Reservations not required.
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Julie Tremaine is a contributor for Thrillist.