Santa Ynez Valley – Part One

Located in Santa Barbara County, the Santa Ynez Valley AVA is an American Viticultural Area with the greatest concentration of wineries in the Santa Barbara County.  The valley is a mere 45-minute drive from the Santa Barbara Airport, and has a population of approximately 20,000 residents living in the charming communities of Solvang, Los Olivos, Ballard, Buellton and Santa Ynez.  

During the blistering Arizona summer months, Hubby and I find refuge in Santa Barbara, a place I liken to “heaven on earth”.  For the last 10 years, we have taken many forays into the nearby wine country of Santa Ynez to sample some vinos.  I love the area for many reasons (yes, I loved it before the movie Sideways was released): namely the shear beauty of the country, the cuisine, the wine (goes without saying), the friendliness of the people, and the adorable towns previously mentioned. 

We hatched a plan last year to take a wine-tasting and food-gorging extravaganza with my siblings this fall.  While I cannot speak for them, judging by the amount of fun we all had, as well as the amount of wine consumed and purchased, I think it was a success.  

There are many hotels from which to choose, and we chose Fess Parker’s Inn in Los Olivos.  The Inn has a lot going for it: up-to-date, comfortable rooms, spa services, and proximity to many of my favorite restaurants and tasting rooms.  Fess Parker, an American actor who is best known for playing Davy Crockett in the mid-1950’s miniseries by the same name, was a native Texan.  As such, the Inn flies the Texas flag and considers itself the “unofficial Texas Embassy” of California.  Did that have anything to do with my decision?  Truthfully, no.  It is the ambiance.  Plus, Los Olivos is just one of those towns were it is not uncommon to see a cowboy cruising down the streets on a gorgeous Peruvian Paso Fino horse (the area is also noted for the number of horse farms).  But I digress…let’s get on to the tastings!

A room at Fess Parker’s Inn in Los Olivos
The lobby of the Inn

We felt like it was only appropriate to start our tour off at the Fess Parker Winery and Vineyards.  When his acting days were winding down, Parker purchased a winery and devoted much of his time to viticulture.  His family currently owns and operates the vineyard, which has over 1,500 acres under cultivation.   

We missed harvest by a month

One can never have enough coonskin bottle toppers…

…or enough coonskin caps

The cool ocean breezes that settle in the nearby Santa Rita Hills create the ideal climate to grow Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes.  The vineyards and tasting rooms we visited focused on production of these varietals, and include some (not all…not enough time!) of our favorites:  Sea Smoke, Melville, Brewer Clifton, Clos Pepe, and Dierberg/Star Lane.  Plus, I sprinkled in a few shots of tasting rooms in Los Olivos, as well as some views of the surrounding countryside and the fall colors.  Enjoy this introduction to the Santa Ynez Valley, as I get prepared to tell you about the food.  Bottoms up!


Sea Smoke’s sparkling wine, Sea Spray

New vines planted in the Santa Rita hills

The Rhône varietals are also quite nice

Melville Winery
Clos Pepe Vineyard

Chief winemaker of Clos Pepe, Wes Hagen, leads an insightful lecture on the history of wine.  Wes is a former high school teacher, and his tour is peppered with so many memorable “Wes Quotes”, my favorite of which includes, “The kids drove me to drink, and the drink drove me to go pro”.  The tour and the wines are off-the-chart great.  See below for all the information regarding these wineries. 

Have a picnic at Dierberg

Maybe for your wine cellar?

Our grandfather was from Refugio, Texas, so we got a chuckle from this label

I will be sure to try it in the summer and get back to you

Quaint small tasting room of Carhartt

Check out the bocci court outside of Coquelicot tasting room

I love the light in the Fall

I just love this sign, period

Alamo Pintado Road

I just might spend my golden years here

I will come back here when the lavender is in bloom

Looks like we got an early jump on it!

Fess Parker Wine Country Inn & Spa
2860 Grand Avenue, Los Olivos

Fess Parker Winery
6200 Foxen Canyon Rd, Los Olivos
Open every daily, 10 am to 5 pm 

Sea Smoke is not open to the public, but the wines can be available at Taste of Santa Rita Hills tasting room:
1505 E Chesnut Ave, Lompoc
Open Thursday to Sunday, 11 am to 5 pm, or by appointment 

Melville Winery
5185 E Highway 246, Lompoc
Open daily 11 am to 4 pm 

329 North F Street, Lompoc
Open Friday to Sunday, 11 am to 4 pm 

Clos Pepe
4777 E Highway 246, Lompoc
By appointment only 

Dierberg/Star Lane
1280 Drum Canyon Rd, Lompoc
Open daily 11 am to 5 pm 

Refugio Ranch, Carhartt, and Coquelicot are located in “downtown” Los Olivos.

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