We’re Exploring: Santa Barbara Wine Country

Foley Vineyards and Winery

The end of our LA trip included a few days in Santa Barbara.  I can’t remember if we ever went to Santa Barbara when I was younger, so it was a whole new experience for me.  Gary had done a few press junkets over the years, but it had been a while.  And neither one of us had experienced Santa Barbara County Wine Country, even though I have been a fan of wineries like Foley, Sea Smoke and Melville for years.

We stayed in Santa Barbara proper, right across from the beach, which Gary loved because his favorite thing is to run on an ocean front strand.  We immediately adventured off to wine country though, driving up to Solvang for dinner.  Yes, the once sleepy town of Solvang is now quite the tourist attraction thanks to Sideways, the movie that put the town on the map and took Merlot off of it.  Charming, like a little swiss village, with tasting room after tasting room broken up by B&Bs, cafes and craft stores.  Our dinner reservations were at Root 246, a restaurant with the same philosophy we saw in many California spots…local, seasonal and sustainable, this one with the amazing Chef Bradley Ogden at the head.  I had been to Chef Ogden’s restaurant Lark Creek in Walnut Creek, CA before with my sister and his namesake restaurant at Cesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, and was so excited to try Root 246 as the menu promised a unique, creative meal with complex flavors.

Blue Cheese Souffle

To our delight, we had a fantastic server who knew her stuff and was entertaining to boot. We opened with a glass of Ojai Bien Nacido Vineyard Chardonnay from Santa Maria Valley.  I loved that most of the wine list featured wineries from the region, with this one shining with ripe pear, candied lemon peel and citrus flavors with a layer of toasted vanilla.  Great on its own or with a starter course like our miniature Maytag blue cheese souffle presented beside a rhubarb and strawberry compote.  Airy and delicious, with a slightly acidic bite from the compote.  And incredibly seasonal as rhubarb was everywhere that weekend.   Over a bottle of Qupe Syrah we enjoyed main courses of a roasted pork chop over incredible fava bean tortellini (something I would like to reinvent) with mushrooms and herbs, a Caesar salad with a poached farm egg and an incredible Heirloom vegetable salad filled with local lettuces, baby radishes, beans and more, but no tomatoes…again, because they weren’t at their optimal ripeness.

Heirloom Vegetable Salad
Pork Chops with Fava Bean Tortellini

The next day we travelled back up through Solvang to start our wine tasting at Foley Vineyards and Wine Estates in Santa Ynez Valley.

Foley Vineyard's

WOW…..over a tasting of 23 different wines, predominantly Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, the flavors of the region were defined.  Lush, elegant wines with good structure and subtle differences to help define one vineyard vs. another, but all with balanced fruit forward flavors.  Our favorites – 2 Sisters Chardonnay and the Reserve Pinot Noir.  Check my blog on Sidedish for more about Foley….it was a fantastic experience.

After Foley we had a beautiful tasting at Melville, a long time favorite with their Donna Syrah shining as the stand out of the day.  unfortunately it was sold out so we couldn’t bring any home but the few tastes of the smoky, spicy Rhone style Syrah made us immediately get on their waiting list for the next release.

Just budding Pinot Noir at Melville

On our way to Bridlewood Estates we stopped at Andersen’s in Buellton – world famous for their split pea soup…..I don’t know if it was all the wine or if it was really the soup, but we agreed this was one of the best bowls of soup either of us had had in quite some time, with lots of fresh pea flavors, hints of bacon and a hint of peppery spice, coupled with lots of warm bread for dipping.  Yum.

Bridlewood was one of the most beautiful wineries we have visited, with lavish grounds and a friendly staff. Over a tasting of elegant Pinot Noir and Syrah we reflected on our weekend in Southern Cali enjoying beautiful food, friends and of course, wine.  I loved seeing this part of California wine country, and again, understand why Sideways made the region so popular, because it really is beautiful.  On our way back to Santa Barbara we even found a casino with black jack for Gary, and I hate to admit, a very fun penny slot machine for me called “Cougarlicious.”  I even won $20.

Bridlewood Estates
Bridlewood Estates