Three Day Wine Tasting Guide in the Santa Ynez Valley | Santa Barbara Wine Country
One of the most beautiful drives on the Pacific Coast leads you into the beautiful canyons and valleys of the Santa Ynez Valley or also known as Santa Barbara Wine County. Just a short three to four hour drive from San Diego, is the heart of Santa Ynez Valley filled with beautiful inns, restaurants, and wineries that are in the neighboring towns of Santa Ynez, Los Olivos, Buellton, Solvang, Santa Maria and Lompoc. However, trying to plan your next vacation can be overwhelming, but lucky for you, I’ve made a guide for you on where to stay, eat and taste in Santa Barbara Wine Country. And of course, I had the wonderful assistance of several local residents of the wine industry during a recent press trip to try out this three day itinerary.
In the heart of the Santa Ynez Valley is the charming and newly renovated, The Ballard Inn and Gathering Table. The Ballard Inn is perfectly located just minutes from many wineries and the quaint little town square of Los Olivos, filled with tasting rooms, shops and restaurants. The Ballard Inn and Gathering Table is an award winning Inn and Restaurant that has received the AAA Four Diamond Award and is part of the Select Registry “Distinguished Inns of North America.”
The Ballard Inn was purchased in 2004 by Budi Kazali and his wife, who grew up in Santa Barbara. The Ballard Inn is a 15 room Inn that has been given a unique and charming farm to table renovation with antiques throughout the inn. The rooms are all unique and not one is the same. The Inn also has the kitchen, The Gathering Table that’s located on the bottom floor offering breakfast and dinner. The Ballard Inn is surrounded by a beautiful rose garden and white picket fence that provides that relaxing and quiet wine Country escape.
While at the Ballard Inn, I stayed in the Mildred Room that is located on the second floor. Named for a historical figure in Ballard's history, the newly updated Mildred's room has a modern flare and features grays, whites and dark blues that make it an inviting retreat. The room has its own private bathroom and amenities such as an iron and ironing board, MP3 player, WIFI service, and a small vintage armoire. Turn down service included a nice card, fresh cookies and a 2 for 1 wine tasting card. Overall, the room is charming and peaceful.
The Ballard Inn also offers daily tasting of local wines and cheeses and are served in the Vintner’s room along with Peet’s coffee. A cooked to order breakfast is offered daily with in the dining room at The Gathering Table. An assortment of fresh fruit and pastries is also available in the dining room.
In addition to an amazing stay and dining, the Ballard Inn also offers concierge services. Some of these services are bike rentals, dinner packages, golf packages, horseback riding, wine tasting experiences, wine country tours and cycling. The Ballard Inn offers many other services on their website.
The Gathering Table at the Ballard Inn
Owner of the Ballard Inn is Budi Kazali, who is also the executive chef behind the Award Winning, The Gathering Table inside the Ballard Inn. Chef Budi Kazali has won several awards and been voted among the best chefs in California's Central Coast. His approach is cooking something you can’t cook at home and Asian inspired, being he was born in Indonesia. However, his culinary profession began in San Francisco, which is primarily French Based. Chef Budi Kazali loves cooking French-Asian inspired food, as it’s a fusion of his foundation and culinary upbringing, allowing him to cook with no limits. The gathering table uses seasonal, fresh and local ingredients from the Santa Ynez Valley that Chef Budi purchases from the local Solvang Farmers Market. Chef Budi also enjoys shopping locally because he talks to the local farmers at the market and purchases fruits and vegetable that have been picked the same day.
We arrived on Tuesday afternoon and checked into our hotel at The Ballard Inn. Once we were settled into our rooms, we were picked up and on our way to our first winery. Due to us arriving in the afternoon, we only had time for one winery on day one.
Crown Point Vineyards - Happy Canyon AVA
Crown Point Vineyards is located in the Happy Canyon AVA and it was purchased by Roger Bower in 2012. Happy Canyon AVA was established in 2009 and is located in the easternmost end of the Santa Ynez Valley being the warmest AVA in the Santa Barbara area. Happy Canyon is known to make elegant and structured Cabernets with soil that’s rocky and high in Magnesium. Crown Point only takes one appointment a day and are not open to the public so make sure you call to make your reservations!
The Hitching Post
The Hitching Post II is a local restaurant that was made famous by the movie Sideways. The Hitching Post II is the place you go for a nice hearty steak. It’s a blend of traditional American barbeque with an eclectic blend of fresh local seasonal ingredients. The hitching Post II also has their own award winning wines on the menu, along with other local favorites. Because I don’t eat red meat, I went ahead and skipped the steak and went for the salmon, which was just a delicious!
Brave & Maiden Estate
First winery of the day was Brave & Maiden, just a few minutes from the Ballard Inn. Brave & Maiden is a beautiful winery designed by Backen & Gillam Architects, and is one of the newest wineries in the Santa Ynez Valley, opening its doors in 2018. They’re producing Rhône and Bordeaux varietals under the direction of consulting winemaker Paul Hobbs and head winemaker Josh Klapper. During our visit, we toured the beautiful facilities and vineyard with a glass of Rose in hand. Our tour followed a nice private tasting inside the magnificent tasting room. However, tastings can also be enjoyed outside in the courtyard overlooking the sustainably farmed vineyard. Loved this winery and their wines, with a special note to their Cab Franc. I highly recommend it! Did I mention it was family and pet friendly?
Our second winery of the day was Pence Vineyards, just a little farther away, but still close to our hotel. Pence Vineyards is located in the eastern part of the Sta. Rita Hills and it was established in 2004. Pence Vineyards is a beautiful 200 acre vineyard and equestrian property that strives to produce everything on their property with a ranch to farm approach. Their winery focuses on Chardonnay, Syrah, Pinot Noir, and Gamay with a winemaking approach with respect to terroir. Pence Vineyards is a small vineyard and winery, and are available by Appointment Only for Private Tours and Tastings. Choose to taste in the tasting room or by the pond on the other side of the property.
Alma Rosa Winery - Buellton
Alma Rosa was the third winery of the day and after we had lunch. Alma Rosa is in the heart of the Santa Rita Hills and it was established in 2005 by Richard Sanford. Their enhanced tasting experience takes place at the Historic Ranch House where you’ll indulge in their seasonal wines and chesses. Alma Rosa produces small lot and vineyard designated wines with a focus on cool climate wines like Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir. Alma Rosa’s El Jabali Vineyard was the first vineyard in Santa Barbara County to be certified organic and currently, El Jabali Vineyard produces a Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. And let me just say that El Jabali was my favorite, along with the Vin Gris.
Riverbench - Santa Maria Valley
Riverbench Winery and Vineyards tasting room is located in the Santa Maria Valley AVA, which is in the historic Foxen Canyon wine trail. Riverbench was established in 1973, when the first blocks of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes were planted by the Sisquoc River. The Sisquoc River in Santa Maria Valley is known to have alluvial soils that formed into sediments containing particles of clay, silt, sand and gravel, providing well drained soils. In 2006, Riverbench began producing their own with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and sparkling wines in limited quantities from small vineyard lots.
During our second evening of our trip, we had the opportunity to eat an exquisite dinner prepared in the home of General Manager, Laura Booras from Riverbench Winery and a recent graduate of Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. If we didn’t have this private dinner scheduled, I would have eaten at the Gathering Table.
The Gathering Table
The Gathering Table, which is located inside the Ballard Inn, is an award winning restaurant with Chef Budi Kazali behind the cuisine. His restaurant is known for his French-Asian fusion cuisine that uses seasonal, fresh and local ingredients from the Santa Ynez Valley that he purchases from the local Solvang Farmers Market. This is a must try!
Day three was a little quieter, as I was getting ready to leave and head back home. We had a delicious cook to order breakfast at our hotel that included eggs, potatoes, fresh oatmeal and diced fruit. The menu had a variety of options with daily changes to it.
Fess Parker Winery - Foxen Canyon Wine Trail
Fess Parker Winery is in the Santa Ynez Valley and is known to be one the first pioneers in helping the Santa Barbara AVA grow as a hospitality wine region. In 1989, their first vineyard was planted with a current production of Rhone and Burgundian styled wines. They recently renovated their Addendum Tasting Room with a new and exciting wine tasting experience in a private setting. They’re located nearby the Ballard Inn and many other wineries near Los Olivos. This year, Fess Parker is celebrating their 30th year anniversary.
Buttonwood Farm Winery & Vineyards - Santa Ynez Valley
Buttonwwod Farm and Winery is the closest winery to the Ballard Inn and only a two minute drive. During my turn down services at the Ballard Inn, I was given a wine tasting coupon with neighboring wineries to the Inn. Buttonwood winery was the 18th winery in Santa Ynez and it was established in 1968. Buttonwood is known for their Sauvignon Blanc and Cab Franc, with a variety of other whites and reds to taste from. Buttonwood is also known for their peaches with 350 acres of orchards and are known as the Georgia of Southern California. On their farm and ranch, they also grow nuts, pears, olives, pomegranate and hops. Doesn’t matter the time of season, you’re guaranteed to see something in full harvest if you visit the farm. Make sure to taste the Sauvignon Blanc with hops for a great wine for beer lovers.
On Day three, I suggest you eat lunch in Los Olivos Square, which is on the way back to the Ballard Inn. Los Olivos square is a cute and charming town where shops, restaurants, and tasting rooms are available.
Santa Barbara Wine Country has quickly become a go to wine hospitality region with award winning wines and cuisine that has placed Santa Barbara AVA as one of the leading wine regions to visit in California. Santa Barbara County AVA has one of the most unique wine growing regions due in that they have west to east oriented mountain valleys that create a strong, cooling maritime influence off the Pacific Ocean, making this a popular destination for wine geeks. I hope this guide will inspire you to plan your next trip to Santa Barbara Wine Country and let me know if it was helpful!
********* A special thank you to Muse Wine Management and Hana-Lee of Wander and Wine for inviting me on this trip and for the sponsorship.