With roughly 200 wineries, Santa Barbara is overrun with places for you to go and whet your whistle, and learn more about wine. What makes this region’s wine so unique is the geography. Santa Barbara is the longest transverse valley (meaning it heads East to West) on the whole of the western Pacific coast.
This unique topographical position creates the perfect climate conditions for growing what are known as cool-climate wines. In fact, these cool-climate wines, like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, are created in this region to a world-class standard. But which are the best Santa Barbara wineries to visit?
Before we go into the details of some of Santa Barbara’s best wineries, let’s, first of all, take a look at some of the wine this region has to offer. Santa Barbara wine country is located between two mountain ranges, with over 3000 feet in elevation difference.
The transverse nature of the alley is unique to this region, and offers an amazing array of microclimates and soil types, which keep this region cool, and gives the right climate for the cultivation of some of the best wines around. The top wines produced in this region are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah, and Sauvignon Blanc.
The soil might seem on the surface to be a boring topic. But the type of soil leads to complexity and the unique taste of your favorite wines. In this valley, the variety of microclimates allows for wineries creating multiple different wines. Calcareous limestone in the soil in some areas helps maintain acidity in the wines. Sandy soils in some areas assist the creation of some of the more fruity wine varieties. And for more concentrated, hearty wines, some soil is made of diatomaceous earth, creating the perfect environment for these wineries.
But why are the wines in the Santa Barbara region so elegant, and admired around the world? The answer to this is not only in the variety of soil in the valley, but also the temperature. Average temperatures in the valley stay quite consistent, and cool throughout the year. The unique west-to-east flow of cool marine breezes is ideal for producing exceptional Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
The chill, fog, and breezes extend the growing season in this region, taking it all the way through to October. This allows grapes to fully ripen but doesn’t allow them to produce excessive sugar levels, which can lead to lower alcohol levels. Thus the consistent temperature of this region gives Santa Barbara wines their elegance and leads them to be admired the world over.
For visitors, Santa Barbara is a real treat. In one day you can explore the stunning coastline, and go surfing on the coveted waves, and travel from there to the wine country itself in just 30 minutes! And once you get to the winery region, there are many different parts for you to explore. Firstly, you have the two valleys that make up this region: the Santa Maria Valley and the Santa Ynez Valley.
Not only can you explore the amazing wineries in this region, but you could also take a trip to the sweet historic township of Solvang, for example, which was founded by the Danish in 1911. But if you’re heading to this region for wineries first, which are the best wineries for visitors in Santa Barbara?
The Presqu’ile Winery is located in the north of the Santa Maria valley. This means it’s sometimes a bit out of the way for people who are heading off on a tour of many wineries in the region, but we would say it’s definitely worth the extra travel. This is a family-run winery, now in its second generation, and runs with the motto: if we are not having fun, why bother? Head to the Presqu’ile Winery if you’re looking for an all-round experience.
With evening live performances and the most incredible sunsets you can imagine from the hillside perch with stunning views of the valley, this is the perfect location for a boutique romantic getaway. It also makes a great day activity: for $45 you can head off on one of their famous wine tours, which includes a tour of the cave, winery, and finishes with a food and wine pairing at their beautiful, modern wine club lounge and amphitheater.
The wine produced by the Presqu’ile Winery is delicate, well rounded, and respected across the region. Due to the unique west-to-east flow of cool marine breezes, this winery produces exceptional Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. On their property, on 73 acres of certified sustainably farmed vineyards in the 200-acre property, they craft Santa Maria Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Syrah. The cool coastal breezes in this winery allow for the slow ripening of the grapes, leading to beautiful, complex wines with just the right balance of acidity.
This idyllic traditional winery is situated on the flat valley floor, the clubhouse will leave you wanting to while away an afternoon in it’s charming surroundings. This attractive, large green-hued building has a stone-columned veranda that wraps around, where you can sit and observe the gorgeous surroundings. Here you can admire the beautiful giant California oak trees and expansive grassy lawns.
On your way to the wine tasting room, there’s even a lovely lush rose garden to wander through. Located on the Foxen Trail, a beautiful wine trail that runs over rolling hills, and through endless vineyards, you might want to make this a pit stop on a longer, greener and boozier day out!
The brand of Fess Parker is famous throughout the region. Not just because of the famous TV star who lends his name to the site, and created the winery which turned into a family business. The wine created here is truly exceptional and very varied. The winery has three vineyards, so if you’re looking to taste a variety of wines, this could be the right pick for you.
The Fess Parker Winery and Vineyard also sources fruit from the region, including Pinot Noir from the Santa Rita Hills Appellation. They produce multiple wines, including Rhone and Burgundy style wines including Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Viognier, Pinot Noir, Syrah, and blends marketed under the Frontier Red label.
Enjoy this wonderful selection of wines in the grand tasting rooms, with fees for the tasting experience at only $15! This is an elegant building, containing extensive gourmet foods and wine accessories too, with big windows and expansive views of the surrounding greenery.
It’s also a great, cozy location for winter too, as the back of the tasting room has a large ranch-house feel, complete with a rock-walled fireplace, and couches to lounge on. Tours are arranged by appointment from Monday to Friday, so make sure to call up in advance to avoid disappointment.
One of the top-rated wineries in the region, Lions Peak is located in a cozy tasting room in downtown Solvang. Planted in 1971, their vineyard in San Luis Obispo County near the small Mission town of San Miguel is one of the oldest wineries in the region. In the lovely, historic, thatched-roof tasting room in Solvang, you can try their beautiful, well developed, full-bodied and balanced low tannin wines.
They create a variety of traditional Bordeaux, Rhone, and Italian varietal wines and blends. If you’re looking for something a little different, they also produce Zinfandel, Port, and Late-Harvest Dessert wines.
Located one hundred miles south of the winery is the quaint tasting room for Lions Peak Vineyards. We would recommend heading here and sitting at the bar. Just striking ups conversation with the staff will teach you all you need to know about these wines, their profiles, and the history of the winery. The staff is super friendly and knowledgeable. You can also ask to try their older “library wines”, to learn more about the history of this winery, and the development of their wines.
For a more custom experience, nothing will get you closer to the winery in all its finery than heading to Scott Cellars. This business is a one-man show, run by Scott Fraser, who left his successful career in advertising to start his own winery in 2005. With only 1000 cases, Scott Cellars is one of the smallest wineries around. Scott takes great care in sourcing the perfect grapes is the head winemaker and is the tasting room host in the small storefront property.
If you want to get excited by the process of winemaking and to interact one on one with a professional winemaker, Scott Cellars is ideal. Scott is really passionate about his wines, and we are not at all surprised! Despite being a really small winery, he consistently ranks top of the charts in Santa Barbara wineries. And his passion for his wines doth flow over. Head over to his shop and wine bar to learn all about the process of making great Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Syrah, Pinot Noir, and others, straight from the horse’s mouth.
If you’re looking for a more down to earth, and frankly a more millennial, winery experience, head to the Municipal Winemakers. This is a perfect place to head to if you’re a local, as they have a tasting room right in downtown Santa Barbara!
This non-pretentious space offers wine tastings from $10 for five different wines, making this a great day trip or evening out with friends. From the nifty iPads on the tables in this tasting room, you can learn more about the production of the wine, and read some of the tasting notes about each wine.
Instead of concentrating on surroundings, here you’ll want to dig in and learn all about the wine. The grapes from this winery are sourced from Rodney’s and Tierra Alta Vineyards in Santa Barbara County.
These handpicked grapes are fermented as whole clusters and then basket pressed, whole-cluster fermentation (where the grape stems are not removed) is a traditional process, then matured in French barrels and never racked. This unique production process leads to some delicious wines, which combined with the chilled out non-fussy vibe of the tasting room, will leave you feeling truly joyous.
If you’re looking for a far more traditional, atmospheric winery experience, then the Bridlewood Estate Winery could be right down your alley. This grand structure was formerly a horse ranch, and racehorse rehabilitation center, which as now been transformed into a grand winery. The structure of the beautiful Spanish inspired building is complete with a traditional mission-style bell tower, tile roofs and broad verandas, where you can sit and enjoy the surrounding olive trees.
From the shade of the veranda, head over to the tasting room, which boasts tile floors, a cozy fireplace that is perfect for winter tastings, and a bar. Outside there are flagstone patios with lovely views of the quislings and olive trees.
Here you can try some of the different wines the winery produces: five different Syrah wines and Rhone blends, as well as Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Grenache, Chardonnay, and Viognier. They also make limited releases of small production lots like Syrah Port. A standard tasting is $20 per person, and for a little more you can even get a horse-drawn carriage ride around the property, pond, hillside vineyards, and horse stables.
If you’re considering visiting the Bridlewood Estate Winery, then why not visit the Brander Vineyard in the same trip? In very close proximity to the Bridlewood Estate Winery, the Brander Vineyard will offer you a different experience, but still continuing the European feel.
Here you can relax in the tranquil surroundings of flowers, poplars, cottonwood, and redwood trees in the landscaped grounds. Arriving in the rustic courtyard will make you feel as if you’re arriving at a vineyard in rural France. And with a tasting fee of only $7.50, this vineyard wins on value for money.
Since the mid-’70s, the Brander family has been perfecting their techniques and getting closer and closer to the ideal Sauvignon Blanc. If you’re a fan of Sauvignon Blanc or Cabernet Sauvignon, this could be the Santa Barbara winery for you. Here you can enjoy a delicious, complex glass of wine, all while surrounded by endless views of the gorgeous vineyard.
Head to the Rusack Vineyards to enjoy their estate-grown Syrah, Sangiovese, Petite Sirah, Grenache, and Sauvignon Blanc, as well as Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot blend. As if this wasn’t enough, they also produce Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and a dry Rose made from Santa Barbara County grapes. And with a tasting fee of only $6, this is a great option of vineyards for wine fans on a budget.
Here, micro-vineyard practices are used, which will interest you upon further research and examination if you are a winery buff. Of the vineyards’ relatively small 48 acres of hillside property, 17 acres are planted with eight different, primarily Rhone, cheek by jowl grape varieties.
And this huge variety of wine is situated in the most romantic setting. To reach the vineyard, you travel through over 100 yards of roads lined with roses and approach the tasting room tucked beneath mature oak and pepper trees. If you like your wines paired with delicious food, the Rusack Vineyards could be for you.
Inside the tasting room you can purchase gourmet foods and cheeses, and delicious marinated artichokes and olive oils. One of the main draws to this winery is the beautiful terrace, which offers views of the surrounding rolling hills and valleys. Here is the perfect spot to while away a sunny afternoon, and enjoy a bottle of Pinot Noir with your loved ones.
Although slightly less popular than Napa Valley, Santa Barbara is a stunning wine region to explore, especially if you like to beat the main drag of the crowds. From Santa Rosa to Santa Barbara, Lompoc to Buellton, Ballard canyon to the famous Happy Canyon and Riverbench, the region of Santa Barbara offers numerous cities, miles of coastline, and gorgeous wineries nestled in the valleys.
This region can keep visiting wine lovers occupied for weeks and offers never-ending weekend or day trips for locals too.
At only a two hour drive north of Los Angeles, Santa Barbara lets you live the Californian dream. With palm tree-lined drives, stunning coastline, and a thriving arts scene, this area has a beating heart. And when it comes to weather, this region has the best of both worlds.
Not only is it consistently cool enough in the valleys of the Santa Barbara region to create refreshingly delicious wines, the area also boasts 300 days of summer a year, meaning it’s pretty likely you’ll be able to enjoy the sun on your skin with some of the best wines the United States has to offer.
Bonus tip: For some ideas of what to do in the gorgeous Santa Ynez Valley, watch this useful video!