Woohooo, another travel guide! This one is all about the beautiful Santa Ynez Valley, where Omied and I were invited on an influencers/media trip. We’ve been wine tasting in The Funk Zone in Santa Barbara before (you can find my Santa Barbara travel guide here), but we hadn’t been to Santa Ynez or Los Olivos except for a quick stop for lunch on the way back to SF last year. During that one quick stop, I thought Los Olivos looked adorable and wished we could have spent more time there, so I was excited to be able to spend a weekend getting to know the area better. We went to some amazing wineries and restaurants, and this guide covers all of them!
- Check-in. We stayed at two different hotels during this trip so that we could experience a couple different areas. The first night we stayed at the Santa Ynez Valley Marriott. The location was super convenient and the rooms were all recently remodeled. I loved the chic hardwood floors! They also surprised us with an adorable (and delicious) welcome gift. We spent our second night at The Landsby in Solvang. If you haven’t been through Solvang before, it is this cute and kitschy town where Danish people settled in the early 1900’s, and since then a mandate was passed so that the architecture and façades of buildings have to reflect the traditional Danish style. Inside The Landsby it was very Nordic-chic (I just made that term up but I feel like it paints an accurate picture), and we loved our cute room (and very ‘grammable and wanderlust-y key).
- Epiphany Cellars & The Bubble Shack. We kicked off the weekend’s wine tasting at Epiphany’s tasting room in Los Olivos. Fess Parker (a.k.a. the actor who played Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett) bought some land and started a winery that has been passed down to his children Eli and Ashley, and Epiphany and The Bubble Shack are two of their tasting rooms. We got to meet with Fess’ son Eli and hear about the history of their wines and their family. I loved hearing about the different vineyards and family members they were named after and their stories. Their bubbly was delicious too and had playful and cute names, like Fesstivity and Sibling Bubblery.
- The Gathering Table. We went to The Gathering Table for dinner, which is a brand new restaurant in the adorable Ballard Inn. The restaurant hadn’t even been open a week when we went, so it was a bit of a soft opening, and in fact it’s so new that I can’t find a link for it online yet! The ambiance is to die for and we had a beautiful table by the fire. We’d definitely recommend the hanger steak and the risotto. Yum! And it’s also worth walking around the first floor a bit since all the rooms are so cute and fun to wander through.
- Day 2 is when we really packed in some wineries! Shout out to Wine Canyon Tours for getting us around safely, and our driver Christopher who was super knowledgable about the area. One thing I learned being on this trip with a bunch of super knowledgable wine-os is that people who are really into wine and wine tasting all day actually don’t swallow the wine. I mean it makes sense, if you’re tasting from 10am til 10pm like we were, how could you while still having a discerning taste? Being that I’m a lightweight, I was totally on board with this whole spitting thing and was getting pretty proud of myself until I did one that resulted in me totally slobbering on myself. Cute.
- Gainey Vineyards. We had so much fun starting the day off with a jeep tour (by Cloud Climbers Jeep Tours) at beautiful Gainey Vineyard! We rode around with their winemaker Jeff LeBard and it was seriously such a blast seeing different parts of the vineyard, including a big beautiful barn where the barn scene in Of Mice and Men was shot. Red-tailed hawks swooped by overhead while we sipped some wine and it was just a gorgeous day. We then went inside to their cellars and tried more of their varietals. The jeep tour was one of my favorite parts of our trip and I’d highly, highly recommend it!
- Fess Parker Winery. We went over to Fess Parker Winery where they made us a beautiful lunch and we sat down with Blair Fox, their winemaker. It’s such a beautiful spot to relax, hang out by their gorgeous fireplace, and sip some delicious wines. We got to pop into their cellar, and I also shot this outfit post there.
- J. Wilkes. We made our way over to Los Olivos to visit a few tasting rooms, starting with J. Wilkes. We had the pleasure of meeting with their winemaker Wes Hagen, who is quite the knowledgable fellow. We learned so much from him (and also got some really tweetable quotes, like this one), not just about wine but other historical tidbits (did you know that most words that begin with “al” are from derived from the Arabic language? Alcohol, alchemy, algebra…). Wes was big on the idea of “table,” or the act of slowing down, sitting with loved ones and sharing food and wine—which is something I’m totally on board with!
- Bien Nacido. Next up we went right next door to the Bien Nacido tasting room. Bien Nacido is an iconic vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley, and they supply grapes to many of the wineries we visited during our trip. It was such a treat to spend some time there and try their bar-setting wines.
- Dragonette Cellars. For our last stop in Los Olivos we walked over to Dragonette Cellars to spend some time in their inviting tasting room. They had some of the best sauv blancs I’ve ever tried! I’m usually more of a red girl. We also loved their pinot noirs. Definitely can’t wait to come back here!
- Alma Rosa. After our little tour of Los Olivos, we freshened up at the hotel before heading out for the night. Our first stop was Alma Rosa, where we had a very special surprise. Legendary winemaker and vintner Richard Sanford and his wife Thelka greeted us in their tasting room. It’s hard to describe how special this was. Richard is known as a visionary vintner for being the first winemaker to plant pinot noir in the Santa Barbara county in the 70’s. He has an incredibly calming and peaceful presence, and the way he described his passion for and relationship with the wine he makes put the whole room in a meditative-like state. Which is really saying something considering we were a group of chatty Cathy, phones-glued-to-hands bloggers. We were all entranced, and I felt very lucky to be sipping delicious wines, surrounded by good people, listening to a legend tell his story.
- Sides Hardware and Shoes. For dinner, we went to Sides, which used to be (you guessed it) a hardware and shoes store. It’s an absolutely darling spot, with delicious cocktails and bites. I’d recommend ordering the fried brussels sprouts and the fettuccini (I added chicken to mine)—yum!
- Rusack Vineyards. On our third and final day of the trip, we kicked off the morning at the gorgeous Rusack Vineyards. This place is so inviting and such a gem! It’s the perfect spot to bring a picnic and sip wine with friends on their beautiful deck overlooking one of their vineyards. I mean can you really think of a better way to spend an afternoon? We met with winemaker Steven Gerbac and learned about how some of their wines are grown on Catalina Island and flown up to Santa Barbara. They also sent us home with the cutest box of wine, complete with a piece cut off of one of their Syrah vines. I so wish we had a garden at home to plant that in!
- Riverbench. Our final stop was at Riverbench Vineyard, which gets its name from its location along the bank of the Sisquoc River, known as the Santa Maria Bench. Their wines are all made from grapes cultivated on their own property, and my personal favorite that we tried was their Chardonnay—and I’m not usually a big Chardonnay fan! I also loved their sparkly wine bottles. So fun, they’d be perfect for a bachelorette party!
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