Since I got into the wine business, nearly all of my vacation trips are to wine regions. I can’t help it – it’s what I love! Plus, wine regions are always beautiful and chock full of delicious wines and great restaurants, too.
After my oldest friend moved to Santa Barbara, I knew I had to go. Bonus: she is married to a bonafide wine geek (who recently passed his entry-level somm exam), so two whole days were dedicated to tasting (the rest was bike rides, the beach, the crazy Solstice Parade and cooking great meals).
Now for a quick Santa Barbara overview: if the California wine regions were characters on The Brady Bunch, Santa Barbara would be Jan, whining, “Napa, Napa, Napa!” (instead of “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!”)
Both areas make great wines, but they have completely different sensibilities. Napa is more established (it was coming of age in the 50s and 60s; Santa Barbara not til the early 70s) and maybe a little more “elite.” Santa Barbara still has a pioneering aspect to it, kind of a hippie culture. It’s super casual. It’s got that beachy, surfy vibe to it. And it is home to some of the best vineyards in the world.
Knowing I’d want to bring wine home, I brought a 12-bottle wine wheelie bag with me. So which bottles made the cut to bring home? First, allow me to share my three golden rules when it comes to buying wine while traveling:
- Only buy wines you can’t get at home. When I was in Chile this spring on vacation, I was live-chatting with wine.com on my phone to find out which Viu Manent wines were available – and I bought the only one not available in the U.S.!
- Buy wines that you love, that are unusual, unique and delicious.
- Always buy two bottles of each wine so you can drink one whenever, knowing there’s still another left!
Here’s what made the cut:
FIVE BOTTLES: Our first stop was Sanguis in Santa Barbara. It’s appointment-only, and there’s not even a sign. Matthias, the winemaker, makes the most gorgeous wines from Rhöne varietals (Viognier, Marsanne, Roussane, Syrah) as well as a ton of other grapes. Peter, our host, gave us an amazing tour of the tiny place and we tasted a white and three reds. I fell hard for the 2012 Chinese Fortunes (a Roussane/Chardonnay/Viognier blend; $60) and the 2013 Loner Pinot Noir ($75). I also joined my first wine club, because I know it’s the only way to get more of these complex, multi-dimensional wines. Sanguis only makes 1,600 cases of wine a year and most are in high-demand by savvy sommeliers at restaurants.
The winemaker perfectly captures the personality and essence of the wines in their spring newsletter.
“I have fallen in love with the 2014 vintage! The whites turned out ethereal. They possess lovely and complex aromas, the nervous tension I love and a hard-to-resist suppleness. The reds are mysterious and compelling, with beautifully pure aromas, a precise focus, an elegant weight and subtly grippy tannins that recall one of northern Italy or Rhône Valley but with an unapologetic California sense of style.” — Matthias (whose last name eludes me!)
(Footnote: Peter went above and beyond by graciously offering to drop our wines at home for us, and he generously added an extra bottle, so that’s how five Sanguis wines made their way into the bag!)
ONE BOTTLE: We visited Grassini‘s tasting room, because I remembered loving their oaked Reserve Sauvignon Blanc. It’s really distinctive because of the oak (most California Sauv Blanc is aged in stainless steel) so it’s got the signature acidic edge of Sauv Blanc with a depth and roundness from the new and neutral oak they use. (I only bought one bottle, to balance out my remaining six slots.) $48.
TWO BOTTLES: I have a soft spot for Sanford, from work, and many friends there, and wanted to show my friends how gorgeous the place and the wines are. Sanford is home to the oldest Pinot Noir vines in all of Santa Barbara County, but it is the Founders Vines Chardonnay ($75) that I luuuuuv. Two bottles, please! $70
TWO BOTTLES: My friend Laura Roach is making her own wines called Loubud (her childhood nickname from her dad) and I adore her 2016 Loubud Rosé of Pinot Noir ($25) from the Cebada Vineyard, in the Santa Ynez Valley. It’s got a fruity, mineral nose, and a Provencal touch, with nice mineralityy and a soft mouthfeel. Adore!
TWO BOTTLES: Our final tasting trip was over to Lompoc to The Wine Ghetto. This is an industrial area full of warehouses that have been converted to nearly 20 wineries and tasting rooms. I can’t tell when the Wine Ghetto originated, but it’s been at least a decade. I knew Gavin Chanin was making his namesake wines and also LUTUM wines, a partnership with Bill Price of Sonoma. I’d tasted his Sanford & Benedict Vineyard Pinot Noir years ago, and loved it. I called him and he graciously said, “come on over!” We tasted through the Chanin and Lutum wines. The 2014 Rita’s Crown Pinot Noir ($50) was just gorgeous (Sta Rita Hills). Highly aromatic (cherries, forest floor, mushrooms, dried leaves) with a long finish. Can’t wait to make some pulled pork or mushroom pasta!
I have as much fun tasting and buying wines as I used to have shopping for shoes and handbags. Wines that aren’t available at the corner shop or supermarket are fun to share with friends and fun to design a menu around to really make the wine shine. So, thanks, Santa Barbara, for the good times and good wines! And thanks for having me, Gill and Andrew 🙂