Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > California >
Sep 30, 2007 01:00 PM

I am looking to visit Santa Barbara Wine country in Dec (my B-day) ....

Does anyone know if there are mostly pinot noir's in the santa barbara wine country? I want to visit Dec. Would that be an ok time? are the wineries open?

Where is mostly pinot that's what I enjoy most.


  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. December should be a good time to visit. The folk in the tasting rooms should love your presence.

    PN is very abundant in SB County, but so is Chardonnay. Many of the producers in that "general" area (maybe not specifically in the SB AVA, but within easy travel) are working with a lot of the Rhône varietals, so expect to see much more than the two above.

    There are some great things happening there, so plan on some long days of tasting, and many of the restaurants are heavy in local wines. Though the motion picture, "Sideways," brought a lot of tourist traffic, it also seems to have put that general area on the radar screen. Note that I say "general area," as there is a real boom in near-by AVAs, too.

    Plan some days of tasting, by making reservations (one might not need them for the crowds, but they'll help the tasting room personnel get ready for you) at some that you'd really like to taste.

    Take a look at the California board for some dining reviews in the Santa Barbara area, from the end of July.


    1. Hunt offer some sound advice.

      Also, Dec. is a great time to go since the harvest crowds will have dissipated and lodging is priced lower than the "high" season. The weather will be cold (by So Cal standards) and you might get some light, sporadic rain which IMO, adds a certain charm to the experience.

      If you are curious about specific recommendations on lodging, restaurants or wineries let me know and I’ll give you more details.

      These links might be helpful…


      17 Replies
      1. re: vinosnob

        I just tried some terrific Syrah's this weekend up in Paso Robles. Be sure to try those out. I liked the wines at Firestone and they are dog-friendly as well.

        1. re: missmodular818

          Dog friendly is a good thing. I haven't found much I like at Firestone over the last 4 or 5 years but Curtis (their sister vineyard, just down the road and included in the same tasting price) has been getting better and better, I think. Be sure to give Curtis a try if you do Firestone.

          1. re: ccbweb


            I'm pretty much with you. Sometimes, we end up on a real "tour," because it's part of the event. Firestone is always included. Not a favorite of mine. OTOH, last time we did Curtis, which is on the property and does have some family ties to Firestone. Great, just great. It's small and they work with a lot of Rhône varietals, and do these very well. I could have stayed the rest of the afternoon there, as the winemaker kept running off to the cellar to get "just one more bottle," of something that he really wanted us to try.


        2. re: vinosnob


          Thanks for offering a hand, i would love some recs for lodging (inexpensive) I prefer B&B charm. I looked up tripadvisor and Orchard Hill Farm gets high points are you familiar? I would like to try to spend less than $250/night.

          What wineries are worth visiting? we will have 2 days.

          1. re: drewb123

            What a wonderful way to celebrate your birthday.

            I did a wine-tasting weekend around Santa Barbara in February. My favorite winery was Zaca Mesa, both for the (rustic) setting and the wines. There is a short hiking trail that takes you to the top of a hill, with some picnic tables and a nice view of the valley.

            1. re: drewb123

              I believe Orchard Hill is in Paso Robles and I haven’t been there yet; I think it’s about 1.5 hour drive from Los Olivos to Paso; definitely can be done, but I try to limit long drives when wine tasting.

              Anyway, when we go, we always stay at the Marriott in Buellton; I know, doesn’t have the charm you’re looking for, but its central location is fantastic and the price in Dec. is less than $150. From there you can drive anywhere and the Hitching Post II restaurant (well-loved long before that dang Sideways movie) is just down the street from the hotel. For a B&B, the Ballard Inn looks nice and has the best restaurant in the area; I haven’t stayed there, but we eat there when in town. There's also the Santa Ynez Inn; haven't stayed, but looks nice as well.

              Here are my top winery picks:

              --Los Olivos and Surrounding Area

              Beckman – focus on rhone varietals, beautiful estate vineyard and tasting room on the property;

              Grand Ave. – the main “drag” in Los Olivos; the street is lined with tasting rooms; I like Consilience and Daniel Gehrs; also check out the Los Olivos Wine & Spirits Emporium which pours a solid variety of wines from the region. Patrick’s Café is a great spot for lunch.

              Rusack – another, beautiful estate vineyard;

              --Heading Towards Santa Maria

              Foxen – this one is easy to miss; look for a little shack on the right side of the road;

              Rusack -

              Our favorite area is the Santa Rita Hills area starting on hwy 246, stopping in Lompoc and finishing on Santa Rosa road. For some of the wineries, you will need to make an appointment to visit.

              --Off hwy 246

              Melville – although people really like their pinots, I prefer their syrah;

              Babcock – one of the pioneers of the region;

              Clos Pepe – by appointment only;

              -- Lompoc

              Palmina – I know you mentioned pinot, but these Cal-Italian wines (especially the whites) are incredible;

              Ampelos – a must stop and contact to make an appointment; the owners Peter and Rebecca are consummate hosts and passionate about their wines;

              Fiddlehead – great pinots;

              -- Santa Rosa Road

              Alma Rosa – this is Richard Sanford’s new winery;

              1. re: vinosnob

                Thanks for all the great info. I made a reservation at Marriott. Do you drive around yourself? or you get a driver? I would love some recs for that as well.

                1. re: drewb123

                  One year we went with a couple and had a driver and ended up visiting too many wineries; Granted, it was a lot of fun, but a little excessive. I don't recall what company we used, but you should be able to find options on the internet or check with the hotel.

                  Typically, we'll drive. We keep a cooler stocked with water/soda and we bring fixings for a picnic lunch; this is a good spot to pick up delicious food.

                  1. re: vinosnob

                    Yes! We went to Los Olivos Groceries on the way back from tasting. I had the gelato and a macchiato. My BF had some yummy english cotswold cheese and crackers. They have a great looking deli with a grill for burgers and chicken salads. The feta orzo salad looked delish. I recommend this place as well. Enjoy!

                  2. re: drewb123

                    Just to update, last weekend I worked the harvest at Clos Pepe and afterwards, stopped at two wineries for tasting.

                    I DO NOT recommend Foxen; I guess it has change a lot since I was there last time, but this past Saturday, it was like a circus with 10+ cars parked out front plus tourist bus', ugh. I also don't think the wine merits a stop.

                    In Santa Maria, stopped at Ken Volk; didn't care for the whites, but there were some decent reds and the tasting room staff were very friendly and eagerly opened additional bottles upon request. And, they didn't charge for the tasting.

                  3. re: vinosnob

                    Hi Vinsnob-

                    I never made it to Santa Barb last year or whenevr I started this post. I am FOR SURE going Oct 8-13th and would love to know if you stand by your orig recs? PLEASE help me, I am so overwhelmed....

                    would love some good local eats ideas for bkfst,dinners... will be shooting to stay at the inn at east beach, or solvang or half and half...havent booked hotel we are taking a road trip.

                    Thx for your help in advance

                    1. re: drewb123


                      You'll have a blast since it's the Harvest Celebration that weekend; just don't overdue the tastings each day. I still stand by my recos, but I'm not a fan of the Foxen tasting experience nor their wines for the most part and I don't drink Gehrs or Conselience any more.

                      I would also add Tercero to the list (by appt. only); the owner/winemaker Larry Schaffer makes great, affordable Rhone inspired wines and is a true ambassador to the area.

                      Solvang has some good wine bars that offer a variety of wines from the area. Check out Wandering Dog Bar and Taste of the Valleys.

                      Favorite spots for food:

                      - Los Olivos Grocery (snacks, sandwiches, cheese for picnic)
                      - Patrick's Side Street Cafe (in Los Olivos)
                      - Paula's Pancake House or Little Mermaid - breakfast in Solvang
                      - The Ballard Inn Restaurant - best dinner in the area
                      - Hitching Post II
                      - Tratorria Grappolo - in Santa Ynez, for lunch or dinner
                      - Root 246 - in Solvang, Bradley Ogden's new place gets good reviews, but I haven't been there yet

                      Have fun!

                      1. re: vinosnob

                        thx vino, one last you rec going to the harvest festival? i believe its sun 11-4 $65 dollars to drink and eat from hundreds of vendors wineries, rest....


                        1. re: drewb123

                          It depends on what kind of experience you're looking for. The festival will have a large collection of wineries all in one place plus food and entertainment. It can be crowded and personally it's not really my kind of thing. I prefer visiting wineries, typically by appointment since it's more relaxed and you can get real insight from the winemaker.

                          Either way, I'm sure you'll have a good time so don't sweat it.

                        2. re: vinosnob

                          A couple more cents:

                          Re Solvang tasting rooms, I'd add to that shortlist Lucas & Lewellen and Mandolino, both on Copenhagen. They're two owned by the same folks: L&L does French-style oak barrels, Mandolino Italian-style steel. Grapes come from vines in Solvang and slightly north—don't miss L&L's 2004 Special Reserve Cabernet Sauv, a 100% Cab from the vineyard next to the Mission Santa Ines.

                          If the weather's nice (and who am I kidding, it's the Central Coast), be sure to visit Rideau, on Alamo Pintado between Solvang and Ballard/Los Olivos. One of the finest properties in the Valley, has a great tasting room, and is generally not crowded (yet).

                          I prefer Paula's to The Little Mermaid, for excellent Danish pancakes and sausage. Next to Paula's, Olsen's Danish Bakery has the best pastries—try the kransekage, same recipe used for traditional Danish wedding cakes.

                          Paula's Pancake House
                          1531 Mission Dr, Solvang, CA 93463

                      2. re: vinosnob

                        I second the Los Olivos Wine & Spirits Emporium as well as recommending the Los Olivos Tasting Room. Both places have enthusiastic and helpful owners, pouring lesser known/garage wines from small producers. In general, we found the quality of the Syrahs far better than the PNs. On the main street of Solvang, there is an olive oil tasting bar that you should check out too.

                        1. re: vinosnob

                          I would add to the list of Santa Rita and SB wines not to miss

                          Los Olivos - Tinsley Wine ( just off the main square )

                          Lompoc wine ghetto - Flying Goat ( next door to Palmina)

                          Rusack on Ballard Canyon ( great late afternoon spot )

                          Ken Brown - Buellton (one of the early winemakers)

                          Mosby - east end of Santa Rosa Road - take a bottle of Distallato home

                    2. Some our favorites from the area:

                      Zaca Mesa
                      Andrew Murray (awesome syrahs)
                      Hitching Post
                      Sunstone (great place to buy and drink a bottle and have a snack in the courtyard)

                      We used to love Sanford, but they seemed to have sold out since "the movie". A little too big and busy now.


                      1 Reply
                      1. re: MunkeeCIAO

                        Sunstone is great as well. Nice merlots and chardonnays ( and I'm not much a fan of merlot). Kid friendly too. I saw a few babies in strollers out in the courtyard playing with what seemed to be a Nanny as the parents were tasting inside.

                        I've been meaning to go up to Castoro Cellars. I love their Cabernet Sauvingnon and Syrahs. I too would like to know people's recs on the driving situation. Boy was I tipsy this weekend. Good thing I had a driver (this time).

                        Any suggestions?

                      2. Here's a thread that may help you -- my notes on my last visit are part of the thread.
                        The tasting rooms should operate normal hours in December (no change for mild California weather!) Agree with the poster who directed you to the California board - you'll find a lot more info on SB wineries there.


                        I'm a Syrah fan, but recall finding excellent Pinot's at Cambria and Kenneth Volk (both on the north end of the valley) as well at various tasting rooms in Los Olivos.

                        1. I have done a winetasting trip the last two years in December, it is a great time to go. All the wineries are open but not as crowded as in the summer. You want to go to the wineries that are west of the 101, that is the best pinot area due to the cool ocean breezes. The area to the east makes great wine also, but more syrahs, etc. The best Pinot for the money I think is at Lafond. Also try Alma Rosa, Sanford, Fiddlehead Cellars, Babcock and Melville. Artiste winery in Santa Ynez makes some great blends. The Hitching Post II has fantastic steaks and the best french fries in the world. Their pinot noirs are excellent and you can't find them anywhere else. You can do a tasting there in the bar from 4-6pm.