Best Winery Tour/Tasting around two hours from LA?
my family's coming in town in late June and they are interested in going to a winery for a tour and tasting. The requests are family friendly (everyone is of age except a 16 y.o. who is okay to taste if allowed), and not a big conglomerate thing. (my mom's words) They just want to get a feel of a California winery and enjoy it, but there's no time to drive up to Napa (nor the inclination, we like wine, we're not oenophiles).
My preference is someplace within two hours reasonable drive on a Sunday (and since I say two hours make it three for good measure). I have an ex who was from Ventura that was going to show me to a bunch of wineries up there (we never got around to it), but...
anyways, any sunday drive that takes us up the PCH is an extra bonus, I'm sure they'd love it.
The wineries around Santa Barbara in Paso Robles and Los Olivos are nice. The tasting room at Fess Parker is nice, but it doesn't have much of a tour. Firestone and Sanford have tours and tastings. You can drive up using a combination of PCH and the 101.
If you wanted to spend more time on tours, You might also consider taking the Grapeline shuttle, which will provide transport between wineries and lunch.
Los Olivos is more than two hours, but if you want to go that far, the best tasting experience I've had up there is Saarloos & Sons. The wines are absolutely outstanding, and they pair their wines with a flight scratch-made cupcakes. I'm not a huge cupcake fan, but these were amazing. There's no winery tour (it's just a tasting room), but the tasting experience is a must.
These guys have been ver popular growers for other wineries for years, but winemaking is relatively new to them. They had some left over fruit one year and decided to make some wine. Pretty soon, they had strangers knocking on their door to try to buy their wine. Their popularity has grown mostly through word of mouth.
BTW, another tour that we've taken up there aside from the Grapeline is Cloud Climbers Jeep Tours. They will pick you up in town and take you out to the wine country. The last time we went, they drove us over the mountains on dirt roads from Refugio Ranch. It's a great way to see the area. The jeeps hold about six passengers each, and the drivers are pretty good about steering you away from the tourist traps.
It sounds like you want to keep the driving to a minimum so I'd exclude Paso and stick with Santa Barbara county.
In the city of Santa Barbara, Jaffurs is worth a visit.
Driving into the wine country, I second the rec for the quaint little town of Los Olivos; you can walk around town and stop in the myraid of tasting rooms. Los Olivos Cafe and Patrick's are also great spots for lunch in town.
If you want to visit some estate vineyards (as opposed to tasting rooms) nearby I highly recommend Beckmen; some of the best wines in the area (although they don't make a pinot if that's what you're after).
Also near Los Olivos check out Rusack; outright gorgeous wine country setting that your guests will surely appreciate.
Last, I would skip Firestone and Sanford; just my opinion. Fess Parker actually makes some decent wines now; if you call ahead you can arrange for a private appointment.
The 16 year old will be out of luck -- that's just state law.
As above, your best options are in the Santa Ynez valley, which might be pushing your 2 hour limit. The Paso Robles area is definitely much more than 2 hours. There are a few wineries in Ventura County (and even a couple in Malibu & the Santa Monica mountains), but I wouldn't recommend any of them based on what you're looking for.
I'm not sure what you're looking for as far as a tour -- most wineries just have a tasting room where they'll give you all the info you want about the wines and how they're made, but getting into the vineyards or such usually requires special arrangements.
My choice for wineries that give the best 'feel' for the area:
Melville (and that puts your right near Dierberg for a nice two-fer...)
Those last three are located fairly far out on hwy 246; Almo Rosa is a good choice.
I have had issues with Foxen; too Disneyland like for me i.e. crowds, tour buses, etc. The wines available for tasting are average IMO.
Melville is a great setting with appealing wines and Babcock is right next door.
However, if you really want an outstanding vineyard/winery tour and are willing to drive out on 246 you should call Wes at Clos Pepe and see if you can schedule an appointment.
One of the best tours in the area and the wines are right up there too.
Wineries in Ventura? That's a new one on me, but they do make some really good Lemoncello in Ventura since the very close by Santa Paula Valley is the Citrus Capitol of the World. Some lovely farm and orchard country on Highway 126 traversing this valley from Highway 5 to Highway 101 and a quaint historic train (Fillmore Western) that takes you through its orchards and Victorian farm houses.
If you are in northern LA, then it would be pushing your 2 hour drive time limit to go on to Santa Ynez and/or Santa Rita Hills but those by far are your best and most scenic drives. There are wine tasting shops in Santa Barbara, but no vineyards. You can arrange a orchard tour in Santa Paula through Limoneira and they may have started their Dinners in the Orchard again for this summer.
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