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Wine Tasting in Santa Barbara

Best Places to Go
Published on February 12, 2011

Santa Barbara has become a popular destination for wine tasting tours. Most wine tourists do their tasting in the mountains behind Santa Barbara, at the many excellent wineries to be found in the Santa Ynez and Santa Maria Valleys - also known as the Santa Barbara Wine Country. This is a course of action that has much to recommend it: the scenery in the Santa Ynez Mountains, which is at once bucolic, rustic and gorgeous; a large number of wineries in a relatively small area; a surprising diversity of wines to taste; a diversity of styles and atmospheres at the wineries themselves, ranging form funky to stately; the picturesque town of Los Olivos and its many tasting rooms; lots of great spots for a picnic lunch.

The only drawback to going on a wine tasting tour in the Santa Ynez Mountains is that you need some form of four-wheeled transportation to do so (cycling tours are another option, but perhaps not for everybody), which means having a designated driver with you, renting a limo, or going on an organized tour. Fortunately, there is an alternative for the wine lover who is either without wheels or would prefer to do their wine tasting on the cheap, and that is to take advantage of the wine tasting rooms located in downtown Santa Barbara--more of less within walking distance of each other. I recommend the following six tasting rooms, listed in order of my personal preference:

  • Carr Vineyards and Winery
  • Jaffurs Wine Cellars
  • Kalrya By The Sea
  • Whitcraft Winery
  • Santa Barbara Winery
  • Stearns Wharf Vintners

Carr Vineyards and Winery: Of all the tasting rooms within the Santa Barbara city limits, Carr Vineyards and Winery is my favorite because I enjoy the combination of its laid back atmosphere and great wines. The place itself is unprepossessing. It's located in an industrial section of downtown, and housed in a 1940s vintage quonset hut, that looks for all the world like an old airplane hangar. On the inside, it also looks like an old airplane hangar, except for the wine casks you can make out in the dimly-lit corners. When you walk in, the first thing you notice is the cozy and inviting wine tasting counter. Carr's wines are excellent. They produce an unusual mix of varietals which includes Pinot Noir, Syrah, Grenache, Cabernet Franc and Pinot Gris. The owner, Ryan Carr, takes a hands on approach to winemaking. He insists that "I love the vineyards. 90% of wine making is done in the vineyards. Wine makers, people, will tell you differently, which way or another, but the fact of the matter is the grapes don't get any better than the day they are picked."

Wine tastings at Carr Winery, located at 414 N. Salsipuedes Street, are $10.00 per person. They are open for tasting daily, from 11 am to 5 pm, and Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 11 am to 8 pm.

Jaffurs Wine Cellars: If you'd like to taste world-renowned wines produced in Santa Barbara City, the best place to go is Jaffurs' tasting room. They are known for their Rhone varietals, especially their Syrahs, which receive consistently high marks from respected wine critics. Robert Parker praised Jaffurs' owner back in 2008, saying that, "Over the last few vintages, Greg Jaffurs has emerged as one of Santa Barbara's finest, most consistent winemakers, and his wines continue to go from strength to strength." Of course, when he says "Santa Barbara" he means the entire Santa Barbara County winemaking region, not just Santa Barbara City.

Jaffurs Wine Cellars, located at 819 E. Montecito Street, is open for tasting Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday from 11 am to 5 pm. During the summer months, they are open everyday from 11 am to 5 pm. They charge $10.00 per person.

Kalyra by the Sea: This lively spot is located on Santa Barbara's main drag, at 212 State Street. It's the city tasting room of Kalyra Winery, which is situated in the Santa Ynez Valley. The owner, Mike Brown, is the son of an Australian winemaker. He has a wealth of experience as a winemaker in both Australia and Santa Barbara County, and is typically Australian in his lack of pretentiousness and love of fun. Kalyra produces a wide range of wines using grapes from a variety of sources, including Australia. Their unusual name is an Aborigine term that means "a wild and pleasant place." That is a perfect description of Kalyra by the Sea, with its younger crowd and striking decor--an unusual combination of Aborigine and surfer motifs.

Kalyra by the Sea is open for tasting Monday to Thursday, from 12 pm to 7 pm and on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, from 12 pm to 8 pm, at $10.00 a head.

Whitcraft Winery: Like Carr Vineyards and Winery, Whitcraft is located in the industrial district (It's actually five and a half blocks down from Carr, on the same street but, strangely, the street changes names twice within that short distance. Up to the block that Carr is on, it's called N. Salsipuedes Street, then suddenly becomes N. Calle Cesar Chavez, and when you pass under the freeway, the name changes to S. Calle Cesar Chavez.) of downtown. It's just two blocks up from the beach and located very near to Fess Parkers Double Tree Resort, but it's very inconspicuous. It's housed in the type of building usually found in an industrial park, and has no distinguishing features to identify it as either a winery or a tasting room. It's worth taking the trouble to find though. Whitcraft Winery is known for it's Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays made in the traditional Burgundian style. They produce, at most, 2000 cases of hand (and foot) made wine per year; even the labels are pasted on by hand. It is run by the founder's son, Drake Whitcraft, who has stayed true to his father's philosophy that, "great wine is nothing more than Mother Nature at her best, with the grape shepherded by a vintner with no ego to impart upon its natural qualities."

Whitcraft Winery is located at 36 A S. Calle Cesar Chavez, and open for tasting Friday to Sunday, from 12 pm to 4 pm.

Santa Barbara Winery: Established in 1962, it's the city's oldest winery, at least since Prohibition. When they first opened their doors, there were no vineyards in Santa Barbara County so they had grapes shipped down from Northern California. Their early wines did not exactly take the world by storm, but as Santa Barbara has become more and more of a big name in the wine world in recent years, so has Santa Barbara Winery grown up. They now have many high quality grapes available to them in Santa Barbara County (including from their own vineyards, some of the oldest in the area), and make a wide range of wines, with an emphasis on food-friendly varietals. They also produce a unique blend called ZCS after the three varietals used to make it: Zinfandel, Carignane and Sangiovese.

Santa Barbara Winery's spacious tasting room, located at 202 Anacapa Street (two blocks over from State Street, and two blocks up from the beach) is Open everyday from 10 am to 5 pm.

Stearns Wharf Vintners: I recommend this tasting room more for the location than for the actual wine they serve. Not that their wines are bad, they're just not up to the same level of quality as my other recommendations. The place itself is very nice though. It's located on Stearns Wharf, on the second floor above the souvenir shops. Stearns Wharf is a little bit touristy, but it's usually not too crowded and has great views of Santa Barbara City, the Santa Ynez Mountains, and of course the ocean. This is not the tasting room I'd recommend to someone who is all about the wine itself, but it's a great place to enjoy a beautiful view, good wine and a pleasant atmosphere--and they even have food.

Stearns Wharf Vintners is open daily from 10 am to 6 pm. The cost for a tasting is $5.00.

If you'd like to learn more about wine tasting in Santa Barbara, then why not visit Eric Hilton's website, at http://santabarbarawinetasting.net

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Top 10 Varietals for December, 2017

Pinot Noir is the most popular wine varietal chosen by our visitors this month.

This varies by season so if you're looking for something tasty to drink this winter, Pinot Noir is a great choice. The others are shown below:

1. Pinot Noir
2. Red Bordeaux Blend
3. Syrah
4. Nebbiolo
5. Cabernet Sauvignon
6. Merlot
7. Chardonnay
8. Red Blend
9. Sangiovese
10. Riesling

Top 10 Producers for December, 2017

Wines from Sapphire Hill were selected by our visitors the most this month, making them the most popular choice for consumers.

If you're looking for a wine suggestion, Sapphire Hill might be a great place to start. The others are shown below.

1. Sapphire Hill
2. Phelan Vineyard
3. Stephen Test
4. Ferdinand Pieroth
5. Adelsheim
6. Silver Oak
7. Louis Jadot
8. Viansa
9. Andrew Will
10. Bruno Giacosa