The Santa Ynez Valley is radiantly sunny during the day, then turns slightly foggy and cool at dusk, with breezes blowing in from the nearby Pacific Ocean. It’s an ideal climate for growing perfectly ripe, elegantly balanced Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes. A few miles inland, as the weather gets drier and warmer, varieties like Merlot and Cabernet Franc thrive. Add to that a gorgeous backdrop of mountain passes, undulating hills, ancient forests, and dainty townships, and you have all the makings of a captivating wine country. Not surprisingly, the region became the star of the 2004 hit movie Sideways (along with Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church). Yet travelers in search of delicious wine sometimes overlook this diverse and scenic destination in favor of Napa or Sonoma, its more famous counterparts in the north. Here are some interesting facts for oenophiles: the valley is home to some 120 wineries, ranging from backyard operations to large estates; unlike the rest of California’s vertical ranges, the Santa Ynez Mountains travel east to west, creating a series of unique terroirs; there are four distinct American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) within the valley, and several more appellations in the surrounding winegrowing sections of Santa Barbara County.
The Santa Ynez Valley is home to some 120 wineries, ranging from backyard operations to large estates.
Together with Coastal Concierge, a boutique outfit staffed by connoisseurs, San Ysidro Ranch takes you on a private tour of some of the area’s best wineries. The itinerary will depend on your preferred varietals and wine styles, but Rusack Vineyards is a highly recommended stop. The drive alone, through winding country roads dotted with cows and hills studded with massive oaks, is quite something. Once there, owners Geoff Rusack and Alison Wrigley Rusack (the husband-and-wife team who founded the winery in 1995) are likely to greet you at their massive redwood deck, which overlooks neatly planted rows of Syrah, Zinfandel, Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc. They also use grapes from neighboring vineyards to create a highly rated, sensibly priced portfolio. Gainey Vineyard, partly housed in a picturesque 19th century barn, is another compelling family winery. The Gaineys were pioneers in the area when they planted vines in the 1980s, and their focus on quality has only increased over the decades. Halfway through your expedition, you’ll stop for a picnic lunch, beautifully laid out on a wooden bench table surrounded by foliage. There will be cheese boards, salads, pastas, and breaded chicken or salmon. Once you’ve had enough Pinots and Chards for the day, ask the driver to stop in Solvang, a distinctive village founded by Danish immigrants more than a century ago. You’ll see old-school windmills, timber-framed houses, bakeries selling kanelsnegle and other traditional pastries, and even a museum dedicated to Danish culture. More hygge awaits back in your cottage, where turndown service includes a little box of chocolates and a tiny bouquet of roses. Cozy indeed.
To learn more about San Ysidro Ranch or to arrange a Santa Barbara Wine Tasting experience, please contact the concierge upon making a reservation.