The Santa Barbara Vintners Festival – The biggest Santa Barbara County Wine Event

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I started my spring season with a road trip with friends to Santa Barbara Vintners Festival, which draws large crowds of wine enthusiasts every year. We drove together from the Los Angeles area and then, hopped on a shuttle bus at the Fess Parker’s Doubletree Resort in Santa Barbara. From there, we headed straight to River Park in the city of Lompoc.

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Last year, my friends and I skipped the shuttle bus for a couple nights stay in Santa Maria just so we could go to a few wineries before and after the festival. The stay was memorable, because festival weekends are usually jammed pack with wine discounts, free tastings, and plenty of food and entertainment depending on the winery who chooses to have an open house. Unfortunately, neither one of my friends or I could clear our schedule this year for our own “Sideways“ weekend wine trip encore. Instead, we opted to pay the extra $25 for a shuttle ride to the festival. We figured that riding the bus would buy us one hour of safe transportation to and from the festival. I admit that it was quite a comfortable bus ride. I spent my hour photographing and videotaping the beautiful landscapes on the 101 Freeway north from Santa Barbara.  The heavy rainfall in February and early March was perfect timing for the wildflower blooms in late March and early April. Yes, the weather made it picture perfect for wildflower season.
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We arrived the festival and found out that our early internet ticket purchase was an incentive to enter with the VIPs.  This meant one extra hour of wine tasting and eating. So, we scurried inside and headed to the tents.  What makes the Santa Barbara Vintners Festival so unique is the “show and tell”. As a matter of fact, all the vintners (winemakers) that make up the Santa Barbara Vintners Association must attend this festival each year. They are always pouring and giving a full lecture about the winemaking process. You’ll find a few volunteers assisting to pour for the public, but you will always find the vintners and also the owners of the winery present. Ken Brown, pictured to the left,  is the winemaker and owner of Ken Brown Wines in Buellton, California. Like all winemakers, he’ll give you an earful of how his wine was made, where the grapes came from, what to look for when you drink it, etc.   He’s also one of several winemakers that I pay a visit to just to say “Hi”, because they are brilliant for making exceptional wines and they have a passion for talking about it too, which is what I enjoy listening to.  I enjoy the fruity depth of the Pinot Noirs from Ken Brown Wines and I especially enjoy their Syrah.

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The Santa Barbara Wine Country is known for Pinot Noirs. After doing the math, there had to have been hundreds of Pinots to being poured considering the over 100 members of the Santa Barbara Vintners Association. My friends and I have our favorite wineries that we usually visit on a regular basis. However, it was still hard to find a starting place after exhausting our them. You never know where to start with this many wineries in attendance, but I’ve learned to be a little tactical since my visit to Tantara Winery last year.  A friend had arranged for a barrel tasting at Tantara; where winemaker and owner, Jeffery Fink, gave us a horizontal tasting of the pinot noirs from the Santa Maria Valley AVA. From that tasting alone, I have since tailored my own wine tastings at wine festivals by focusing on the estates and vineyards that I like. Yes, it sounds a little obsessive compulsive, but it sure beats trying every winery and tasting every single wine out there. But then again, there is nothing wrong with the latter either.
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Eating was probably the easiest activity to choose at Santa Barbara Vintners Festival. The Hitching Post II served a barbecued Flat Iron steak sandwich with fries and a piece of their barbecued mushroom. The line to get a tasting of food was pretty long, but I sincerely appreciated that someone was pouring a tasting of The Hitching Post’s Pinot Noir in everyone’s glass. It sure made the wait time seem a little faster. As for the sandwich, et al…it was delicious and obviously paired well with their smokey Pinot Noir. When I think of it, we ate quite well, because of the local restaurants and caterers in attendance. The Lobster Sliders, the Garlic Soup, and the Italian Meatball with marinara sauce were also my favorites eats at the festival.

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Truly, the main focus at the Santa Barbara Vintners Festival is to meet and greet with the vintners, listen to their stories, and enjoy their wines with friends and family. There were many new releases that my friends and I tasted. We dropped by the Stolpman Vineyards table where tasted their newest release of the La Cuadrilla, a wine and project dedicated to honor the crew of workers who harvest the grapes for Stolpman Vineyards.  I was a little humbled after listening to the story behind La Cuadrilla wine and project. As a Manager in the business world, I understood the sense of  respect that the Stolpman-La Cuadrilla project brings to the crew of dedicated people who are in the front lines of working the hardest. What a great way to show your appreciation to the workers! Kudos to Stolpman Vineyards.
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Well, it turned out to be a wonderful afternoon at the Santa Barbara Vintners festival. We had the best weather, we also drank the best wine, ate well, and had a pleasant time talking to the winemakers and wine enthusiasts who enjoy California wines as much as we did. I know that there are many more wine festivals to attend before summer hits in a few months. So, for now, I’m going to enjoy drinking California Pinot Noirs. A picnic and pinots sounds like an awesome escape with a group of friends, don’t you think?