The Santa Barbara County Vintners Association visited San Diego recently for a trade and media tasting featuring wines from 10 members, including wineries and wine families with more than one label.

The vintners are on a campaign to raise awareness of the region, which is a popular destination for visitors from throughout Southern California and the West. One escape we’ve done numerous times for long weekends from San Diego, including with several other wine-loving couples: take Amtrak to Santa Barbara; relax and avoid the stressful drive through Los Angeles; rent a car; stay in the city or in one of the smaller towns in wine country; meander through the countryside on less crowded back roads; and enjoy tasting a wide range of fine wines, from boutique producers to long-established brands.

For planning your tours, the vintners have an excellent website at Santa Barbara County Wines. We like the website organization where you can choose from nine different wine trails, with seven in the American Viticultural Areas (AVA): Santa Maria Valley; Santa Ynez Valley, an overlying AVA has four sub-AVAs (Sta. Rita Hills, Ballard Canyon, Los Olivos District, Happy Canyon); and Alisos Canyon. The region has more than 275 tasting rooms, including 30 on the city urban wine trail. The website features events, dining and other helpful information, with short descriptions of each winery. The vintners recently launched a free mobile app, available in the Apple Store and Google Play.

For background on wine acreage, the 2020 California crop report had these statistics for Santa Barbara varietals: Pinot Noir, 5,504 acres; Chardonnay, 4,176; Syrah, 1,233; Sauvignon Blanc, 785; Cabernet Sauvignon, 473; Misc. Reds, 470; Grenache, 377; Misc. Whites: 321; Pinot Gris: 303;  Merlot, 255; Viognier, 160; and Mourvedre, 119.

We were able to taste a good cross section of the wines being poured during the visit.

Sanford Brut Cuvee


Founded in 1989 by the noted actor, the Fess Parker Winery & Vineyard is located on the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail. The family-run operation includes a comfortable inn. Our notes:

  • Santa Barbara, Calif., 2019 Fess Parker Viognier Rodney’s Vineyard, $39. light-mid straw gold, viscous (14.5 alc.); stone fruit, peach, light floral nose; mid-plus acids; medium body; long fruit finish; nice style. 16 UC Davis scale, 90 other scales.
  • Santa Barbara, Calif., 2018 Epiphany GSM Thompson Vineyard, $35. Grenache, 56%; Syrah, 25%; Mourvedre, 19%. Aged 19 months in 500L French oak puncheons, 17% new. Dark purple, viscous (14.7 alc.); red fruit, wood, peppery ripe grape nose; mid-acids; medium-full tannins; good fruit, structure; long rich finish. BBQ, beef and rib wine. 17/90.
  • Santa Barbara, Calif., 2019 Fess Parker Syrah Rodney’s Vineyard, $54. Mid-dark garnet, viscous (14.3 alc.); red and black fruit, peppery, spicy, slightly oaky nose (22 months in French oak barrels, 39% new); mid-acids (5% Viognier); medium to full tannins; long semi-chewy finish. 16.5/91.


Kathy Joseph, owner and winemaker, was a pioneer in planting Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc some 30 years ago. She makes her wine in small batches and talked about her quest to create wines with a sense of place, with fine varietal character.

  • Sta. Rita Hills, Calif., 2016 Fiddlehead Cellars Grüner Veltliner Fiddlestix Vineyard, $30. Light green gold, viscous (13.0 alc); green fruit, citrus, floral, mineral nose; medium acids; medium depth; semi-long crisp citrus finish. 16/90.
  • Sta. Rita Hills Calif. 2015 Fiddlehead Cellars Pinot Noir Seven Twenty Eight Fiddlestix Vineyard, $42. Mid-ruby; mid-plus acids; medium tannins; red fruit, cherry, light oak nose (some aging in French oak, 35% new); long, balanced, red fruit and oak finish. 16.5/91.
  • Santa Ynez Valley, Calif., 2019 Fiddlehead Cellars Sauvignon Blanc Goosebury, $42. Light straw gold, viscous (13.0 alc.); light herbaceous, citrus, new mown hay nose (100% stainless fermentation); medium acids; good fruit; long semi-crisp finish. 16/90.


Bill Wathen and Dick Doré founded Foxen in 1985 and have continued to make wine together since then. Their website highlights their dedication to “the creation of very small-production, vineyard-designated wines using a minimalist approach to wine making.” Fun destination to visit.

Foxen Chenin Blanc

  • Santa Maria Valley, Calif., 2020 Foxen Chenin Blanc Ernesto Wickenden Vineyard, $26. Light straw gold, viscous (13.0 alc.); light floral notes, some tropical fruit (aged in 500-liter French oak puncheons, 8% new); medium acids; medium depth; mid-long semi-lush fruity finish. 16/90.
  • Santa Maria Valley, Calif., 2018 Foxen Pinot Noir, $36. Mid-ruby, viscous (13.3 alc.); from two vineyards and four Dijon clones; red fruit, cherry, light floral nose (9 months aging in 225-liter neutral French oak); mid-plus acids; medium tannin; long red fruit finish. 16.5/91.
  • Santa Ynez Valley, Calif., 2018 Foxen Volpino Rosato, $36. Mid-ruby, viscous (15.0 alc.); 57% Sangiovese, 43% Merlot; red and black fruit nose; cocoa, ripe berries; mid-acids; medium-plus tannins; long chewy ripe grape finish. 16.5/91.


According to their website, the Miller Family planted Bien Nacido Vineyards during the 1970s. They have sold grapes to winemakers throughout California from the terroir they say combines rocky soils, warm days and cooling breezes from the Pacific Ocean. They planted Solomon Hills Vineyard in the late 1990s to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. It is composed primarily of ocean derived sandy loams.

Miller Family Wines

  • Santa Barbara County, Calif., 2020 J. Wilkes Pinot Blanc, $20. Light-mid gold; low viscosity (12.5 alc.; stainless fermentation); floral, stone fruit, peach nose; medium-minus acids; long fruity, stone fruit finish. 15.5/89.
  • Santa Maria Valley, Calif., 2019 Solomon Hills Estate Chardonnay, $45. Mid-dark gold, viscous (14.0 alc.); stone fruit, wine lees, oak nose (aged in 40% new French oak); mid-plus acids; medium depth; long semi-tight mineral and stone fruit finish. 17/92.
  • Santa Barbara County, Calif., 2019 Bien Nacido Estate Syrah Santa Maria Valley, $60. Mid-dark purple, viscous (14.0 alc.; 16 months in 600-liter puncheons, 45% new); red and black fruit, peppery, ripe grape nose; mid-acids; medium-plus tannins; full body; long, rich semi-chewy finish. Just 845 six packs released. 17/92.


The tasting room in just off State Street a block from Santa Barbara’s waterfront. They pour Rhône varietals, Sauvignon Blanc, and Rosé. The winery has a 20-acre estate vineyard and barrel room in the Santa Ynez Valley. Doug Margerum, owner, has a more than 30-year history in wine and food in the region.

  • Santa Barbara, Calif. 2020 Margerum M5, $30. Good value in Grenache-based Rhone blend (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cinsault, and Counoise). Mid-ruby, viscous; red fruit, pomegranate, light floral Grenache nose; mid-plus acids; medium tannins; good red fruit finish. 16/90.


Sanford winery specializes in hand-crafted, estate bottled Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, with two sustainably farmed vineyards in the heart of the Sta. Rita Hills. It includes the Sanford & Benedict Vineyard, the first vineyard planted in the appellation in 1971, which has the county’s oldest Pinot Noir vines.

  • Santa Barbara County, Calif., 2015 Sanford Brut Cuvée, Santa Maria Hills, $55. Light-mid yellow gold; floral, red fruit, light yeast nose (70% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay; 492 cases made); mid-plus acids, hints of red fruit on the palate; long crisp yeasty finish; nice style. 16.5/91.
  • 2019 Sanford Chardonnay Sta. Rita Hills, $30. Mid-gold, viscous (13.5 alc.); light citrus nose, stone fruit, hints of wood; low-medium acids; long, round, ripe, stone fruit finish. 16-16.5/90-91.
  • Sta. Rita Hills, Calif., 2019 Sanford Chardonnay Founders’ Vines, $75. Mid gold, viscous (13.5 alc.); stone fruit, light oak nose (16 months in French oak, 17% new); mid-acids; medium-plus depth; long lush round light oak finish. 17/92.
  • 2020 Sanford Pinot Noir Sta. Rita Hills, $42. Light-mid ruby, viscous (13.5 alc.); red fruit, cherries, floral, rose petal nose; mid-acids; round, ripe; medium tannins; nice flavor and finish. 16.5/91.
  • 2019 Sanford Pinot Noir Founders Vines Sanford & Benedict Vineyard, $125. Light ruby, viscous (13.5 alc.); red fruit, leaves, old world nose; light oak (16 months in French oak, 30% new); mid acids, tannins; medium depth; long rich elegant finish. 17.5/93. Our top wine of the tasting.