I'm no stranger to Santa Barbara, but in past years, it's really a pitstop city where I go to grab a quick bite, admire the coastal views, and then move on for my final destination (whether visiting friends in UCSB, actually a little further north on the 101 in Goleta, touring & tasting my way through the Santa Maria & Santa Ynez wine countries or steadily making my way towards Monterey, Santa Cruz and the Bay Area.)
But last month, my friend had a summer wedding in nearby Carpinteria, so I took the occasion to spend a weekend in Santa Barbara and really check it out.
Little did I know that it was also Passport Weekend in the Santa Barbara Urban Wine Trail, where for $50 I can taste my way around the city's 15-20 wineries and tasting rooms from Friday to Sunday (and getting my passport stamped along the way,) along with a glass to keep & 10% discount off bottle purchases. Considering a flight at each of these venues run $10-20, it sounded like a great deal, so I snapped up a ticket and took myself on an urban hike & sip.
And while I only wound up checking out a dozen wineries over the three-day period, I did discover some new favorite spots, including:
My favorite of the five was its 2010 Alisos Vineyard Gewurztraminer, which has a sweet, floral, peachy aroma but is rather dry on the palate and just a hint of richness from a few months in oak (but far from being the crazy-buttered-toasty mess associated with California Chardonnays.) It was also one of two bottles I actually snapped up.
In short -- the hipster paradise of wineries in Santa Barbara. And I don't mean that in a bad way, it's simply impossible to not walk into this space without the H-word screaming in your face. (In my best Stefan voice) the hottest place in town is MUNICIPAL - walk on in and you'll see tank-topped, tattooed pourers dishing about Instagram photos, wines-on-tap dispensed from a trophy, tasting glasses stored in filing cabinets, and look over there, is that a yeti? No, it's a guy coming in for his bottle order with his unshusky. What is an unshusky, you ask? Unshaven husky, and boy is it panting hard after coming in from the heatwave. *Ahem*
That being said, the space is wickedly fun change of pace from the typically stoic tasting rooms. And if you got a group of friends (hipster or not,) it's a great place to mellow out and drink away--they let you bring food in and their tasty wines-on-tap are reasonably priced by the glass or liter-sized carafes. Their red-on-tap of the moment, MSG (a blend of Mouvedre-Syrah-Grenache) is my fave, easily drinkable on its own but also great with a burger or nicely-charred grilled foods.
Deep Sea Wines
I've checked out their wines before @ their events down in L.A. and do like some of their offerings, so I already planned on visiting them. But what really made me ecstatic is that their tasting room is right out on Stearn's Wharf. Coupled with their late-ish closing time, it gave me the pleasure of wine-tasting to a coastal sunset.
Of the flight, my favorite were the Flower Rosé and Central Coast Viognier, both delicate, crisp wines that exhibit lovely sweet fruit aromas, but with a remarkably dry and almost-minerally palate--perfect for summer sipping!
Ok, while I wasn't WOW'd by any of their wines, the flight here does offer a fun & educational experience. Specializing in Pinot Noirs from various regions, I love the flight highlights the terroir's influence on the grape -- since we tasted the same varietal from Mendocino, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties. Alas, my favorite of the set turned out to be the Grenache, which has soft tannins and an acidity that's bright without being puckery.
Cottonwood Canyon Winery
This is likely my favorite find since it's so hole-in-the-wall compared to the other wineries & tasting rooms. And they also offer a myriad of bites to go with their wine flights (which changes regularly, depending on what estate bottle(s) the pourer feels like opening that day.) It could be a bite of cracker and cheese to go with an older-vintage Chardonnay, some of their spicy housemade pickles alongside their peppery Pinot Noir, or a chocolate truffle with their Syrah & dessert wine.
But despite all the specialty, estate offerings being poured, my favorite (and the other bottle that I actually bought) is their standard line Bistro Classic Chardonnay, which upon immediate tasting I've deemed an 'oyster wine' because of its slight effervescence and a fantastic combo of lemon-citrus and stoney-mineral notes, plus a medium body that I'd imagine to be perfect with the oyster's creamy-rich flesh.
And while tasting the wines was a big part of the fun, I also loved that it gave me the chance to hike through Santa Barbara and really explore its city, from the main drag of State Street . . .
. . . to its vibrant farmer's market, where I snapped up some incredibly-sweet and beautifully garnet-hued pluots . . .
. . . and up and down its picturesque coastline . . .
. . . finishing off at Stearns Wharf, where I treated myself to a view and some great seafood from Santa Barbara Shellfish Co.
Of course, I also tasted some incredible bites throughout the city too, but that'll be for another post in the near future.
And I hope Passport Weekend (this was its inaugural year) makes a comeback in the future too.