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Wine Tour : Happy Trails to You

Santa Barbara County wine country is a marvelous weekend getaway, in particular because of the wonderful quality of the wines and the hospitality at the tasting rooms. But many of the wineries are owned by one- or two-person partnerships, and many have no tours or tasting rooms. Check the list below before setting off on your tour; wineries that are not numbered or listed on the map have no tasting room.

1. Au Bon Climat

P.O. Box 113, Los Olivos, Calif. 93441

(805) 937-9801

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Tasting, sales: 2905 Grand Ave., Los Olivos, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. daily.

Founded by Burgundy-lovers Jim Clendenen and Adam Tolmach, ABC makes some of the most intensely flavored and sought-after wines from Burgundian grapes: rich and buttery Chardonnays and superb Pinot Noirs. Also two excellent, lighter-styled Nebbiolos. Tolmach recently sold his interest in ABC to Clendenen and continues to make wine at his own Ojai Winery.

2. Austin Cellars

2923 Grand Ave., Los Olivos, Calif. 93441

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(805) 688-9655, (805) 824-8584

Tasting, sales: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. daily.

Tony Austin started out as winemaker with Firestone. His small winery is in Los Alamos; tasting is done at a separate tasting room in Los Olivos. Austin’s main line includes Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling and late-harvest Sauvignon Blanc.

3. Babcock Vineyards

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5175 Highway 246, Lompoc, Calif. 93436

(805) 736-1455

Tasting, sales: 10:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Monday-Friday by appointment. Picnic area.

From U.S. 101, 9 miles west of Buellton on the north side of Highway 246.

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Long Beach native Bryan Babcock’s parents own two restaurants--Walt’s Wharf in Seal Beach and Oysters in Corona Del Mar--but Babcock learned about grapes and wine during summers at the family ranch near Lompoc. When he left Occidental College, he took enology courses at UC Davis and today is one of the most innovative winemakers in the county. His line of wines includes rich Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs, barrel-fermented Gewurztraminer, and a spectacular 1990 Riesling. The Eleven Oaks brand is used only for special lots of high-quality wine.

4. Barnwood Vineyards

P.O. Box 31, Old Cuyama, Calif. 93214

Highway 33 and Quatal Canyon Road, Old Cuyama

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(805) 766-2748

Tasting: by appointment.

One hour north of Ojai on Highway 33. From Santa Maria, 80 minutes via Highway 166 east, Highway 33 south.

This small, remote winery specializes in Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.

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5. The Brander Vineyard

P.O. Box 92, Los Olivos, Calif. 93441

2401 Refugio Road, Los Olivos

(805) 6878-2455

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Tasting, sales: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. Picnic area.

Tours by appointment only.

Highway 154 at Roblar Avenue turnoff.

The pink Mediterranean-French tasting room, located in a warm region of the county, is one of the most photographed buildings around. Fred Brander specializes in the red Bordeaux varieties and Sauvignon Blanc. His Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon blends are replicas of Graves; his Bouchet, a Cabernet Sauvignon-Cabernet Franc blend, is excellent.

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Buttonwood Farm Winery

P.O. Box 849, Santa Ynez, Calif. 93460

(805) 688-6160

Tasting, sales: 2905 Grand Ave., Los Olivos, Calif., 11 a.m.-6 p.m. daily.

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The upper slopes of Betty Williams’ thoroughbred horse ranch had been planted only with oats until 1982, when grapes went in. Wine was made in 1989, when the winery was bonded. A Sauvignon Blanc blended with Semillon will soon be joined by a Merlot.

6. Byron Vineyard & Winery

5230 Tepusquet Road, Santa Maria, Calif. 93454

(805) 937-7288

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Tours, tasting, sales: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. daily. Picnic area.

From U.S. 101 take Betteravia Road east 7 miles, left on Santa Maria Mesa Road 5 miles; left on Tepusquet Road. From Highway 154, take Foxen Canyon Road north 20 miles, turn right on Tepusquet Road.

Winemaker Ken Brown won a slew of medals while at nearby Zaca Mesa. In 1984, in partnership with grower Dale Hampton, Brown founded Byron (his real first name) and almost immediately began making spectacular Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays. The Pinot Noir is so good it’s difficult to say the Reserve is better than the regular bottling. Two years ago, the Robert Mondavi Winery bought Byron, which remains entirely under the control of Brown.

7. Cambria Winery

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Route 1, 5475 Chardonnay Lane, Santa Maria, Calif. 93454

(805) 937-1777

Fast-growing Kendall-Jackson established this brand in 1987 after acquiring the lion’s share of the Tepusquet Vineyard in a deal in which Robert Mondavi also bought large acreage here. Winemaker Signe Zoller has made some intensely flavored estate-bottled Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs.

8. Carey Cellars

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1171 Alamo Pintado Road, Solvang, Calif. 93463

(805) 688-8554

Tours, tasting, sales: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. daily. Picnic area.

About 2 1/2 miles north of Highway 246 on Alamo Pintado Road.

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Founded by a family of physicians, Carey was sold five years ago to Firestone. Today it is under the direction of Kate Firestone, whose husband, Brooks, is in charge of the winery bearing the family name. Winemaker Kent Barthman makes handsome Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, as well as an attractive Chardonnay. Next year a classic red Bordeaux blend will be released as well as a small lot of Pinot Noir.

9. Carrari Vineyards

439 Waite St., Los Alamos, Calif. 93440

(805) 344-4000

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No tasting. Sales: Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Case lots only.

Joe Carrari is a grape grower who also makes wines under his family name in leased winery space. One of the most popular wines in the line is called Dago Red.

Chimere

547 W. Betteravia Road, Santa Maria, Calif. 93454

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(805) 928-5611

Tasting: by appointment.

U.S. 101 north to the Betteravia turnoff; left (west) on Betteravia about 2 miles.

Gary R. Mosby, formerly winemaker at Edna Valley Vineyard, founded this small winery in 1989 and released the first wines last year. Mosby makes a full-flavored Chardonnay, also Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir.

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Cottonwood Canyon Vineyard

P.O. Box 3459, San Luis Obispo, Calif. 93403-3459

Old Dominion and Orcutt-Garey roads, Santa Maria

(805) 549-WINE

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No visitors.

Owner Norm Beko recently hired winemaker Roland Shackelford, formerly of Chateau DeBaun in Sonoma County. The winery will make only the Burgundian varieties, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

10. Firestone Vineyard

P.O. Box 244, Los Olivos, Calif. 93441

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5017 Zaca Station Road, Los Olivos, Calif.

(805) 688-3940

Tours, tasting, sales: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. daily. Picnic area.

From U.S. 101, take Zaca Station Road exit; 1 1/2 miles north.

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A pioneer of this region, Brooks Firestone has among the widest lines of wine in the county--two Rieslings, dry Cabernet Rose, Merlot, two Cabernet Sauvignons, Gewurztraminer, two Sauvignon Blancs, Chardonnay and dessert Rieslings.

11. Foxen Vineyard

Route 1, Box 144A, Foxen Canyon Road, Santa Maria, Calif. 93454

(805) 937-4251

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Tasting: noon to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Wine fanatics Bill Wathen and Dick Dore hand-built their winery on family property. They carefully select grapes from neighbors and make bold, intensely flavored wines in tiny quantities. A visit is a real experience.

12. The Gainey Vineyard

3950 E. Highway 246, Santa Ynez, Calif. 93460

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(805) 688-0558

Tours, tasting, sales: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. Picnic area.

Located 1/4 mile west of the intersection of Highway 246 and Highway 154, or 3 miles east of Solvang on Highway 246.

Before the ranch became one of the most attractive wineries in the state, it was devoted to show horses. Now the showplace tasting room offers wines by Rick Longoria that equal anything made in the area. The Reserve Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay are special treats, the Pinot Noir is a growing star, and other wines are impeccably made. Not to be missed.

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13. Houtz Vineyards

2670 Ontiveros Road, Los Olivos, Calif. 93441

(805) 688-8664

Tours, tasting, sales: noon-4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, picnic area.

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From Los Olivos, take Grand Avenue south, bear left up the hill onto Roblar Avenue, turn right on Exterior Road; follow signs to the winery.

Founded by David and Margaret Houtz, the 16-acre vineyard is in the Santa Ynez Valley a half mile from Brander. Houtz makes small amounts of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet.

Kalyra

P.O. Box 865, Buellton, Calif. 93427

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(805) 963-0274

Tasting, sales: 2905 Grand Ave., Los Olivos, Calif., 11 a.m.-6 p.m. daily.

Australian Mike Brown, who formerly worked with Ken Brown at Byron, has made Kalyra one of the hidden secrets of the area. Brown, who also makes the wine at Buttonwood, has done a stylish Shiraz-Cabernet blend as well as Chardonnay and a Port.

John Kerr Wines

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P.O. Box 1967, Buellton, Calif. 93427

(805) 688-5337

Tasting, sales: 2905 Grand Ave., Los Olivos, Calif., 11 a.m-6 p.m. daily.

Kerr, an assistant winemaker at Byron, makes a small amount of full-flavored Chardonnays under his own brand.

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Longoria Wine Cellars

P.O. Box 186, Los Olivos, Calif. 93441

(805) 688-9804

Tasting, sales: 2905 Grand Ave., Los Olivos, Calif., 11 a.m.-6 p.m. daily.

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Gainey winemaker Rick Longoria makes tiny amounts of wines under his own brand.

14. Los Olivos Tasting Room

2905 Grand Ave., Los Olivos, Calif.

(805) 688-7406

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The best place to taste the tiny producers’ wines. Owner Bill Benziger charges $3 to sample up to 10 wines, and the list at present includes Au Bon Climat, Buttonwood, Qupe, Vita Nova, J. Kerr and Kalyra.

15. Mosby Winery at Vega Vineyards

P.O. Box 1849, Buellton, Calif. 93427

(805) 688-2415

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Tasting, sales, gifts: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. daily. Picnic area.

U.S. 101 to Santa Rosa Road, 200 yards south.

Dentist Bill Mosby and his wife, Jeri, founded Vega Vineyards along U.S. 101 to make Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Gewurztraminer, as well as other varieties. Recent splashes include a Nebbiolo and a Sangiovese-based wine called Brunello.

16. Qupe Wine Cellars

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P.O. Box 440, Los Olivos, Calif. 93441

Santa Maria Mesa Road, Santa Maria

Office: (805) 688-2477, Winery: (805) 937-9801

Winery visits: by appointment only. Tasting, sales: 2905 Grand Ave., Los Olivos, Calif., 11 a.m.-6 p.m. daily.

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Brilliant wine stylist Bob Lindquist is renowned for his Chardonnay, but his Rhone varieties such as Syrah, Marsanne and Viognier are gaining great attention. In particular, a Syrah from the Bien Nacido Vineyard that sells out rapidly each year.

17. Rancho Sisquoc

Route 1, Box 147, Foxen Canyon Road, Santa Maria, Calif. 93454

(805) 934-4332

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Tours, tasting, sales: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. daily. Picnic area.

From U.S. 101, take Betteravia (which becomes Foxen Canyon Road) 18 miles east. From Highway 154, take Foxen Canyon Road north 18 miles.

Winemaker Stephan Bedford specializes in the Bordeaux varieties. His Chardonnay is also excellent, but the best wine in the line is a handsome Franken Riesling.

18. Sanford Winery

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7250 Santa Rosa Road, Buellton, Calif. 93427

(805) 688-3300, fax (805) 688-7381

Tasting, sales: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. daily. Picnic area.

From U.S. 101, 4 1/2 miles west of Buellton on Santa Rosa Road.

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Richard Sanford was a founder (with Mike Benedict) of the Sanford & Benedict Vineyard in Lompoc; in the mid 1970s they turned out some spectacular Pinot Noirs. The partners split in 1980; now Sanford produces some of the most intensely flavored Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs and Sauvignon Blancs as well as Pinot Noir Vin Gris. Sanford recently reacquired the original Sanford & Benedict Vineyard.

19. Santa Barbara Winery

202 Anacapa St., Santa Barbara, Calif. 93101

(805) 963-3633

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Tours, tasting, sales, gifts: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. Picnic area.

Between U.S. 101 and the beach on Anacapa Street, one block east of State Street.

Founded in 1962 by Pierre La Fond, Santa Barbara Winery used to make sweet wine for tourist shops. Then Bruce McGuire was hired to concentrate on fine wine. Today the winery makes a stylish dry, barrel-fermented Chenin Blanc, a dry Riesling, flavorful Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs, and a wine called Beaujour, which is a Zinfandel nouveau.

20. Santa Ynez Winery

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343 N. Refugio Road, Santa Ynez, Calif. 93460

(805) 6878-8381

Tours, tasting, sales, gifts: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. Picnic area.

From U.S. 101, 6 miles east on Highway 246, right on Refugio Road. From Highway 154, 3 miles west on Highway 246, left on Refugio Road.

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Owner Doug Scott and winemaker Mike Blom make a broad line of wines. Scott also owns Stearns Wharf Vintners.

21. Stearns Wharf Vintners

217 Stearns Wharf, Santa Barbara, Calif. 93101

(805) 966-6624

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Tasting, sales, gifts: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. daily.

Also at Copenhagen Cellars, 448 Alisal Road, Solvang, Calif.

(805) 688-4218

Tasting, sales, gifts: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily.

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22. Zaca Mesa Winery

P.O. Box 899, Los Olivos, Calif. 93441

6905 Foxen Canyon Road, Los Olivos, Calif.

(805) 688-3310

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Tours, tasting, sales, gifts: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. daily. Picnic area.

Approximately 8 miles off U.S. 101. From the south, exit at Zaca Station Road; from the north, exit at Alisos Canyon Road.

The vineyard here was planted in 1972, the winery founded in 1978. The present owner is Los Angeles businessman John C. Cushman III.

Santa Barbara Wine Country

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It’s easy to take a car tour of the Santa Barbara wine region: just follow this map.

The Santa Ynez Mountains run east and west along the Pacific coast. This keeps the climate temperate by allowing fog and breezes from the Pacific Ocean to flow inland.


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