Allison Levine is owner of Please The Palate, a boutique marketing and event-planning agency. As a freelance writer, she contributes to numerous publications while eating and drinking her way around the world.
A weekend in Santa Barbara wine country is great getaway. However, if you are spending time in the city of Santa Barbara, hiking, enjoying the beach and browsing the shops on State Street, perhaps you do not want to spend an entire day wine tasting. Or maybe you do not want to be the designated driver. You do not have to drive to wine country to go wine tasting. You can visit the Urban Wine Trail in the city of Santa Barbara, which lies between the Santa Ynez Mountains and the Pacific Ocean. Called the “American Riviera”, it is less than two hours north of Los Angeles making the city an easy day-trip or weekend getaway. Another thirty or more minutes north is Santa Barbara Wine Country where there are more than one hundred wineries producing beautiful world-class wines.
Over the past few years, many wineries have been setting up primary or secondary tasting rooms in downtown Santa Barbara, all within walking distance of the beach. Now wine tasting is one of the many things you can do while wandering around downtown Santa Barbara. There are more than two-dozen winetasting rooms on the Urban Wine Trail. The Urban Wine Trail there is comprised of the Wine Collection of El Paseo and The Funk Zone, where there are a concentrated numbers of tasting rooms. It is easy to wander about on your own, but an intimate guided tour is also a great way to visit these tasting rooms.
Eat This, Shoot That!
We all love to take photos of our food and drink which makes Eat This, Shoot That!, founded by Tara Jones, a local college photography teacher and foodie, is the perfect resource. Sign up for a casual three-hour walking tour through the Wine Collection of El Paseo or the Funk Zone. The cost is $79 per person and includes visits to five wineries as well as stops at two restaurants. This is quite a value considering that in addition to tasting wine, you will also learn about Santa Barbara’s rich history and garner a few tips on how to take the best possible photos.
The Presidio and The Wine Collection of El Paseo
The Wine Collection of El Paseo is located in the historic El Paseo area of the Presidio Neighborhood of downtown in Santa Barbara, across the street from Paseo Nuevo shopping center. The Presidio neighborhood is the oldest neighborhood in Santa Barbara, dating back to the 1700s. One of the richest soldiers, Jose de la Guerra, made his home a communal place with shops below and homes above. He lived a lavish life. He had an estimated nineteen children and his family occupied the space from the 1700s to 1940. Today it is the home of the Historic Trust for Preservation.
Wandering through the cobblestone paths of El Paseo, is where you will find the Wine Collection of El Paseo. Home to six tasting rooms, the Wine Collection features small-production, boutique wineries producing wines from some of the best vineyards in Santa Barbara County.
The group met at the Hoffman Brat Haus on State Street. After tasting a sampling of German-style brats, we were ready to start the tour.
First Stop: Jamie Slone Wines
Jamie Slone, a former racecar driver from Napa, and his wife Kim opened the first tasting room in the Wine Collection of El Paso. With Doug Margerum as their winemaker, they made their first vintage in 2011. Making only 750 cases per year, they focus on sourcing fruit from the best vineyards in order to represent the best of what Santa Barbara has to offer. They currently offer three white wines (Grenache Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay) and six red wines (Pinot Noir, a GSM blend (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre), a super Tuscan, a Cabernet sauvignon/Syrah blend and a Bordeaux blend made with eighty percent Cabernet Sauvignon. The Spanish-style tasting room is warm and inviting, with large leather chairs, a lounge and music playing. If you are not part of the tour, you can taste two white wines and two red wines for $15 or taste all six red wines for $20. You can also get wine by the glass and sit while you enjoy it.
Second Stop: Au Bon Climat
Winemaker Jim Clendenen is an internationally recognized icon of Santa Barbara Wines. The tasting room has large windows that look out on Anacapa Street and inside dark wood is used for the bar. Focused primarily on Burgundian varieties, Clendenen also produces lesser-known varieties such as Aligote, Tocai Friulano, Nebbiolo and Petite Verdot. At the tasting room, it is possible to taste many of the labels produced by Clendenen: ABC (Au Bon Climat), ICI/Labas, Clendenden Family Wines, Bricco Buon Natale and Barham Mendelohn (from the Russian River). A flight of six wines costs $15 and a flight of five reserve wines costs $20. Au Bon Climate also offers wines by the glass.
Food Stop: C’est Cheese
A quick respite from wine tasting, we stopped at C’est Cheese, a French-style cheese shop and cafe to sample some local and imported cheeses from around the world. Husband and wife team Michael and Kathryn Graham opened C’est Cheese in 2008. Having worked in a cheese shop in college in Michigan, Michael had always loved cheese. When he and his wife moved to Santa Barbara from upstate New York, they opened C’est Cheese where they import cheese, offer classes on cheese and make homemade jams. Since opening in a little space in 2008, they have expanded to half a block with a café and outdoor seating, serving breakfast and lunch daily.
Third Stop: Margerum Wine Company
Doug Margerum started Margerum Wine Company in 2001. He can be credited for creation of the Wine Collection of El Paseo and he is the owner of the famous Wine Cask Restaurant, located in the Presidio, just around the corner from his tasting room. Margerum Wine Company features handcrafted wines that are representative of where they are grown. A tasting at Margerum Wine Company costs $10.
Fourth Stop: Grassini Family Vineyards
Grassini Family Vineyards is a family-run boutique winery using estate fruit grown in the Happy Canyon AVA. Their tasting room is rustic and warm, designed with wood from a boat that sunk in the Columbia River in the 1800s. Since the winery is not open to the public, the tasting room is the ideal place to try the wines as they are producing some of the best Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon in the area. A wine flight costs $15 and a flight of reserve wines costs $45. If you have a sweet tooth, try a chocolate pairing for $10. The chocolate will pair nicely with the Cabernet Sauvignon.
Fifth Stop: Happy Canyon Vineyard
Happy Canyon Vineyard is located on Piocho Ranch in Happy Canyon AVA. Piocho is the Chumash historical name for the property and is where the two rivers meet and go to heaven. Owned by Thomas J Barrark Jr., who has a passion for polo, the ranch is also home to two regulation polo fields. The love of polo mixed with the commitment to make the highest quality 100% estate grown Bordeaux varietal wines is reflected in the tasting room. Spanish-style with tile floors and leather couches, the space is filled with equestrian gear.
As fun as it is to go into wine country and visit wineries and tour vineyards, a day wandering through the Wine Collection of El Paseo will make you feel like you are actually in wine country.