Day Tripping to Lompoc and Santa Barbara County for a Taste of Good Wine

Sta. Rita Hills AVA © Cori Solomon


It does not take much to entice my husband and me to drive up to the Central Coast for wine tasting. Santa Barbara County has so many areas to visit, including Solvang, Los Olivos, Santa Ynez, Los Alamos, and Lompoc. The various appellations of Santa Barbara County open the door to many options for tasting wine and a day trip to the area. There are wineries at every turn in all these places.

If you are a lover of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and cool-climate Syrah along with other cool-climate varieties, visiting Lompoc is the place to go, especially to the industrial park that houses the Lompoc Wine Trail, formally known as the Wine Ghetto.

Lompoc-Wine-Trail
Lompoc Wine Trail

Our journey is uneventful as we leave Los Angeles, but once we hit Ventura, I thoroughly enjoy the drive. We are past the hustle of Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley. Calmness sets in as we view the California coastline, but once we pass through the tunnel and start our ascent up to Buellton, we truly notice the difference. The landscape changes to pastures filled with oak trees, telling us we have arrived in Santa Barbara wine country. The Central Coast beckons us, knowing we are destined to enjoy a good time.

Folded Hills

Once we hit Santa Barbara, we know that we have a 45-minute to Buellton’s exit and the 246, the highway that leads east to Solvang and west to Lompoc. If you crave wine before you reach Buellton, stop in Gaviota at Folded Hills, the winery owned by Andrew and Kim Busch. Just off the 101 freeway, the winery is known for its Rhone varietals. From their beer empire, they now have a Farmstead that grows various crops, including grapes. If you are lucky, you can also see the Clydesdale horses, a camel, a Zebra, and a donkey that live harmoniously on the property.

Wine Picks: Don’t miss August White, a blend of Grenache Blanc, Clairette Blanche, and Roussanne. In Reds, I recommend Grant Grenache.

The house at Folded Hills
The house at Folded Hills

Wine Along the Highway 246

Back on the road for a few minutes, you will soon reach the exit of the 246 and will recognize many of the landmarks you saw in the movie Sideways. The film made Pinot Noir and the area famous. Heading west on the 246, you will pass several of the Sta. Rita Hills AVA vineyards and wineries, including Babcock, Foley, Dierberg, and Melville. Some of my favorites along the 246 are Dierberg and Melville. Both settings are ideal for a picnic.

Wine Picks: At Dierberg, I have always enjoyed the unoaked Chardonnay. At Melville, I recommend the Syrah.

Melville Winery © Cori Solomon
Picnic at Melville Winery

Sta. Rita Hills AVA

Most of the wineries in Lompoc are part of the Sta. Rita Hills AVA. It began with a vision that Michael Benedict and Richard Sanford had in the late 60s and early 70s. They planted the first vineyard in 1971, known as Sanford and Benedict, and were area’s pioneers. By 1997, several of the pioneering winemakers were determined to make the Sta. Rita Hills, an AVA. That occurred in 2001. Today, there are over 59 vineyards in the appellation.

The region is known for its Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and other cool-climate varieties. The combination of marine-based soil with higher levels of calcium, its east/west orientation, and the diurnal changes due to the cooling influence of the Pacific Ocean and fog create ideal growing conditions for cool-climate wines.

You enter the Sta. Rita Hills AVA, once you are about four miles west of Buellton, the AVA western boundary is just before you hit the town of Lompoc. The boundary on the north is the south side of the Purisima Hills, and on the south is the north side of the Santa Rosa Hills.

Lompoc

Lompoc is known for its flower fields, murals, and its budding wine industry. It happens to be the flower seed capital of the world. The city is about 10 to 15 minutes from Surf Beach and Ocean Beach Park for those who want to walk along the beach. Vandenberg Air Force is a 10 to fifteen-minute drive north. If you are in Lompoc on the day of a launch, look to the sky to view the rocket taking off.

Zoe,-a-Saluki-In-The-Flower-Fields-of-Lompoc
Lompoc flower fields.

The area was initially settled by the Chumash Indians. In 1787, the La Purisima Mission was established. An earthquake in 1812 destroyed the Mission. It was rebuilt in its current location and now part of the California Park System. Before COVID-19, you could enjoy an evening under the stars at the La Purisima Mission while attending Wine and Fire, the Sta. Rita Hills Wine Alliance’s yearly event. It is one of my favorite outdoor wine events.

Lompoc Wine Trail Tasting

I discovered the wine scene in Lompoc while attending yearly dog shows in the area. I would skip a day showing my dog to explore the many wineries or enjoy a Santa Maria-styled barbeque. Like Santa Maria, the barbeque is a big part of the local scene.

Wineries are scattered all over Lompoc’s southern end. Most are located in an industrial park just north of Ocean Avenue near 12th St, known as the Lompoc Wine Trail.

Some of the wineries with tasting rooms on the wine trail include Ampelos, a winery dedicated to biodynamic farming. Sampling their Rosé is a must because a small amount of Riesling enhances the spices in the wine. Sweetzer Cellars is another winery that I highly recommend where almost any of their Chardonnays and Pinots are worth tasting.

There are also wineries with tasting rooms close by but not in the industrial park—one of the newer wineries with a tasting room along the Lompoc Wine Trail is Camins 2 Dreams. Liquid Farm has a tasting room in Lompoc as well as Los Olivos. Liquid Farm produces some of the best Burgundian Chardonnays I have ever tasted. The winery started producing only Chardonnay and Rosé, saying they would never make any Pinot Noir. A couple of years ago, they began creating Pinot Noir. Their Pinot is pretty darn good. If you run into winemaker James Sparks, ask to taste his own label, Kings Carey.

Liquid Farm Tasting Room Bar
Liquid Farm Tasting Room Bar

Known as the blue whale, you will find Kessler-Haak, Transcendence, and Zotovich. Although I mention Transcendence here, my recent road trip to Lompoc took me to Kessler-Haak.

Transcendence

I have known Transcendence winemaker/owner Joey Gummere for years, and he focuses on making Chardonnay, Rosé, Pinot Noir, and Syrah. My favorite story with Joey is when I sampled the Chardonnay that goes to Japan and the same Chardonnay he produces for the US. What a difference in acidity on the Chardonnays.  The version sold in Japan was off the charts with acidity. The Japanese market desires wines with very high acidity.

Transcendence Winetasting Room
Transcendence Winetasting Room

Kessler-Haak

Kessler-Haak Winemaker/owner Dan Kessler came from the tech industry. He started creating his wine using a box kit at home. From this elementary winemaking process, Dan won a gold medal. Dan later planted 200 plus grapevines in his backyard. Dan’s interest in wine increased, so he obtained a Winemaker’s Certificate from the UC Davis Distance Learning Program. This led to a life-changing move to Lompoc, where he purchased 40 acres along Highway 246 in 2004.

I have known Dan since 2011 and have seen the growth in his wines. In 2012, Dan started to make sparkling wine, and the brut, with its opalesque color to this day, is my favorite.

Dan has challenged himself by going beyond the traditional wine of the area to experiment with Cabernet Franc, Nebbiolo, and Cabernet Sauvignon. My favorite when visiting his tasting room recently was the 2016 Pinot Noir Ohana Estate. Ohana means family in Hawaiian, which explains why this is Kessler-Haak’s flagship wine. Its composition utilizes all the clones on his estate. Therefore, it is a family of clones on a family estate. I also liked the 2014 Pinot Noir Intuition and the 2015 Syrah.

Dan-Kessler-Kessler-Haak-Wines
Dan Kessler – Kessler-Haak Wines

Camins 2 Dreams

I originally met Tara Gomez when she was the winemaker at Kitá. Kitá has since closed, and Tara has gone on to start her own winery, Camins 2 Dreams, with her partner in business and life, Mireia Taribo.  Tara, as a member of the Chumash tribe, has overcome many challenges as both a woman winemaker and the first Native American winemaker.

Both Tara and Mireia’s philosophy is the pursuit of balance in the winemaking process. It expresses the place, purity of the varietal, and grape. Ultimately, the balance between the earth, terroir, vine, nature, and weather conditions or how we, the consumer, interpret the wine all comes into play. It is the relationship between all components of wine blended together. Balance also means giving back to the land through sustainable practices. All these parts signify Camin 2 Dreams, meaning of balance.

The vineyard has a balancing spiritual quality for the Chumash, therefore any vineyards used to source grapes by Tara and Mireia represent this concept whether they are organic, sustainable or biodynamic.

At Camins 2 dreams, I recommend trying the 2018 T’AYA a blend of Marsanne, Roussanne and Grenache Blanc, 2018 Sauvignon Blanc, 2017 Grenache and the 2017 Syrah.

Mireia Taribo and Tara Gomez - Camins 2 Dreams
Mireia Taribo and Tara Gomez – Camins 2 Dreams

Wine Tasting in the Vicinity

Not only are there great wineries in Lompoc and the Lompoc Wine Trail, but it is a 30-minute ride along the backroads to Los Alamos, where you can enjoy wines, dine at Pico, or get a sandwich at Bob’s Well Bread.

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