It does not take much to entice my husband and me to drive up to the Central Coast to go 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.
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.
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 Claudesdale horses, a camel, Zebra, and donkey that live in harmony 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.
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, although with COVID, you need to check ahead of time for the specific rules.
Wine Picks: At Dierberg, I have always enjoyed the unoaked Chardonnay. At Melville, I recommend the Syrah.
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 the pioneers of the area. 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, and 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 the north side of the Santa Rosa Hills.
Lompoc is known for its flower fields, murals, and it 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 that 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.
The area initially was 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.
This is an excerpt from an article I wrote for the FWT Magazine.
To read the entire article Day Tripping to Lompoc and Santa Barbara County for a Taste of Good Wine