From the palm trees and beaches of the Pacific coast, across the Santa Ynez Mountains, then down into the sun-swept Santa Ynez Valley that stretches to the mile-high Sierra Madres, Santa Barbara County defines Southern California’s lifestyle: both chic and relaxed.
With its red-tile-roofed houses and seaside promenade, the city of Santa Barbara captivates visitors. A favorite escape for Hollywood stars, the city pulsates with new energy in the Funk Zone, a revived neighborhood where surfboard-shaping shacks adjoin winemaking warehouses.
Less traveled are the inland wine valleys. Although the Franciscan padres established viticulture here in the 18th century, it wasn’t until the ’70s and ‘80s that pioneers such as Richard Sanford seriously began to plant grapes and make wine.
The region lies on the same latitude line as North Africa, but is cooler than you’d think. Because the mountains run east/west, sea breezes from the chilly Pacific Ocean sweep into the Santa Maria Valley and the Santa Ynez Valley, creating cool-climate growing areas. The coolest, westernmost part of the Santa Ynez Valley is now officially named the Santa Rita Hills (abbreviated, for legal reasons, as Sta. Rita Hills). Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are the stars, with Syrah playing a supporting role.
In the eastern part of the Santa Ynez Valley, summer temperatures climb into low 100s. Here, growers are succeeding with Cabernet Sauvignon in the new Happy Canyon appellation. The central part of the valley suits Rhône varieties, both red and white, as well as Merlot, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
The same sunny climate that favors grapes also creates a one-word answer for the question, when is the best time to visit? Anytime.
A wine journey through the Santa Maria and Santa Ynez Valleys.
It’s not just the palm trees or the balmy temperatures. In Santa Barbara, a shimmering quality to the light lets you know you’re in Southern California—a radiance Cézanne would have loved to paint.
From a climate point of view, the county presents two personalities. Along a narrow coastal strip, which includes the city of Santa Barbara, the weather remains too cool for winegrowing (although some backyard hobbyists keep trying). The coast is walled off on the north by the soaring Santa Ynez Mountains; just inland is wine country.
In most places, having a 4,800-foot wall of stone between you and the sea would make inland regions as hot as, say, Paso Robles. But the big difference in Santa Barbara lies in the east-west direction of the valleys, which allows chilly air to funnel inland from the ocean. If you’re a grapevine, that makes all the difference in the world.
There are two main inland valleys, the Santa Maria and the Santa Ynez, both of them dissected by rivers of the same name. The Santa Maria Valley is less traveled. A lean, low-rainfall plain with benchlands that gradually ascend to the mountains, the Santa Maria possesses an austere beauty. In 1981, the region became the third official appellation in the U.S.—Steve Heimoff
The Best of Bien Nacido
Because of its chilliness, the Santa Maria Valley is receptive to the Burgundian varieties, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, which together account for the lion’s share of plantings. The best-known vineyard in the valley is Bien Nacido, which covers more than 2,000 acres. Owned by the Miller family, who purchased the land in 1969, it ranks as one of the top vineyards in California. A few years ago, the Millers launched a Bien Nacido wine brand; unfortunately, the vineyard and winery is not open to visitors.
Bien Nacido’s fruit, including Syrah and Pinot Blanc, is coveted by wineries lucky enough to purchase it: Au Bon Climat, Rusack, Longoria, Ojai, Sine Qua Non, and many other coveted brands. Other well-known vineyards and wineries in Santa Maria include Byron, Cambria, Foxen, Riverbench, Sierra Madre and Tepusquet.
A Matter of Degrees
The Santa Ynez Valley is less open to the maritime influence at its easternmost reaches than its neighbor, and hence is warmer. It’s green and lush, with a garden opulence to the landscape. Before 2001, the appellation extended from well inland all the way out toward the industrial city of Lompoc, by the sea. This gave the valley a huge spectrum of climates, from foggy-cold to searingly hot. It clearly made no sense, so the cool, western Santa Rita Hills appellation was recognized.
That refined the debate: Santa Rita Hills for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, inland for everything else, with Syrah succeeding in both. The next logical step occurred in 2010, when the federal government approved the Happy Canyon appellation, carving out the driest, hottest part of the valley. Vintners there are making ambitious strides with Bordeaux red varieties, especially Cabernet Sauvignon.
Adding on AVAs
As the Santa Ynez Valley’s growers and vintners learn more about specific local conditions, the AVA’s broader generalizations are yielding to particulars. Recently, two sub-regions have garnered interest: Ballard Canyon and the Los Alamos Valley. While neither yet holds official AVA status, that could change soon.
Ballard Canyon sits just above the picturesque town of Los Olivos. The historic hub of the valley, the region shows the purest Santa Ynez Valley character: neither Happy Canyon hot nor Santa Rita Hills cool, just Goldilocks-right. Warmth is tempered by winds that sweep in at night, quickly lowering the temperatures.
The hilly area is emerging as a hotbed of Rhône varieties, perhaps best exemplified by Stolpman Vineyards. In addition to experimenting with Syrah and other Rhône varieties, both red and white, they’re trying unusual blends virtually unknown elsewhere: Sangiovese and Syrah, for example, in their “La Croce” bottling. Just within eyeshot across the canyon is tiny Jonata. Marching against the odds, they are crafting rich, elegantly tailored Bordeaux-style red blends to rival Napa’s.
Centered around the laid-back, old-timey town of Los Alamos, which dates back to 1839, the namesake Los Alamos Valley growing region is less well-defined. Fairly cool, it was developed by large wine companies as an inexpensive source of grapes, especially Chardonnay, Syrah and Viognier. Nowadays, a younger generation of vintners aims to explore the Los Alamos Valley’s possibilities.
Santa Rita Hills: Touring Sideways Country
The 2004 movie Sideways made the Santa Rita Hills appellation famous. Even without Miles’s antics, the region would have hit the big time for a simple reason: its Pinot Noirs are among the best in California.
The area lies in the western portion of the sprawling Santa Ynez Valley. Until 2001, wines from it could bear only that appellation. But that year, the U.S. government declared a formal Santa Rita Hills viticultural area (abbreviated, since 2006, as Sta. Rita Hills, for legal reasons).
The appellation consists of two valleys walled by coastal hills. Two roads run parallel through them a few miles apart: Highway 246 and, to the south, the less traveled but prettier Santa Rosa Road. Both end near the industrial, windswept seaside city of Lompoc.
Because of the unique east-west “transverse” orientation of the land, chilly maritime influences rush inland from the Pacific, although the precise patterns of the fog remain contentious among some growers. Many different grape varieties thrive in the chalky soils, but few would dispute that Pinot Noir is the greatest. The wines in general are full-bodied, fruity and tannic; the best age effortlessly.
Chardonnays share a purity and strength that allows them to embrace full-throttle oak barrel aging, although vintners also are crafting intensely flavored unoaked bottllings. The Hills also produces Syrahs that, with their peppery, meaty qualities, point to the region’s cool climate.
If you go, here are some of the best tasting rooms: Alma Rosa, Babcock, Foley, Melville and Sanford. In addition, many smaller wineries offer their wines at the “Taste of Sta. Rita Hills” tasting room, located in the famous Lompoc Wine Ghetto, an industrial park where they make their wines.
The Chardonnay Symposium
California’s ode to America’s most popular wine.
Believe it or not, California didn’t have a single consumer event dedicated to Chardonnay—the top-selling wine in America—until 2010.
The Symposium, which is co-sponsored by Wine Enthusiast Magazine, brings together vintners from all over California who pour their wines, chefs from local restaurants who serve savory foods and consumers who get to enjoy it all. The event culminates with a highly informative panel discussion by winemakers, who answer any and all questions about Chardonnay.
Santa Barbara’s Top Varieties
From the Sta. Rita Hills in the west come some of California’s most coveted Pinots, rich, dense and ageworthy. The best can be pricy.
Grows well throughout the county, turning ripe and fruity enough to withstand considerable oak influence, yet retaining balancing acidity.
Syrah and Rhône-style red blends
Warm areas produce potent, lushly textured wines, while cooler Sta. Rita Hills yields more more tannic and peppery selections.
Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux-style red blends
When grown in warmer areas, the grapes get ripe enough to produce delicious and charming wines. .
Has to be grown in warmer regions, but when successful, the wines are dry, crisp and savory, with a particular varietal intensity.
The Cabernet Sauvignon wonderland that is Happy Canyon.
In the 1980s and 1990s, the action in the Santa Ynez Valley focused on the central and western parts of the region. Vineyards flourished from Los Olivos north into Foxen Canyon, and stretched beyond Buellton towards Lompoc—landscapes that formed the backdrop for 2004’s Sideways.
The east, by contrast, was bare of grapevines. Rolling, hilly and sparsely populated, its lands undulated in the lee of the Los Padres Mountains. Long the domain of wealthy horse ranchers, the area is now known as Happy Canyon. In summer the climate is dry and hot, with the Pacific maritime influence pretty much spent by the time it gets this far inland. —Steve Heimoff
Where Cab Gets Happy
In the mid-1990s, things started to change in Happy Canyon. A booming U.S. economy brought unprecedented vitality to Santa Barbara County wineries. Its Pinot Noirs, Chardonnays, Syrahs, Merlots and Sauvignon Blancs received elaborate praise from critics and were embraced by sommeliers, with a single varietal exception: Cabernet Sauvignon.
Even in the warmer areas around Los Olivos, the weather remained too cool to ripen the great grape of Bordeaux. So some visionaries decided to do something about it by exploring the possibilities in Happy Canyon.
Among the first to arrive was the Vogelzang family. “In 1994, while visiting the area, we noticed that the land and climate reminded us of Calistoga,” says Mary Beth Vogelzang, referring to the warmest appellation in Napa Valley. “It felt like the Cabernet Sauvignon climate I loved.”
The Vogelzangs began planting grapes in 1998. At first they sold their grapes to others, “But in 2005, we decided we would produce our own Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Viognier” under the Vogelzang label, says Mary Beth.
Around the same time, the Dierberg family also planted vineyards. Jim was a St. Louis, Missouri banker who, with his wife Mary, was looking for pristine ranch land in California, and chose Happy Canyon. “They first planted in 1996, with quite a bit of Bordeaux varieties, and also some Syrah,” says winemaker Andy Alba, who crafts the wines for the family’s three brands, of which Star Lane specializes in Happy Canyon wines.
He explains why the canyon is perfect for Cabernet. “The warmth is the number one feature. Happy Canyon accumulates degree days comparable to the deepest parts of Napa Valley.” (Degree days are an official measurement of heat.)
Warmth Equals Ripeness
Then there’s Doug Margerum. His eponymous brand is best known for Rhône-style red wines, including Grenache and Syrah. But he dips into Happy Canyon both for the Sauvignon Blanc he makes for his own brand, and for the Bordeaux-style wines he crafts for Happy Canyon Vineyard, which is owned by Thomas J. Barrack III, a real estate magnate. Margerum points out that Barrack originally planted Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot on his property at the behest of the parent company of giant Beringer Vineyards, whose viticulturalists “felt that Happy Canyon was climatically correct for Bordeaux varieties.”
Margerum points to a mesa that separates Happy Canyon from points further west. “That effectively stops the maritime influence from going as far back into the valley as it could. You can’t grow Cabernet Sauvignon in the Santa Ynez Valley; you’d get that green note. But here, we get grapes that are physiologically ripe.”
One of the younger winemakers to explore the possibilities of Happy Canyon fruit is 29-year old Ryan Roark, whose Roark Wine Co. buys Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Sauvignon Blanc from local vineyards, including Vogelzang. Roark worked in the Loire, New Zealand and at the famous Napa winery, Etude, before launching his own project in 2009.
From a critic’s point of view, the Cabernet Sauvignons and other Bordeaux-style wines of Happy Canyon show real promise and, in a few cases, are truly exciting. Happy Canyon Vineyards, Star Lane and Vogelzang, in particular, set the pace. It may take a generation, but Happy Canyon promises to make Cab lovers smile.
Hollywood North: The Santa Ynez Valley
Located just 90 miles north of Los Angeles, the valley has attracted the world’s biggest movie stars and moguls since the early 20th century. Golden age stars such as Clark Gable and Bing Crosby made getaways to Los Olivos and Mattei’s Tavern, which currently is being renovated. Nearby La Quinta Resort attracted screen queens Bette Davis and Greta Garbo.
In more modern times, the celebrity roster includes Fess Parker (TV’s Davy Crockett) in the 1950s), rocker David Crosby, Dolly Parton, Matt LeBlanc, director Steven Spielberg, Bo Derek, Fergie, Noah Wyle and tennis champion Jimmy Connors.
The valley’s biggest celebrities arrived in the 1980s. President Ronald Reagan had his Rancho del Cielo high up in the mountains, while Michael Jackson created his fantastical Neverland—complete with a full amusement park and zoo–on the valley floor.
You might spot a blue-jeaned star sipping beer and listening to the music at Cold Spring Tavern.
“You see billionaires driving old beat-up trucks,” laughs Cheryl Ladd (best known for TV’s Charlie’s Angels).
Observes Walt Disney’s president of marketing, Ricky Straus, who restored a 1920s cottage here in Los Alamos, “We fell in love with the community. You have what’s available in the Napa and Sonoma wine regions but within driving distance of L.A. I spend my week at the studio, and on the weekends I’m harvesting olives.”
The Restaurant: Caliterranean Cafe
Caliterranean Roasted Chicken Supreme
“An olive oil-rubbed turkey or chicken is our favorite thing to have at home,” says chef Theo Stephan. “Instead of bread, I like to stuff the bird with local organic produce from the farmer’s market: sliced garlic, spiced fruit and vegetables that permeate the bird throughout.” If you are making other poultry, simply multiply ingredients in ratio to the weight of your (turkey, duck, Cornish hen, etc.)
1 4.5-pound whole chicken; preferably range-fed, organic or “smart” chicken)
2 tablespoons fine sea salt
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (herby, robust style)
2 garlic cloves
5 sprigs herbs, such as rosemary, oregano and thyme freshly washed and dried
Pour sea salt, one tablespoon at a time, into your hand and rub inside of poultry cavity. Cut veggies into large chunks and toss with one tablespoon of the olive oil.
Lightly salt and generously pepper the veggies with freshly ground pink peppercorns. Place two garlic cloves into the bottom and then add vegetables to cavity. Fill the cavity thoroughly but do not press or pack. Place another garlic clove into the back end of poultry under the breast and, if there is room, place a veggie or two in there also.
Gently lift the skin away from the breast with your fingertips, palm down and use remaining oil to rub under the skin and even into the leg area as much as possible. The skin will loosely cover the poultry. Add sprigs of fresh herbs, inserting under the skin wherever possible.
Roast at 375°F for 75 minutes before checking with a meat thermometer. Cook to 165°F on chicken breast. Depending on veggies (potatoes, for example), cooking time may take up to 15 minutes longer. Chicken will still cook a bit after removing from oven, ideally reaching an internal temperature of 170°F on the breast meat. Remove stuffing immediately and let chicken sit for about 10 minutes, then portion and serve. Serves 4 to 6.
With No Bread Stuffing:
Be creative with what’s in season. Veggies possibilities include artichokes, potatoes, onions, peeled tomatoes, peppers, carrots, green beans. Vegetables such as asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower or zucchini will fall apart and be mushy. If you use these, remove them from the cavity and make a light “mash” with a splash of organic milk or cream, freshly ground pepper and a whisk of two tablespoons more olive oil. Serve mashed-potato style.
Zaca Mesa Viognier (Santa Barbara).
The Chef: Theo Stephan, Caliterranean Cafe
“Taking a concept and not being afraid to change it radically. That’s what California has always been about—the whole thing from rock ‘n’ roll to innovation in high-tech,” Theodora (Theo) Stephan observes.
Since 1998, Stephan has been staging her own coup de cuisine in Santa Barbara County. Adding Meyer lemon zest with a reduction of balsamic vinegar to spaghetti bolognese. Using olive oil in everything from breakfast omelets to (believe it or not) ice cream. “Things we grow here don’t taste the same as anywhere else. I don’t feel tied to making dishes traditional.”
“You’ve got to meet Theo,” locals invariably advise when food aficionados visit Santa Barbara County. Stephan is the most awarded certified organic extra-virgin olive oil producer in Southern California. Her Global Gardens specialty food company makes 50 different products from olive oils to fruit vinegars, mustards and spice blends.
Her newest endeavor is nurturing a place where people can enjoy them all—Caliterranean Café at Global Gardens in Los Alamos. Opened in summer 2013, the eatery occupies the town’s historic mercantile building—a space shared with the Casa Dumetz wines of Sonia Magdevski. “I call it an enhanced tasting experience,” Stephan explains. “A place to experience mostly vegetarian cooking with globally inspired flavors.”
Stephan originally coined the term “Caliterranean” for her book Olive Oil and Vinegar for Life: Delicious Recipes for Healthy Caliterranean Living (Skyhorse, 2011). To the Mediterranean meditation on fresh vegetables and olive oil, she adds California’s mother lode of local ingredients, multi-ethnic traditions and global outreach to exotic spices.
“Creating desserts with olive oil is my greatest pleasure,” states Stephan who uses it for everything from baklava to pecan pie. Her ice cream recipes evolved from tasting tests with her two teenage daughters. “The olive oil adds a surprise burst of different flavor.”
At the new café, a tasting bar showcases Stephan’s passion. “I feel like a little kid in a candy store,” Stephan reflects and laughs.
Favorite Farm-to-Table Finds
Sea urchin: These spiny bottom dwellers, known as uni at the sushi bar, offer rich oceanic flavor. Stephan collects her catch from Stephanie Mutz of Sea Stephanie Fish.
Ridgeback Shrimp: Caught in Santa Barbara Channel, they’re named after their pointy shells. “Their flesh is crimson,” Stephan explains. “I use them like langoustines.”
Coffee: Good Land Organics grows coffee in the coastal foothills. The Caturra/Typica blend embodies sweet nuttiness with a brown sugar finish.
Finley Farm Organics: Johanna and Chris Finley farm 70 kinds of fruits and vegetables. “They have four amazing little kids who help at the farmers stand,” Stephan notes.
Finger Limes: Originally from Australia, they’re also known as vegan caviar or caviar limes because their husk holds tiny globules with a lime flavor and slight sweetness.
A Wine Lover’s Walking Tour of Santa Barbara
While there’s nothing like exploring the rolling, vine-covered hills of wine country, the coastal community of Santa Barbara offers cosmopolitan tasting experiences that can quench thirsts for both fun and adventure. The Santa Barbara Urban Wine Trail provides an authentic sampling of the region’s wines within blocks of downtown and the beach.
Enter the Wine Triangle
A trio of tasting rooms comprises the downtown “Wine Triangle.” Activities center near the Wine Cask Restaurant, a long-time epicurean hub, and its recently added casual Intermezzo Bar + Café. Santa Ynez’s Grassini Family Vineyards has opened a tasting room outfitted in lumber salvaged from circa-1800 barges and an old horse corral at their vineyard. Start with their Happy Canyon AVA Bordeaux varieties, then transition to Burgundian selections from Jim Clendenen’s Au Bon Climat Winery. Finish with rosé from imported French grapes and the stunning M5 Châteauneuf-du-Pape-style blend from Margerum Wine Company. Nearby, guests at the luxe, mission-style Canary Hotel can hit the open-air roof for a 360-view and a dip in the pool.
Fun, Funk and the Beach
Head south on State Street to the “Funk Zone” a three-by-four-block bayside area accessible by train, pedicab or the 50-cent Downtown Waterfront Electric Shuttle. A hip urban confluence of tasting rooms, galleries, and surfboard designers, it’s a place where wine, art and beach culture coalesce. The style is epitomized by the quirky, kitschy office furniture-outfitted Municipal Winemakers and Conway Family Wines’ Deep Sea Tasting Room at the end of Stearns Pier. At Oreana Vineyards visitors can sip blueberry-rich Tempranillo while battling mano-a-mano over Ms. Pac Man.
Stay overnight at the new, ultra-modern Indigo Hotel and fuel up on farm-fresh, house-made and charred-to-perfection delicacies at the adjoining Anchor Woodfire Kitchen & Bar that builds cocktails on gems from the farmers market.
Winemaker Seth Kunin earns praise for his Rhône-focused releases at Kunin Wines. In addition, he recently opened Anacapa Vintners, which highlights small-production passion projects and has a huge mural depicting the Central Coast growing regions. Nearby neighbors include Pinot Noir specialists Pali Wine Company, Australian surf-vibed Kalyra Winery and Corks n’ Crowns, which purveys award-winning wines from around the county.
Into the Zone
No venture into the Funk Zone is complete without a stop at the new half-block complex housing The Lark restaurant, three wineries (Area 5.1, Avelina, Riverbench), Cutler Artisan Spirits plus a satellite beer garden-affixed brewery from Buellton’s Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company. Residents also include artisan pizzeria The Lucky Penny and music store The Guitar Bar. For the pièce de résistance, Les Marchands brings a wine bar and retail space from sommeliers Brian McClintic and Eric Railsback, stars of the documentary SOMM.
Still thirsty? Head east towards Urban Wine Trail spots in nearby SoCo including Carr Winery, Jaffurs Wine Cellars and Sanguis Wines.
Recipe courtesy Anchor Woodfire Kitchen & Bar, Santa Barbara, CA
Mixologist Patrick Reynolds builds drinks from edibles found on local hikes. He also leads drinkers on hikes around the Santa Barbara Farmers Market, where he procures fruits, vegetables and herbs to fashion into on-the-fly tipples.
Pour ½ ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice, ½ ounce simple syrup and a dash of Angostura bitters into a shaker. Add 1 blackberry and 1 sage leaf and muddle. Add 2 ounces Bourbon whiskey and shake. Strain into a glass filled with ice, garnish with 1 sage leaf and serve.
And Don’t Miss…
Dedicate a day for strolling the most inviting “ghetto” on the planet. Lompoc’s popular “Wine Ghetto” packs roughly 20 tasting rooms into two blocks’ worth of industrial park. There’s something to accommodate any palate preference. Palmina offers true-to-style Italian varietals and blends, including a Santa Ynez Valley Sangiovese that draws delicious depth via Malvasia Bianca. Explore an array of sparkling wines from Flying Goat Cellars; and whole-cluster, stems-and-all, native yeast-driven reds from Samsara. Their Turner Vineyard Syrah smells as if you are burying your nose in a mound of black peppercorns. Enjoy dueling vertical flights of 90-plus point Chardonnay from winemakers Joe Davis and Chris Bratcher at Arcadian and Bratcher’s shared sampling space. Tasting opportunities also include biodynamic bottlings from Ampelos Cellars or vibrant GMS at mom ‘n’ pop De Su Propia Cosecha. Save energy and palate finesse to drive the extra mile to Brewer-Clifton for exquisite Pinot Noir from Greg Brewer (diatom, Melville) and Steve Clifton (Palmina).
The Living Is Easy When Katie Jackson Throws A Garden Party.
The youngest daughter of Jess Jackson and Barbara Banke, Katie Jackson is also the “Katherine” of Cambria Estate Winery Katherine’s Vineyard Chardonnay and the winery’s roving ambassador. Casual and vivacious, she is also a talented home chef and thoughtful blogger who frequently recounts tales from Cambria and shares many of her favorite recipes.
Jackson Family Wine Estates bought the 700 benchland acres that became Cambria Estate Winery in 1986. The company further developed the vineyards, which include Pinot Noir, Syrah and Viognier grapes in addition to the Chardonnay; and built a state-of-the-art production facility and tasting room.
While the winery and vineyards are in Santa Maria, just 17 miles from the Pacific Ocean, Katie lives with her husband, Shaun Kajiwara in Sonoma County, where she entertains often. Her kitchen skills are fierce, having inherited her mother’s love and talent for Italian cooking, but she also loves a casual backyard barbecue.
“We always go way overboard with food,” she says. “Shaun loves grilling anything and everything.”
This works out perfectly when they entertain at Cambria, where it’s all about the local tri-tip, grilled and enjoyed outside at the winery in view of the Pacific Ocean fog rolling in.
Recreate the Region
Katie likes to source from local growers and ranchers in the Santa Maria Valley area. For an outdoor summer party, she builds her meals around tri-tip, a cut of steak popularized in Santa Maria (it’s surrounded by the sirloin, round and flank portions). Typically she serves the steak grilled with garlic salt and a black pepper rub that she buys from a local rancher. She then surrounds it with traditional accompaniments that include slow-cooked pinquinto beans and grilled, often, garlic bread.
As important as the meat and sides are Katie’s personally famous Panzanella salad, a combination of day-old bread, ripe Santa Maria-grown tomatoes, onion, cucumber, fresh basil, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. For dessert, she always serves strawberries, another of the area’s major delights.
Santa Maria Valley-style tri-tip
Slow-cooked Santa Maria pinquinto beans
Tomato salad with hot peppers
Lobster macaroni and cheese
Katie’s Panzanella salad
Red onion and fig jam pizza with prosciutto and fresh mozzarella
The vineyards at Cambria are stunningly beautiful in their own right. With clear views of the hills and fog rolling in from the Pacific Ocean, Katie feels there’s no need to embellish the picnic tables where they’ll enjoy a late-afternoon meal. She just adds white tablecloths and pretty flowers from the winery garden. Flowers tend to be an assortment of orange, yellow and pink gladiolus arranged in Mason jars or small vases, sourced from a farm near the winery. To augment those colors, she uses orange or yellow plates and serving platters out of her mother’s colorful Italian dishware collection. Katie serves family-style and has plenty of Burgundy wine glasses on hand for guests to sample a range of wines.
Katie’s easygoing by nature and Shaun is originally from Hawaii, so for parties, they like to listen to Jack Johnson radio on Pandora, which in addition to Johnson streams the likes of John Mayer, Jason Mraz and Train.
Villa Sandi Extra Dry (Prosecco di Valdobbiadene)
Byron Julia’s Vineyard Pinot Noir (Santa Maria Valley)
Foxen Julia’s Vineyard Pinot Noir (Santa Maria Valley)
Cambria Tepusquet Vineyard Syrah (Santa Maria Valley)
Strictly a wine drinker, Katie skips the beer or cocktails, but Shaun loves Guinness.
Emilio Estevez and Sonja Magdevski
“Santa Barbara County is all about discovery,” says Sonja Magdevski, owner/winemaker of Casa Dumetz Wines. She and her fiancé, actor/director Emilio Estevez, divide time between homes in Malibu (where they have a half-acre Pinot Noir vineyard) and Los Alamos near the Santa Ynez Valley (where Casa Dumetz just opened a new tasting room). Here are their faves:
Sonja Magdevski: “Filled with galleries and antiques stores, Los Alamos attracts contemporary pioneers who don’t want to conform. For romantic dining, there’s The Stonehouse Restaurant at San Ysidro Ranch—Emilio took me there on one of our first dates. My absolute favorite restaurant—any time—is Ballard Inn, located in the quaintest, tiniest town near Solvang. Chef Budi Kazali’s creations seem effortless.
“At Alma Rosa tasting room, Richard and Thekla Sanford are pioneers of Pinot Noir in Santa Barbara. Figueroa Mountain Brewery crafts great beer—my favorite is Davy Brown Ale. The Solvang farmers market [Wednesdays] has the best producers. Santa Barbara is also horse country. At Return to Freedom sanctuary you can hike among wild horses. For ’glamping’ —glamorous camping—near the beach, El Capitan Canyon offers hiking trails and a great deli.”
Emilio Estevez: “Island Seed & Feed is one of my haunts—everything you need for your garden. In Los Alamos, lunch at Full of Life Flatbread—they follow the 100-mile menu and make meals from scratch. For great burritos, I head to El Sitio. It’s the real deal, like eating in a home. We can’t wait to go back to El Encanto hotel in Santa Barbara, which recently reopened after a multimillion-dollar renovation. It has a beautiful setting above the Mission overlooking the ocean. For fresh vegetables, Classic Organic Farm is old school—you pay for what you want in a little box, on the honor system.”
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