Santa Maria Sun / Eats
Spring forth: Vintners Weekend in Santa Barbara County is bigger and better than ever
BY WENDY THIES SELL
New leadership is guiding Santa Barbara County’s wine industry into a dynamic direction, and pulling out all the stops to promote the region’s robust winemaking community.
The annual Vintners Festival is no longer just a one-day event; this year, it’s been expanded to four days, April 10 through 13.
“The vision for the weekend is to position Santa Barbara County as a premier wine and food destination,” wrote the Vintners Association’s new leader, Morgen McLaughlin, in an email to the Sun. “While the Vintners Festival has been a successful single-day consumer event for the past 32 years, we realized if we want the Festival to remain successful we need to bring in some new elements.”
The association recently teamed up with the successful event-production firm Relevé Unlimited to increase the festival’s scale.
In addition to the annual Saturday grand tasting, this year there are several educational wine seminars, a wine-barrel toasting demonstration, and a picnic and concert. Other events include one-of-a-kind gourmet wine dinners, open houses, and something that really attracted my attention—outdoor activities involving wine.
“There is so much to experience in Santa Barbara County beyond wine. We really wanted to provide different touch points for attendees with our wines and winemakers throughout the weekend,” McLaughlin said. “Imagine playing golf at the Sandpiper [Golf Club] with winery owners on Thursday, and then going on a hike through some of our most iconic vineyards on Friday.”
The festival weekend tees off on Thursday, April 10, with a golf tournament in Goleta held by Rex Pickett, author and playwright of Sideways, in honor of the film’s 10th anniversary.
That night, Industrial Eats, a new innovative restaurant in Buellton, is host to a Sta. Rita Hills American Viticultural Area (AVA) dinner and wine pairing featuring five winemakers and their wines.
On Friday, April 11, beautiful vineyards such as Hilliard Bruce, Purisima Mountain, Baehner Fournier, Buttonwood, and Refugio Ranch, will be host to two-hour guided vineyard hikes with wine and food as part of the festival’s signature events.
Also new this year is the Wine Education Seminar Series, also on April 11, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Four panel discussions and a luncheon will be held at Hotel Corque in Solvang. There will be a seminar on Santa Barbara County sparkling wine, as well as an AVA comparative seminar, at which people will taste syrah from every appellation in the county. Participants of the vertical tasting seminar will taste three single-variety wines from two different winemakers from consecutive years, and those who attend the seminar on vineyard exploration will taste six wineries’ pinot noirs sourced from the Bien Nacido Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley.
The immensely knowledgeable Wes Hagen, vineyard manager and winemaker at Clos Pepe Vineyards in the Sta. Rita Hills, will moderate the discussions.
Another unique opportunity is the chance to see how wine barrels are built at a Barrel Toasting Seminar and Barrel Tasting at the Buellton Bodegas, also on April 11.
The main event is Saturday, April 12, from 1 to 4 p.m. at River View Park in Buellton.
“The festival this year will have a wine-sales warehouse, merchandise pavilion, art walk, Connoisseurs’ Club, and expanded media and trade hours,” McLaughlin said.
“We also did a slight name change: The Vintners’ Festival is now the Santa Barbara Vintners Festival Grand Tasting to emphasize that this is an amazing opportunity to taste wines from over 110 Santa Barbara County wineries,” she said.
One of those outstanding wineries, Foxen, was a festival participant in the early days.
“When Dick and Bill founded Foxen in 1985, there were only 17 member wineries at our first Vintners Festival,” wrote Jenny Williamson Doré, co-owner Foxen and Foxen 7200, in an email to the Sun. “Since then, there has been an amazing growth in the number of wineries and vineyards in Santa Barbara County; and our reputation as a world class wine-growing region has grown by leaps and bounds. The evolution of the Vintners Festival Weekend expresses that growth in size and prestige. We’re looking forward to this year’s expanded Vintners Festival Weekend.”
Saturday winds down at an elegant lakeside wine dinner at the exclusive Grassini Family Vineyards in Santa Ynez.
Seven excellent wineries will present their wines that night, with the meal catered by Village Modern Foods.
Sunday, April 13, kicks off with a farm-to-table picnic and concert featuring the popular folk-rock duo Jamestown Revival, at the Fess Parker Winery from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
There are many additional events of note during Vintners Weekend, including the annual Au Bon Climat/Qupé open house, the Lucas & Lewellen winemaker dinner at Root 246, and Longoria Winery’s winemaker dinner at The Ballard Inn.
For any of these events, reserve your spot early.
“It is a good time to be in the wine industry in Santa Barbara County,” McLaughlin added. “There is a renewed interest in California wines all around the world, with Santa Barbara County uniquely positioned to ride this new wave. We have the mix of founding wine pioneers like Jim Clendenen, Richard Sanford, Bob Lindquist, Andrew Murray, and Ken Brown, combined with the new faces like Michael Larner, Sashi Moorman, and Graham Tatomer, among many others.
“Overall, the industry is supportive of the new direction we are taking the original Vintners Festival. There is so much to tell that we needed more outlets!” he said.
The charitable side of wine
The Santa Barbara Vintners Foundation set a record Feb. 22 at its most successful wine auction ever, hitting its $1 million goal to support the work of Direct Relief, a Goleta-based humanitarian medical aid organization.
Celebrities Jane Lynch, Emilio Estevez, and emcee Chris Harrison were among the more than 600 guests who attended the formal wine dinner at the Bacara Resort.
As the Santa Barbara Vintners charitable arm, the foundation has gifted more than $3 million toward Direct Relief’s efforts since 2000.
Sun wine and food writer Wendy Thies Sell can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.