Monday, February 6, 2023     Volume: 23, Issue: 49

Santa Maria Sun / Eats

Spend Valentine's Day in Wine Country


Live the fantasy
John Krska, winemaker and general manager at Casa Cassara, invites tasters to join the fun at A Wine Fantasy in February, a passport event celebrating Valentine's Day.
Hearts and flowers dance on the airwaves, and the staffers at Santa Barbara County’s wineries aim to celebrate the season of love in style.
They know that when carefully paired, romance and fine wine work powerful alchemy, and they hope to share that magic with anyone who is, was, or wants to be targeted by Cupid.

As a pre-holiday warm-up, the members of Santa Ynez Valley Wine Country Association(SYVWCA) have planned a passport event for the weekend before Valentine’s Day. Billed as A Wine Fantasy in February, this wine lovers’ bonanza features an abundance of rare tastings and presents the perfect opportunity to explore Valley wineries.

Over the weekend, passport holders can choose their own itinerary from among 14 member wineries throughout Solvang, Santa Ynez, Los Olivos, and Buellton. On Saturday, they’ll find each one offering an array of reserve wines, barrel samples, and/or pre-released wines for tasting, as well as complimentary hors d’oeuvres and sweet treats.

Some tasting rooms will present special food and wine pairings, while others showcase gourmet cheeses or chocolates with wines to match. And several winery principals have deemed the weekend an ideal time to debut new releases and offer tempting discounts on both wines and related goodies.

“A Wine Fantasy in February offers a great opportunity to taste a variety of wines at tasting rooms that you might never have had a chance to visit,” said Tony Canto, president of the association. “An added feature is that on Sunday, participants can receive complimentary tastings with presentation of their passport. They can try more wines, but also go back and purchase wines they particularly enjoyed on Saturday.”

Participating wineries include Alexander and Wayne, Arthur Earl, Scott Cellars, and Daniel Gehrs Wines in Los Olivos; Bridlewood Estate Winery in Santa Ynez; and Lincourt, Rideau Vineyard, Lucas and Lewellen, and Mandolina in Solvang.

At Presidio Winery and Vineyard, visitors can graze spreads of tasty snacks while sipping new releases, including the Artistic License line of wines made from certified organically and biodynamically farmed grapes grown just west of Santa Rita Hills in Presidio’s own vineyard. Located on a scenic corner in the heart of Solvang, the winery’s tasting room is warm, welcoming, and always a fun place to linger.

A little north, on Alamo Pintado, Buttonwood Farm Winery lays out its signature bounty of stylish wines and elegant edibles, all presented at the charming tasting room, complete with an airy patio and beautiful landscaping.

“We will be featuring a vertical tasting of Merlot—vintages ’04 through ’07,” said Sherrill Duggan O’Neill, sales and marketing manager at Buttonwood, “and we’ll pair it with food prepared by Mediterranean Gourmet out of Santa Barbara.

Fall in love
A Wine Fantasy in February takes place Feb. 6, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., with free tastings on Feb. 7 at participating wineries. Tickets ($45) include a passport to 14 wineries and a SYVWC logo glass. Order online at or call 1-800-563-3183. On Feb. 6, tickets will be available at Bridlewood Estate Winery, Alexander and Wayne, and Lucas and Lewellen. Carina Cellars’ Valentine’s Day Cheese and Chocolate Celebration takes place Feb. 13, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., at 2900 Grand Ave., suite A, Los Olivos, 252-0860. Tickets cost $25 per person ($20 for club members) and reservations are required.
“Passport holders,” she added, “will be eligible to purchase a three-bottle vertical of the Merlot for $30, which is $24 off the regular price!”

Sunstone Vineyard, on the banks of the Santa Ynez River, has something delightfully different planned for passport holders, including the release of the highly anticipated 2007 Eros, a Bordeaux-style blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon.

“We are very excited about our event,” Ashley Peters, Sunstone’s special events manager, wrote in an e-mail. “We will be hosting our special tasting for Wine Fantasy passport holders in our cuvee cave. It’s a special barrel room that is built into our hillside and has amazing views of our lush green mountains and the Santa Ynez River.

“Our guests will enjoy three of our best vintages of Eros, paired with decadent chocolates,” she continued, “and we will be releasing our new 2007 Eros just in time to celebrate love.”

Out Highway 246, in Buellton, Casa Cassara opens its art-filled tasting room to Fantasy ramblers for a sipping experience that may even include a sensory exploration of that passion provoker: dark, dreamy chocolate.

“We will be serving our Special Winemaker’s Reserve Syrah with the Upside Down label,” said Barbara Allen, Casa Cassara’s tasting room supervisor, “and our famous Merlot meatballs. We will also have artisan cheeses, fruits, and olive and dipping oils, along with flavored balsamic vinegars.”

Tasters left with a yen for more wine and magical food pairings can return the following Saturday, when Carina Cellars presents its Valentine’s Day Cheese and Chocolate Celebration. Attendees will nibble specialty cheeses from Santa Barbara’s foremost cheese shop, C’est Cheese, and savor exquisite chocolates, created expressly for the event by local chocolatiers, while sipping six of Carina’s Rhone-style wines.

With the mid-winter holidays fading into memory, Valentine’s Day looms as the next excuse for a gathering. Area wineries are always up for a lively do, so whether the plan is to find a mate, party with a sweetie, or simply try out some fine wines, let the hearts, flowers, and fun begin in Santa Barbara County’s wine country.

K. Reka Badger brings us all that’s sweet to drink and eat. E-mail comments, ideas, or Valentines to

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