Answers from Our Experts (1)
Ever since Miles Raymond stumbled around this wide-open, folksy wine country in the movie Sideways, people have been coming to this region in search of the perfect pinot. The film may have put the area on the wine map, but Santa Barbara has been producing great wines for decades, and not just pinot noir — although that volatile varietal wine is undoubtedly king (thanks to the marine air and cool climate). To taste the pinot and much more, visit Alma Rose Winery, Babcock Winery, Firestone Vineyard or Foley Estates Vineyard and Winery.
1. Owner Richard Sanford, formerly a geography major at University of California at Berkeley, is a real maverick, having planted the first pinot noir vines here in 1970. In 2005, he started Alma Rosa Winery with his wife, Thekla. Located on the Rancho Santa Rosa, the vineyards are certified organic and produce chardonnay and pinot noir, as well as pinot gris, pinot blanc and dry pinot noir rosé.
2. Brian Babcock is a wine rock star, anointed one of the top ten small production wine makers in the world—the only one in the U.S.—by the James Beard Foundation. The Babcock Winery produces chardonnay, pinot noir, pinot grigio, sauvignon blanc, syrah and cabernet sauvignon. Babcock also has been experimenting with Italian and Spanish varietals, which he believes will be the next big thing in California winemaking.
3. Firestone Vineyard has been around since 1972, making it one of the original wineries in Santa Barbara. It sits on a hilltop like the grande dame it is and merits a visit just to admire the pretty location and tasting room. It’s also the place to take a tour if you’d like to see the workings of at least one area vineyard (you also learn how the Firestone family went from tires to grapes). The winery, now owned by Bill Foley, produces chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, sauvignon blanc and syrah.
4. In 1998, Bill Foley purchased land on the Rancho Santa Rosa because of its south-facing hillside and limestone soil, which are key for producing pinot. Since then, he’s built something of a wine empire with Foley Estates Vineyard & Winery, acquiring Las Hermanas Vineyard (formerly Ashley’s Vineyard) and Firestone, and starting Merus in the Napa Valley to make cabernets. (In his other life, Foley is the chairman of the board of Fidelity.) The large tasting room is located next to the winery building.