This past Saturday, we departed quite early from Los Angeles to spend the day in the Santa Barbara wine country. There were few cars on the road, a nice change from the typical Los Angeles driving experience, and the drive along the coastline was tranquil and majestic. The morning cloud cover was thick and the air was moist and breezy as we approached Santa Barbara. Drizzle covered our windshield as we drove the final leg along Highway 1 to reach Lompoc. We were on our way to attend the 26th Annual Vintners’ Festival at Lompoc’s River Park hosted that afternoon by the Santa Barbara County Vintners’ Association, but we arrived early that morning to jumpstart the day with a Friulian experience hosted by Palmina Wines owners Steve and Chrystal Clifton. One of the extra benefits of the Vintners’ Festival is that area wineries hold special events over the same weekend. Our morning at Palmina deserves a special posting of its own, so we’ll have that for you in an upcoming post.
It was still cloudy and quite cold when we arrived at the opening of the Vintners’ Festival, but within about an hour, the sun broke through and we enjoyed a sunny Santa Barbara afternoon. About 100 area wineries and 40 local chefs and specialty food purveyors were lined up in multiple rows of tented booths, eager to provide tantalizing tastings. Imagine—the first Vintners’ Festival featured only 17 wineries, so you can seen what a difference 25 years makes. Live music played in the background as we visited some of our longtime favorites (Beckman, Curtis, Gainey, Lafond, Melville, Palmina, Qupé, Rideau, Summerland and Sunstone, to name just ten without meaning to exclude so many others) and reacquainted ourselves with some wines we hadn’t tasted for a while (such as Stolpman, Paige 23, Longoria, Jaffurs and Margerum, to name just five among the many we enjoyed).
One really nice feature of the Festival was the abundance of excellent food samples interspersed among the wineries. Before the sun broke through the clouds, we enjoyed the spicy tortilla soup (warm & spicy, with light, crunchy multi-colored mini-tortilla strips) offered by The Stonehouse at San Ysidro Ranch. After some more fine wines, we took in the Kurobuta pork bruschetta with jam from Bacara Resort & Spa. This was to die for! If you’ve never tried Kurobuta pork, it’s much more succulent, sweet and tender compared to its American counterpart. The pizza margherita (mozarella di bufala, pesto & crushed tomato sauce on crispy flatbread) from Full of Life Flatbread was tasty and satisfying. They’re known for their all natural wood-fired pizza and artisan bread. The pizzas are now available (frozen) at places like Whole Foods and other natural markets.
There were many specialty items at the Festival that were new to us. There were so many good samples, we can’t cover them all here. We loved the walnut oil from La Nogalera Walnut Oil. They roast the walnuts before pressing them which imparts a lightly toasted flavor. It’s great as a dipping oil or for salad dressing and some have even tried it as a topping for ice cream and chocolate cake! Bare Bottom Truffles offered up two flavors of their hand-rolled truffles, a simple dark chocolate one (made with Callebaut dark chocolate from Belgium) and another made with sea salt and cayenne pepper that really surprised us. The salt hits your tastebuds first, followed by the smooth richness of the chocolate ganache, then WHAM! The pepper grabs your tongue and propels you to the next wine sample. These gems would go great with a dessert wine. In the warmth of the sun, we sampled an array of specialty olives, such as jalapeno, almond and garlic from the Santa Barbara Olive Company, a family-owned olive producer since 1850. All of their olive products are California-grown, and they have many delicious varieties.
We didn’t leave the Festival empty handed. In addition to a Festival wineglass we received at the beginning, they offered each guest a live grape vine as a parting gift. A cute idea—we’ll see if we can get ours to grow! We decided to take the long way back to Santa Barbara, winding our way through the wine country. We still had some time, so we stopped at Cold Spring Tavern, a historical tavern and restaurant established in 1865. Then, we took the jaunt back to Santa Barbara for appetizers and dessert next to the fireplace at Intermezzo, a stylish but casual wine bar adjacent to the Wine Cask wine shop and the elegant Wine Cask Restaurant. A great ending to a wonderful day.