We took off Friday morning to make the quick trip from Los Angeles to the Santa Ynez Valley to get a jump on an extended weekend of wine tasting and fun. After hitting a few wineries that afternoon, we spent a relaxing evening dining at Petros, located in the Fess Parker Wine Country Inn & Spa facility in Los Olivos. The weather has been unseasonably hot recently, so we enjoyed a long walk in the late evening as the temperature trended down into the night as is typical for the area. That’s part of what makes the area perfect for viticulture. The main event—the Santa Barbara Vintners’ Celebration of Harvest Grand Tasting—was slated for Saturday afternoon at the grounds of the historic Mission Santa Inés. (The vintners also hold various winery and wine events throughout the weekend.) It’s an annual celebration of the end of the harvest, a party to mark the end of the long days and hard work involved in picking the grapes and rushing them into the wineries for processing. This year, the exceedingly hot weather resulted in an earlier harvest than usual, but everyone was still ready for a big celebration.
As usual, the October weather was clear as a bell, but the hot weather persisted and temperatures crept towards 100° F as everyone approached the entry gates. Of course, even the heat could not dissuade the revelers from the wine, food, crafts and more as the event got underway. The event organizers brought it all together, from the many winery and food booths to crafts booths (such as Santa Barbara Succulent Art) to an extremely popular “misting” booth, where those who were feeling the heat could pack into a mini-rain forest environment. There was a silent auction featuring some interesting wine packages, though it was hard to tell whether the wine was the main draw there or whether it was the fans blowing across bins of ice cubes to maintain a comfortable temperature under the tent. Either way, the auction benefitted the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County and the Santa Barbara Vintners’ Foundation scholarship program, both worthy causes.
For an extra fee, “Connoisseurs Club” ticketholders were entitled to take advantage of the centrally–located shaded lounge tent, complete with shade, sparkling wine cocktails, massages, appetizers prepared by the likes of Industrial Eats and New West Catering, and—did we mention?—the shade. Those without that ticket were allowed to upgrade at the event. We didn’t do that, but we did go to dinner at Industrial Eats on Sunday night and, if you haven’t been there, you are missing out on some delicious and interesting food set in a casual and well–decorated “order at the counter and dine at friendly communal tables” restaurant and butcher shop atmosphere. (Think gourmet pizzas, porchetta, smoked turkey with basil mayo or specialty BLT sandwiches, white shrimp with pancetta and chile garlic or, for the more adventurous, and the beef tongue pastrami Reuben or the Korean short rib gochujang with kimchi pizza.)
With over 100 wineries on hand, the event enables a newbie to sample almost everything the county has to offer in terms of wine. For the regulars, it’s a great opportunity to taste long–standing favorites as well as to find wines never previously encountered. In between tastings, people flocked to some smaller tents where regular ticketholders could socialize while catching some shade. There also were some pleasant surprises. At the Tercero Wines booth, owner, winemaker and Rhone Ranger (and recently–annointed Grenache King by WineLA) Larry Schaffer offered us raw juice samples of his recently–pressed Mourvédre grape harvest alongside some finished wine from a previous vintage.
It’s wonderful that so many winemakers spend the afternoon in their booths, explaining their wines and methods. Their enthusiasm is contagious, making the wine even more enjoyable. The event brings out some of the true pioneers of Santa Barbara County winemaking as well as many rising stars. You just can’t get that kind of intense and enlightening experience traveling from tasting room to tasting room. It’s really one of the advantages of the Santa Barbara Vintners’ events—they hold their Celebration of Harvest in the fall (to celebrate the end of harvest) and their Vintners’ Festival in the spring (to debut their latest wine releases).
There are even some unofficial sights at the event. We couldn’t help but take notice of a fashion designer from Southern California who modeled one of her attractive wine–themed dresses at the event. To our surprise, we encountered her again in another of her wine fashions the following day at a winery event at Palmina Wines.
The Celebration of Harvest is a great way to experience the high quality and breadth of Santa Barbara County wines in an afternoon. The weather in October is usually temperate, but even in the unseasonably hot weather this year, the event was a resounding success.
Disclosure: We were granted complimentary media credentials for this event.