Fine wine has long ruled the Santa Ynez Valley, but the past decade has been nothing short of revolutionary when it comes to dining, whether that’s wine-country-casual cuisine or white-tablecloth gourmet.
“Only until very recently, you could come to the Santa Ynez Valley and taste wine all day, but if you wanted a nice dinner, you’d go to Santa Barbara,” said Shelby Sim, head of Visit Santa Ynez Valley. “Now it’s different — even Santa Barbara comes up here to eat!”
To celebrate that paradigm shift — and to help fill the seasonal void created by the end of the Santa Barbara Vintners’ Harvest Festival — Sim and his team are organizing the inaugural Taste of the Santa Ynez Valley, a four-day eating and drinking extravaganza that reaches from the public streets of Los Alamos to the private vineyards of Happy Canyon.
“The wine region has been here for a long time, but now we have these incredibly chefs with innovative menus to go with all of the wine,” explained Danielle Laudon Ruse, Sim’s right-hand woman. “Taste of the Santa Ynez Valley is an opportunity to showcase how great their food goes with the wine.”
Sim also sees the event, which begins on Thursday night, October 17, and runs through Sunday, October 20, as a way to unite a somewhat fractured community. “Santa Barbara County is more separate than together, and my goal is to show off all of our different communities,” he explained. “So Thursday is about Santa Maria Valley and Los Alamos. Friday is about Santa Ynez and Happy Canyon. Saturday is a hodgepodge, and Sunday is all about the Sta. Rita Hills.”
Of the many lunches, dinners, wine panels, cooking demos, film screenings, and grand tasting events, here are a few highlights for each day.
Los Alamos Bell Street Dinner: “Los Alamos has been our biggest innovator when it comes to food, so that’s why we’re starting off with this dinner,” said Ruse. They’re shutting down Bell Street, and each chef who works a Los Alamos kitchen will present a course for dinner. There will be plenty of wine too! Dinner at 5:30pm; $150, includes entrance to Los Alamos Tasting in Ferrini Park at 3:30pm, which is $25 itself.
Dinner at Grimm’s Bluff Vineyard: One of the most beautiful, unique, exclusive properties in all of California, Grimm’s Bluff overlooks Cachuma Lake and grows biodynamic cabernet sauvignon, sauvignon blanc, and more. “Such a rare opportunity to eat there,” said Sim. “Nobody knows they have a beach out there!” 6:30-10pm; $150; behind gates at Kentucky Rd.
Cooking Class with Budi Kazali at The Ballard Inn: Only a few seats remained as of press time for this chance to see inside Chef Budi’s kitchen, where he uses the freshest ingredients to produce an Asian-French-Californian cuisine all his own. 11am-1:30pm; $100 includes lunch; 2436 Baseline Ave., Ballard
Sta. Rita Hills vs. Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir: What are the differences between these two popular regions? Join me as I lead a panel of winemakers to discuss what makes each appellation sing. 10:30am-noon; $75; The Sideways Inn, 114 E. Highway 246, Buellton
Sideways Wine Festival: The weekend’s closing event features more than 40 producers pouring wines alongside food trucks, music, and more. Noon-4pm; $55; River View Park, 151 Sycamore Dr., Buellton
California Cheese & Wine Panel with The Lucky Hen Larder
Cynthia Miranda is a veteran of the Santa Barbara County cuisine scene, having such run trend-setting restaurants as Sage & Onion, Mondial, Quantum, Elements, and Succulent Café, which brought her to the Santa Ynez Valley in 2010. A little over three years ago, she turned her attention to cheese, charcuterie, and other culinary goods by opening The Lucky Hen Larder in Santa Ynez, which also sells sandwiches and caters intimate events.
For the Taste of Santa Ynez, Miranda is hosting a showcase of California-made cheeses, which will be paired with Santa Barbara County wines. “People think wine and cheese is so obvious, but it can be complicated,” said Miranda, who recently had to go through 50 cheeses to find some that worked for a winery that made powerful reds. “It’s not like food, where you can take the essence of a wine and work the food around that.”
Friday’s pairing menu is still being developed, but there will be about six Santa Ynez Valley wines and six cheeses, mostly from the Central Coast. No matter what, Miranda is excited to show off the range of styles being made in the Golden State.
“California cheesemakers have been inspired by their European brethren and are really trying to match that quality and that artisanal, farmstead approach,” said Miranda. “Cheesemaking has blown up for sure, and it’s of such high quality.”
Fri., Oct. 18, 3-5 p.m., $75, The Lucky Hen Larder, 1095 Meadowvale Rd., Santa Ynez
4•1•1 | For more information, events, tickets, and Taste of the Santa Ynez Valley multi-passes ($325-$975), see visitsyv.com/taste-of-the-santa-ynez-valley.