Festivalgoers peruse the many tents with winemakers from across the Golden State. | Credit: Hannah Weaver

California Wine Festival took place at our very own Chase Palm Park this year, with a two-day 20th-anniversary celebration of all things California wine on July 14-15.

Friday night started off at the Carousel House for the Sunset Rare & Reserve Tasting with American Idol alumnus Adam Lasher crooning in the background. Guests had a chance to sip mature wines, munch on appetizers, and participate in a silent auction benefiting The Foodbank of Santa Barbara County.

Saturday felt like the main event, with the Beachside Wine Festival bringing winemakers from all over California’s most prominent wine regions —  Paso Robles, Russian River Valley, Napa, Temecula, and of course, Santa Barbara County’s own Santa Ynez Valley — for guests to taste. Outliers included sangria from Spain, hard kombucha, and breweries to mix things up.

While strolling the palm tree-lined festival grounds, I met a couple who recommended I check out the Temecula Valley-based Gagnon Cellars’s pinot noir. It lived up to the hype and led me to speak with Gil Gagnon, the winery’s founder, who was originally a Hollywood executive before shifting to the wine business.

“I came from an industry where it’s all about the details and it’s all about the minutia. Well, wine is that same way that you really look after every detail and it’s really hard work,” he said. “[The difference is] … thousands of people that work on it to make that movie and in many cases, the wine is me. It came off our estate property, I planted it, I grew it. I made the wine, and I just poured it in your glass.”

For a wine festival, there were a surprising amount of other things to peruse. Selfie corks and multi-tool toothbrushes were mixed in among chocolatiers and cheese vendors. Speaking to the creator of an olive oil company, another career shift story emerged.

After working in the wine business, Steve Barry found a passion for olive oil. Inspired by a trip to Barcelona, he started his Santa Barbara–based olive oil business LunaOlivo with Spanish varietal olives. My favorites were the classic Arbequina olive oil and the coconut lime balsamic.

“I think [the Spanish olives] fit the California palate the best, too — very smooth, silky oils,” Barry said. “They take the fresh ingredients well, they don’t overpower.”

Three hours was just enough to make thorough rounds of the festival grounds, with time to join in dancing at the end, to the beat of steel drums, but disappointingly no rendition of UB40’s “Red Red Wine.” The live Caribbean music came from the SoCal-based band Upstream. They played genres like reggae and soca, the latter of which lead singer Haile Blackman’s uncle created. Attendees danced with an enthusiasm that could’ve only been brought on by a few hours worth of wine tasting in their system.


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