Billed as the oldest wine festival in California, the Santa Barbara Vintners Festival celebrates its 39th affair this October 14. As it’s being held at a brand-new location in an era when the popularity and critical appreciation for the region’s wine are at an all-time high, there’s plenty of reason to believe that this could be one of the best yet, marking a return to glory that faded a bit during the pandemic years.
As usual, the stars of the show are the more than five dozen wineries on hand to pour their best bottles, but there’s equal opportunity to be dazzled by bites from some of the best chefs in Santa Barbara County. It’s also a party — with a sparkling-wine lounge and live music by Generic Clapton (formerly The Coals) — and locals who can verify their county billing address get $20 off admission. And unlike last year’s somewhat dusty spread behind Mission Santa Inés, there’s nothing but beauty, history, and aggie fun at the new site, Vega Vineyard & Farm, home to a mini-zoo and fast-expanding hospitality scene just outside of Buellton along 101.
[Click to enlarge] Credit: Jeremy Ball
“The Vintners Fest is the one time that all of these mavericks of Santa Barbara County wine come together and share our passions,” said Keith Saarloos of Saarloos & Sons. “We are so used to going to music festivals, where unique and diverse genres are being played, exposing ourselves to new music and artists. The Vintners Festival is where we share our liquid love letters with the greater community.”
The sentiment that the fest is a summit of sorts for both wine lovers and makers is shared by Story of Soil’s founder Jessica Gasca. “This festival gives you an incredible opportunity to come taste from the godfather and founders of Santa Barbara County as well as taste from the newest generation of winemakers,” she said. “You can taste tradition and innovation all in one place.”
With so many pouring in the same place, the festival provides an opportunity for both experienced and neophyte Santa Barbara wine enthusiasts to find a brand or bottling that they never even knew existed. “For small and relatively new wineries like us, we have the chance to reach a large group of consumers who are passionate about Santa Barbara County wines,” said Jeff Chaney of Grimm’s Bluff, which sits atop a cliff above the Santa Ynez River. “It means a lot for us to be able to share our story, our organic and biodynamic farming philosophy, and, in many cases, introduce our wines to new faces.”
This year, that might be Grimm’s Bluff’s first release of cabernet franc — just two barrels made! — or a regionally uncommon rosé of cabernet sauvignon that comes from estate vines head-trained in an ancient Roman style. “Inspired by the great pinks of Provence, France, but produced with Happy Canyon cabernet sauvignon,” explained Chaney, “it will surely change the way you think of this grape and wine style.”
Even after a half-century in the business, the Miller family — which owns Solomon Hills and Bien Nacido, where they just built an impressive tasting room deep in the Santa Maria Valley — still gets excited for the event. “What’s so special about the Santa Barbara Vintners Festival is that the people pouring are the owners and winemakers,” said Nicholas Miller, whose dad and uncle planted the renowned Bien Nacido in 1973. “Consumers get to meet those making their wines and, for at least one day, step into this wonderful community of Santa Barbara vintners as an insider.”
The Santa Barbara Vintners Festival is Saturday, October 14, 1-4 p.m., at Vega Vineyard & Farm (9496 Santa Rosa Rd., Buellton). Tickets are $95 for general admission; $125 for early entry at noon; $75 for S.B. County residents; and $25 for non-drinkers, including children. Shuttles are available for varying prices from Solvang, Santa Maria, and Santa Barbara.
More events are also being planned around the weekend, including music at Presqu’ile, SAMsARA, and Fess Parker; dinners with Ken Brown and Fiddlehead’s Kathy Joseph; and special tastings at Andrew Murray, Zaca Mesa, and Pali Wine Co.
See sbvintnersweekend.com for tickets and more details.