Santa Barbara Wine Collective, photo by Alberto Guglielmi
There was once a time when sampling the wares of Santa Barbara County’s wineries required making a day trip from Santa Barbara, Calif., out to scenic Santa Ynez Valley, the Santa Rita Hills and beyond. But now it’s possible to sip your way through the best of the area’s wineries without leaving the city’s quaint downtown area.
Concentrated in the Funk Zone, 10 or so blocks of revitalized industrial spaces sandwiched on either side of the 101 Freeway and the beach, Santa Barbara’s Urban Wine Trail brings more than two dozen wineries together into a collection of tasting rooms, almost all a hop, skip or easy bike ride away from each other.
The beauty of the Urban Wine Trail—which began as an informal grassroots alliance between just four regional wineries and now includes 26 members—is that its accessibility is twofold. First, there’s no need for a designated driver. Second, you don’t have to be a major oenophile to enjoy the experience.
Whether you’re a serious wine aficionado or merely a weekend sipper, the variety on offer means you have the chance to taste the region’s diverse offerings in a single afternoon. While it might be ambitious to hit every stop on the trail, here are some top picks for your must-visit list.
With a choice of two flights, each focusing on one of Riverbench’s top prized varietals—Pinot Noir and Chardonnay—this intimate room is a great spot to get über-geeky as you taste the differences that can be achieved from a single type of grape. Chardonnay sceptics, take note: Riverbench offers some surprising alternatives to over-oaked California clichés. Standout wine: 2012 Reserve Chardonnay.
If you like the idea of so many options within blocks, the trail’s first communal tasting room takes it to the next level—six boutique wineries under a single roof. That means you can compare and contrast not just vintages and terroirs, but also the styles of different winemakers, without leaving your bar stool. Standout wine: Sandhi 2013 Sandford and Benedict Pinot Noir.
One of several spots along the trail where the wine is made on-site, Santa Barbara Winery is the granddaddy of winemaking in the region. It opened its doors in 1962, the first winery to do so in Santa Barbara following Prohibition. The winery also produces a huge number of varietals, from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir to Cabernet Sauvignon and even late-harvest Riesling. Standout wine: 2012 Primitivo.
Come for the view, stay for the wine. Or maybe it’s the other way around. With its top-deck location out on Stearns Wharf and views of the coastline and Channel Islands, Conway Family Wines’ Deep Sea Tasting Room is definitely worth a visit. Standout wine: 2013 Deep Sea Grenache Blanc.
You won’t find the typical Santa Barbara-style varietals here. Kunin is known for its heavier-duty Rhône-style wines: think Syrahs, Mourvedres, Viogniers and Pape Star Rouge, a signature blend modelled after French Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Standout wine: Syrah Santa Barbarine 2007.
The wall-sized chalk mural depicting Santa Barbara’s wine-growing regions makes for more than a pretty backdrop as you sip your way through the Valley Projects’ lively, locally focused tasting list. It’s also a great introduction to the nuanced growing conditions across the county and how they impact what’s in your glass. Standout wine: 2012 Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir.