Santa Barbara Vintners' Reinvented Spring Weekend Begins Today

By Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
Published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 4/10/14

(For exclusive 50% discount tickets to Spring Weekend 2014, click here.)

Vintners Fest 2012 (credit: Jeremy Ball)
Santa Barbara’s wine growers have been putting on a spring fete for decades.  But this year, they took it up several notches, having hired a third party event planner for the very first time to help design a wine affair to remember.  Welcome to Spring Weekend 2014, produced by Santa Barbara Vintners and Santa Barbara-based RelevĂ© Unlimited.

The feast – which has effectively transformed an afternoon tasting into a four-day extravaganza – begins today, with a golf tournament at Sandpiper Golf Course featuring several media and sports celebrities and Sideways author Rex Pickett.  The action doesn’t stop until Sunday afternoon. 

The production has been ambitious from the beginning, creating multiple big-ticket items aimed at more than doubling weekend attendance to some 5000 wine aficionados.  Some of the originally scheduled events have had to be pulled – a comprehensive education seminar, a barrel toasting seminar and a high-end vineyard dinner experience.

But a slew of other wonderful opportunities to expand the palate remain, and the following five should be on every wine fan’s radar.

Cabernet Seminar: Friday, April 11th, 11:30am-3pm
Brander Vineyard in Los Olivos will shed the spotlight on the grape variety many dub the King of Grapes.  This seminar was a late add to the weekend roster and features two Masters of Wine – Peter Koff and Patrick Farrell – leading a powerhouse cabernet sauvignon tasting and discussion.  Attendees will taste wines blindly and will get a chance to taste premier renditions of this grape from around the world, including classic growing regions like Bordeaux, Tuscany, Australia, Chile and California.   Local cabs, including Brander’s own award-winning bottlings, will also be featured.  Chef David Cecchini of Solvang’s Cecco Ristorante will cater a Mediterranean-style lunch.  Seating is extremely limited – 22 people.  Contact Fred Brander: and (805) 688-2455.  Tickets are $125.

Vineyard Hikes: Friday, April 11th, 1-3pm
Several of the area’s most treasured grape growing sites will offer the public a rare treat: winemaker-led hikes through the vines.  Steve Beckmen, for example, will lead a moderately strenuous trek through the acclaimed Purisima Mountain Vineyard, the first and largest biodynamically farmed vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley, located inside the brand new Ballard Canyon AVA.  Over in Sta. Rita Hills, vintner John Hilliard will introduce folks to his gorgeous, 21-acre Hilliard Bruce Vineyard, producer of stellar pinot noir and chardonnay.   And vintner Kevin Gleason will head an easy-to-moderate excursion through Refugio Ranch in Santa Ynez, with a focus on syrah.  All three hikes will feature wine tasting and myriad food stations.  Tickets cost $80. 

90+ Wine and Dine Event: Friday, April 11th, 6-9pm
This is the event that brings the vineyard to the beach and pops the cork on the very best.  Set in the beautiful ocean view Plaza at the Fess Parker Doubletree Resort, this event focuses on wines that have been crowned with ratings of 90 points and above, as determined by respected critics like Robert Parker and Stephen Tanzer and popular publications like Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast.  It’s a unique chance to taste what the experts say are truly remarkable representations of Santa Barbara winemaking.  What’s more, the men and women who made them will be doing the pouring themselves, from labels like Blair Fox Cellars, Fess Parker Winery, Larner Vineyard and Winery, Margerum Wine Co., Au Bon Climat, Tercero, Pali Wine Co., Zotovich Cellars and Longoria Wines.  Plenty of great food from the likes of Global Gardens and Bacara’s Miro Restaurant, as well, along with live entertainment and free parking.  Tickets are $150 (or $175 with a pre-event sparkling wine reception).

Fiddlehead Vineyard

Vintner John Dragonette at Volgenzang Vineyard

Grand Tasting, Saturday April 12th, 1-4pm
Winemaker Ryan Carr at Vintners Festival 2013 (credit: Bob Dickey)
This is the weekend’s signature event, of course – one of only two times in the entire year that all 120-or-so members of Santa Barbara Vintners pour in unison.  It’s an exclusive chance to taste new releases and special bottles while mingling and chatting with the winemakers, themselves.  The setting, River View Park in Buellton, isn’t the only thing that’s new this year; the event will also feature an art walk, a farmers’ market pavilion, barrel cooper demonstrations and live cooking demos by some of the area’s best chefs.  The biggest consumer boon of all (and a major plus for wineries) will be the chance to buy wine on the spot – another first for this event.  Volunteers armed with iPads will take virtual orders throughout the afternoon, which will then be packaged at an onsite warehouse and even loaded into cars as visitors leave.   
Tickets are $95 (or $125 for admission an hour earlier, at noon).  There’s also a Connoisseurs Club option for $200, giving you access to a posh living room setting where exclusive wines will be poured and guests will get special access to winemakers.  Don’t want to drive?  Roundtrip bus rides from Santa Barbara, Santa Maria and Solvang are available for $25.  And designated drivers pay just $25.

Farm-to-Table Picnic and Concert, Sunday April 13th, 11am-2pm
The weekend’s official (and rousing) closer will feature a live concert by Jamestown Revival, the much buzzed-about band that’s appeared on shows like Conan O’Brian and Last Call with Carson Daily with its high-energy mix of folk, Americana, Texas twang and back-porch rock-&-roll.  Set on the sweeping grounds of Fess Parker Winery off Foxen Canyon Road, guests receive a farm-to-table style picnic lunch and tastings of wines by Fess Parker, Fiddlehead and Fontes-&-Phillips, among others.  Grab a seat at a communal picnic table or bring your own blanket to stretch across the lawn.  Tickets cost $95 and benefit Santa Ynez Valley People Helping People.

And there’s more, from open houses to library tastings to winemaker dinners.  For tickets and more information, check out and join the social media conversation at #sbvintnersfest.


1 comment:

  1. As a wine enthusiast, my travels have taken me to a wide variety of vineyards and wine areas of France and Italy, and of course to the wonderful gardens of the wineries and surrounding places. Such spectacular fountains, planters and statuary! Citrus and olive trees in beautiful planters, stone statuary in the midst of bubbling fountains, elaborate terra cotta creations…. Imagine my pleasure, then, when I walked into Authentic Provence in West Palm Beach, Florida. In a beautiful environment of running water and good smells, the owners have sourced one of the finest collections of European garden antiques that I have seen in the USA: statues, fountains, planters (note especially the classic Caisse de Versailles, and Anduze pottery), terra cotta shields, stone animals, copper pots, garden spouts, etc. They also have beautiful stone fireplaces, re-purposed tiles, and many other specialty items. They are available online at, and can arrange shipping anywhere in the US. Well worth a visit!