Urban Experience: Downtown Santa Barbara Tasting Rooms Host Wine Weekend

By Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
(published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 5/22/14)

Suddenly, there are a lot more stops on the Urban Wine Trail.

Riverbench is one of the 23 stops on the Urban Wine Trail
There’s no denying that this decidedly hip group of wineries – an exciting offshoot of downtown Santa Barbara that offers a firsthand peak into the art of making and enjoying wine – has wowed simply with its growth.  It was made of just five labels when it banded in 2007 -- Whitcraft, Carr, Jaffurs, Oreana and Santa Barbara Winery; it was Bob Dickey -- the well known wine country photographer with a knack for cartography -- who created the original map. But it had grown to 18 by the time it launched its first tourist map as an official association just two years ago.  And today, the Urban Wine Trail features – impressively – 23 of Santa Barbara County’s most celebrated producers, and with at least two new tasting rooms currently applying for membership, the growth continues.

“It’s a really good story,” says Kathy Janega-Dykes, President and CEO of Visit Santa Barbara, which finds itself touting the Trail more and more these days as a significant tourist attraction.  “It introduces visitors to our wine industry who may not be familiar with Santa Barbara wine country,” she adds.  “And it encourages them to extend their stay, or return, to enjoy wine tasting and see vineyards and production facilities in places like the Santa Ynez Valley and Lompoc.”

Next weekend – May 30th through June 1st – the Urban Wine Trail aims to build on that caché by hosting its second annual Summer Celebration, a three-day experience where passport event meets seminar meets wine party.

For passport holders, $50 will grant them access to tastings and retail discounts at all 23 Trail members.  Over the three days, they’ll meander through the Funk Zone to visit the bar at places like Riverbench, Area 5.1, Municipal Winemakers, Kunin and Pali.  They’ll mosey toward Santa Barbara’s industrially-inspired eastside, where the likes of Sanguis, Carr and Jaffurs pour.  They’ll get to taste with an ocean view at Summerland.  And they’ll venture north to midtown wine havens like Grassini and Au Bon Climat.  No one goes thirsty when they’re on the Trail.

For the wine curious, a seminar scheduled for Saturday afternoon at Wine Cask Restaurant is bound to be a sellout.  With a cap of just 50 seats here, this is an insider, comparative look at the AVAs (or American Viticultural Areas) that make up Santa Barbara County.  These federally recognized growing regions – Happy Canyon, Ballard Canyon, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Ynez Valley and Sta. Rita Hills – yield grapes with distinction, thanks to their unique soils and growing conditions.

The Urban Wine Trail includes Pali Wine Co.'s corner tasting room
Understanding the nuances of each growing region “can help consumers considerably,” says winemaker Ryan Carr, who’s also the Chair of Santa Barbara’s Urban Wine Trail.  “When they walk into a wall of wine at the grocery store, they don’t have many tools other than labels to help them pick a wine.  So learning what you like, and where it came from, is important.”

The seminar will begin a flight of whites – a comparison of sauvignon blancs from Happy Canyon and Ballard Canyon, and a matchup of chardonnays from Santa Maria and Sta. Rita Hills – while the red flight will contrast pinot noir wines and syrahs.  Consumers won’t be on their own, though.  Restaurateur Mitch Sjerven (of Wine Cask and bouchon fame) will moderate as eight winemakers, including Clarissa Nagy of Riverbench, Aaron Walker of Pali and Steve Fennell of Sanford, share their expertise.

Seminar tickets are $60.

The Trail’s Summer Celebration will climax Saturday night, when all 23 member wineries descend on the Carrillo Ballroom.  Priced at $75, there will be plenty of tasting here, of course, plus a chance to buy limited wine at a discount.  But there’s a neat charitable component to this night, as well, along with a wonderful reminder that the arts are part of the Santa Barbara’s urban experience, too.

A silent auction will feature creations by members of Youth Interactive, the after school program that helps Santa Barbara students pursue artistic and entrepreneurial aspirations.  “There are 23 paintings depicting each of the Urban Trail wineries.” says Carr.  “I’ve seen some of them and they are very unique, very expressive.”  Proceeds from the silent auction will benefit this thriving non-profit group.

A live auction will feature a bevy of high-stakes lifestyle items, with earnings earmarked for Santa Barbara’s Unity Shoppe.  Professional auctioneer Matt Chung, of locally-based MCC Wine Advisory and formerly of Zachy’s Wine Auctions, will yield the gavel.

There are incentives for experiencing this Summer Celebration in more ways than one.  A combo ticket to the Grand Tasting and three-day passport, or the Grand Tasting and the seminar, is $100.  Better still, go VIP and get access to everything for $150.  Get your tickets early at www.urbanwinetrailsb.com

Yanonali Street, off State St., leads the way to Santa Barbara's Urban Wine Trail


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