Wine Weekend: 5 Things I’m Looking Forward to at this Month’s Spring Festival

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
photos of winemakers at the 2015 Spring Weekend by Bob Dickey
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 4/7/16

Santa Barbara wine country’s Spring Festival makes a comeback this month, April 21-24.  The annual fete is thrown by Santa Barbara Vintners, which represents most of the wineries in our county.  And it’s only one of two events during the year that all members are required to attend and pour.  That’s 117 labels.  So, a lot of wine to be had.

Here are five festival features I’m especially excited about.

Winemaker Andrew Murray
The Bash
The Big Bottle Bash is the Festival’s kick-off dinner, sponsored by Santa Maria’s tourism leaders.  The feast is served family-style and features big wine bottles – magnums and up – brought by the dinner guests, themselves.  This is a rare treat for consumers – mingling with winemakers and sipping from the unique, special bottles that they’ve brought to share.  Limited to 100 people, and one magnum (or bigger) per couple is required.  Friday, April 22nd, 6:30pm, Presqu’ile Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley. $125.

Winemaker Doug Mrgerum
The Seminar
“As a longtime fan of syrah, I am puzzled as to why the wine variety’s popularity hasn’t skyrocketed with consumers!” fellow wine writer (and fellow former Central Coast TV news personality) Wendy Thies-Sell tells me.  And I agree.  I love syrah and am baffled when local producers talk about how a wine that can be so satisfying can also be so challenging to move off the shelf.  A tasting seminar moderated by Thies-Sell is sure to shed some light.  Seven local syrah masters, including Larry Schaffer (Tercero), Michael Larner (Larner Vineyard) and Mark Horvath (Crawford Family Wines) will share their experiences and pour their wines.  “I hope to learn whether we are tasting the vineyard site, the winemakers’ influences on the grape, or a combination of both,” Thies-Sell adds.  “I have tasted all of the wines we are pouring during the seminar, and I can tell you, they are fantastic!”  Saturday, April 23rd, 10-11:30am, Santa Ynez Valley Marriott, Buellton, $35.

The Location
The epicenter of the Spring Weekend is the Grand Tasting.  This three-hour event (four hours, if you splurge on Early Admission) is where people sip and mingle, and where winemakers and chefs spend the afternoon wowing a crowd of hundreds.  As wine festivals go, one of the best Santa Barbara has to offer.  For the last few years, holding this event at River View Park in Buellton has added to the charm of this fun afternoon – a rambling, sprawling setting drenched in green and located amidst some of the area’s premier vineyards.  The location alone is a festival calling card all its own.  Saturday, April 23rd, 1-4pm. $75 ($105 for noon admission).

The 2015 Spring Weekend at Buellton's River View Park
The Food
Good wine needs good food, right? More than 30 chefs and caterers will be doing the feeding during the Grand Tasting, and some of the lines that inevitably form are worth the wait.  Like the Hitching Post II, which always doles out generous fare, like tri-tip sandwiches, and Industrial Eats, easily one of the best restaurants in wine country.  All you can eat is included in the ticket price.

Qupe winemaker Bob Lindquist, left, and Kaena winemaker Mikael Sigouim
Winemaker Drake Whitcraft, left
Casa Dumetz winemaker Sonja Magdevski and me
KEYT Senior Reporter John Palminteri, left, and Hitching Post co-winemaker Gray Hartley
The Auction
At the Grand Tasting, look for the silent auction put on by the philanthropic Santa Barbara Vintners Foundation.  Teeming with wine and wine experiences, it raises money for Alan Hancock College students and local high school seniors interested in careers in viticulture and winemaking.  Lots of special cases and large-format bottles to bid on.  In the past, I’ve nabbed signed magnums and even a winery picnic.

For more info and tickets, check out the Santa Barbara Vintners' website.


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