Eat Up, Pay Down: Restaurant Weeks Generate Foodie Savings

Frugal foodies, rejoice: California Restaurant Month is in full swing.

The statewide promotional project launched in 2011 and features lunch and dinner promotions in cities throughout the Golden State, including local culinary destinations like Buellton, San Luis Obispo and Ojai.

In the Santa Ynez Valley, Restaurant Weeks begins this Sunday and goes all the way through February 10th – a full two-week campaign for the very first time. Some 32 participating restaurants are serving up three-course meals at the discounted, new year-inspired price of $20.19, plus tax and tip, and beverages are extra, too. All six Valley towns are represented – Buellton, Solvang, Santa Ynez, Los Olivos, Los Alamos and Ballard. And while the promotion is aimed squarely at generating foot traffic for restaurants during the traditionally slower winter months, it’s a chance for many of them to raise awareness, too.

Jeff Olssen, chef-owner at Industrial Eats in Buellton, objects to “marketing for marketing’s sake, so we wanted to attach something to it.” To shed spotlight on the devastation wrought by an ongoing civil war in Yemen, Mr. Olssen and his kitchen team are learning and preparing a variety of Yemeni dishes, including a lamb broth lentil soup, a braised beef osso buco with basmati rice and a variety of flatbreads and dipping sauces. “The flavors are very bright, with lots of herbs, lots of freshness, lots of citrus – interesting, tasty goodness,” says the chef, who’s donating all proceeds from his Restaurant Week sales to the non-profit, People of Yemen.

This is the third year Industrial Eats is putting an international awareness spin to their participation in Restaurant Week, with the spotlight on Puerto Rico last year and on Syria in 2017. From both promotions, select items remained on the restaurant’s menu for months after, and Mr. Olssen suspects the same will happen this year. “So this also motivates my staff in an otherwise slow time,” he says. “It’s a win-win all around.”

Chef Pink's Creekstone Ranch Burger at Root 246
In Solvang, the three-course $20.19 menu at Root 246 will feature Crystal “Chef Pink” DeLongpré’s Creekstone Ranch Burger -- an eight-ounce Wagyu patty and cheddar cheese -- and her American Lamb Burger, made with ricotta, house-pickled mustard seed and smoky tomato jam, and served with fries or the chef’s signature Brussels sprouts; Chef Pink is offering a totally different menu on week two of SYV’s Restaurant Weeks. 

In Santa Ynez, SY Kitchen’s Chef Luca Crestanelli will dole out his Bird’s Nest Lasagna, featuring fontina cheese, roasted butternut squash and chanterelle mushrooms. And in Los Olivos, Chef John Cox at The Bear & Star restaurant inside the Fess Parker Wine Country Inn will serve his Wagyu Empanada, made with black beans, Cotija cheese and beef from cattle raised at the Parker family ranch up the road.

Other restaurants taking part in Santa Ynez Valley Restaurant Week include Full of Life Flatbread and Plenty on Bell in Los Alamos; Chef Budi Kazali’s The Gathering Table at The Ballard Inn in Ballard; Hitching Post II and Firestone-Walker Brewing Co. in Buellton; the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Café in Los Olivos; and Leonard’s Ristorante and Cecco Ristorante in Solvang. Seven wineries, including Alma Rosa in Buellton and Sunstone in Santa Ynez, are presenting food and wine pairings. And several hotels, like ForFriends Inn in Santa Ynez and The Landsby in Solvang, are enticing vacationers with room discounts of up to – you guessed it – 20.19%.

Find out more at

California Restaurant Month, a project by Visit California, the nonprofit that markets California to the world, also includes participation by Ojai and Oxnard, with the 11-day Ojai Restaurant Week and 10-day Oxnard Tacos, Treats & Tastings, both ending Sunday. In San Luis Obispo, SLO CAL Restaurant Month feeds foodies through January 31st, with $30- and $40 prix fixe menus at dozens of restaurants across 11 cities, like Cambria, Pismo Beach and Paso Robles, as well as lodging specials. Santa Maria Valley Restaurant Week ends today.

Santa Barbara Restaurant Week happens outside the Visit California network but aims to leverage the statewide restaurant mindset. Taking place February 22nd through March 3rd and produced by Jordan’s, the 10-day event will feature dozens of local eateries – like Toma, Bella Vista, The Monarch, the Wine Cask and Joe’s Café – dishing out $25 two-course lunches and $40 three-course dinners. Find out more at

Similarly, Lompoc Restaurant Week, put on by the Lompoc Valley Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Bureau, is slated for February 18-24, with more info at

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A Jar for the Ages: Santa Barbara's Zaca Mesa Winery is Aging Its Wines in Italian Clay

Santa Barbara’s syrah pioneer is raising the bar on how the wine’s made.

Zaca Mesa just released a 2015 estate syrah that was aged for almost two years inside an Italian amphora. The handsome dusty red oval vessel – it looks like an oversize upside-down egg -- is made from terracotta clay and imported from a small Tuscan province just south of Florence.

The idea goes way back, of course. Amphora jars were being used more than 10,000 years ago by Romans and Greeks to ferment and age their favorite libation. They’re making a slow comeback in the U.S., as substitutes for oak barrels, and Zaca Mesa’s Kristin Bryden is one of the first winemakers in California to experiment with them.

“We’re learning as we go,” says Bryden, who’s been at the winemaking helm at Zaca Mesa since 2011. She leads a cellar team of five, including assistant winemaker Randy Gardenhire, and oversees an annual wine production of about 15,000 cases. How the aging potential of amphora develops over time, how it affects the aging of different grape varieties – “we don’t really have an answer for it all yet,” she admits. “It’s a work in progress.”

Thus far, though, Bryden knows that the amphora does syrah good. Its pervasive porosity allows for natural micro-oxygenation, which “has a polishing effect on the tannins,” says Bryden, who tasted the wine inside the amphora every three to four months until, after 22 months, she deemed it ready for bottle. “But the wine still has beautiful fruit and earthiness.” For me, Zaca’s 2015 Amphora Syrah is remarkably refined: rich and dense yet round and luscious, with a gorgeous deep hue, also a byproduct of amphora aging. The 500-liter vessel made just 54 cases of the wine, which sells for $65.

The experimentation with amphora, which began as a pet project for former Zaca Mesa winemaker Eric Mohseni, is the latest chapter in the winery’s longstanding love affair with the Rhone grape. The 750-acre pioneering property along Foxen Canyon Rd. was established in 1973 and, in 1978 and under the direction of then-winemaker Ken Brown, became the very first Santa Barbara County vineyard to plant syrah. Today, more than 90 acres are planted to syrah grapes, with smaller plantings dedicated to grenache, mourvedre, cinsault, viognier, roussanne and grenache blanc. The ’15 Amphora Syrah came from a newer estate syrah block planted in 2012.

And there’s more to come. Bryden’s acquired a second, larger 800-liter amphora, which is currently aging a 2018 mourvedre-grenache blend. The original 500-liter vessel is housing a 2017 syarh, and since titrates can plug pores, just how long aging will take this time around is still very much a mystery.

For consumers who want a real lesson on how different vessels affect the aging of a wine, Zaca’s got a three-way test in the works, too: the same syrah aged in an amphora, and inside a concrete container and inside a neutral oak barrel. “Concrete creates vibrancy in the finish, the amphora has more earthiness and the barrel gives a fleshier mouth feel,” says Bryden. Find out for yourself when the three-pack is released in the Zaca tasting room in March.

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Local & Fancy: 5 Companies Represent Santa Barbara in Gourmet Food Show

by Gabe Sasglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 1/10/19

Could a pot-infused olive oil produced in Santa Barbara become the next gourmet food best-seller?

Foodies have their eyes on San Francisco this month, as the City by the Bay hosts one of the world’s largest exhibitions of gourmet foods. The Winter Fancy Food Show takes over the Mascone Center for three days, from January 13 to 15, and is expected to draw close to 70,000 people. That’s a lot of eyes – and a lot of taste buds – on more than 1,400 specialty food companies attending from around the globe, including five from Santa Barbara.

“It’s a sign that a company that does what we do has really come a long way,” says exhibitor Craig Makela, owner with wife Cindy of California Coast Naturals. Back in the early 1980s, when they owned Santa Barbara Olive Co., “no one would buy extra virgin olive oil. People didn’t know how to use it. It was too pungent, too strong. It’s taken a lot of years of consumer education.”

And olive oil’s come a long way, too. One of the nearly 20 new products California Coast Naturals will be intorudcing at next week’s show is an extra virgin olive oil infused with CBD, a compound in cannabis purported to have various medical benefits without the pot “high.” CBD, or cannabidiol, is often used to treat anxiety and even epileptic seizures. A five-ounce bottle of the Makelas’ oil, which is made from olives they grow organically on their Santa Barbara ranch, contains 150 mg. of CBD and “does not affect the flavor of the oil,” according to Chad Makela, the owners’ son. “You can use it just like any other old oil – in a salad, for dipping, for finishing off a pasta sauce or on pizza.” The product, which is marketed as a dietary supplement, has seen some consumer testing at local farmers’ markets and has received “the highest feedback we’ve gotten from any other product,” according to the younger Makela.

If it’s a hit at the Fancy Food Show, the CBD-infused EVOO could hit local store shelves immediately, with a suggested retail price of $29.99 for a five-ounce bottle.

The Makelas sold their popular brand in 2009 and, after a seven-year non-compete clause, reentered the fancy food arena with California Coast Naturals, which grows and produces a varied line of California-grown organic olives and olive oils. The pair began participating in the high-profile Fancy Food Show in 1983 when, as Craig Makela recalls, “there were only 270 booths and about 3000 visitors.” The husband-and-wife team, which has held myriad roles within the Specialty Food Association, which produces the show, were inducted into its Specialty Food Hall of Fame last year.

For Mr. Makela, the widely expanded visitor base is a continued opportunity to educate consumers, many of whom are still unaware that olives and oils sold at U.S. stores are actually imported. “Olive products with [domestic names on the label] – they actually come from South America or Europe.” Attending the Fancy Food Show is, in part, a chance to “shake up” the olive industry, he adds.

Other local companies attending next week’s show include McConnell’s Fine Ice Cream, which introduced its new winter line of flavors just last week; Edward & Sons Trading Co., purveyors of vegetarian foods; Pacific Resources International, importers of Manuka honey and sea salt from New Zealand; and Pacific Pickle Works.

For more information on California Coast Naturals, check out

For more information on the Winter Fancy Food Show, visit

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A Pioneer Turns 30: Fess Parker Winery Has Grown into a Santa Barbara Powerhouse

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 1/10/19

“Fess would be so tickled with everything that’s transpired,” says Ashley Parker Snider. The daughter of late TV icon Fess Parker was part of the launch of his eponymous wine brand in 1989, when Santa Barbara County’s viticultural industry was still in its infancy. The family business, which has blossomed into a third-generation hospitality powerhouse, celebrates its 30th anniversary this year.
“The original motivation for buying the ranch [in December 1987] was the fact it was a gorgeous piece of property, and its proximity to Santa Barbara,” says Fess Parker’s only daughter of the 714-acre estate along Foxen Canyon Road. Early on, “he said, ‘Let’s plant a little vineyard,’” she recalls. “So it started out very organically, and then it definitely picked up steam.”
Fess Parker at Rodney's Vineyard in 2007 (photo credit: Claude Ising)
Today, Fess Parker Winery and Vineyard produces close to 70,000 cases of wine a year through various labels, including the flagship Fess Parker brand that specializes in premium pinot noir, chardonnay, syrah, along with viognier and Riesling. The wines are the star attraction at the tasting room and visitor center on the family estate, which is open daily and features special culinary events throughout the year; sprawling picnic grounds help make it one of the most visited wineries in Santa Barbara County. The property has 110 acres of planted wine grapes and the estate vineyard, Rodney’s, – a clay loam plot at an elevation of 1200 feet -- is named after Fess Parker’s late son-in-law.
What’s an industry success story today began with “a bit of a thud,” though, according to Ashley. The label was dubbed, simply, “Parker,” at first, “because we didn’t want to really trade on the name. We wanted the wines to stand on their own.” That name, after all – Fess Parker – had long been a household name. The Texas native and WWII Navy veteran who’d moved to California to study drama at USC became a TV star in the 1950s and 1960s, portraying American heroes Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone. With the roaring success of his character portrayals, as well as several other projects produced by Disney, Paramount and Warner Bros. during television’s formative years, Fess Parker became one of Hollywood’s original celebrities.
With slow sales at first, the Parker-only appellation “was a fun experiment for a first vintage,” Fess Parker told his kids, Ashley and son, Eli, who were marketing the wines. “’It’s going to be ‘Fess Parker’ going forward,’ he said,” recalls Ashley, “and he was right. Sometimes, when you’re starting a wine business, you need a little cachet.”
Riesling was the first grape variety planted at the Fess Parker ranch, and the label’s first decade was defined by aggressive experimentation with myriad grapes, and with both hits and misses. “When Tim came on board, we were making like 15 varieties,” says Ashley, referencing her husband, Tim Snider, a Sonoma County native who left E&J Gallo for Fess Parker in 1999 and was named the winery’s president the following year. “Tim really provided a level of knowledge and focus and direction for us that have made the last 20 years possible.”
The Fess Parker label sources syrah and viognier, mainly, from its estate Rodney’s Vineyard and has long term lease contracts with vineyards like Bien Nacido and, more recently, Sanford & Benedict and Fiddlestix for its award-winning pinot noir and chardonnay. The brand still sources grapes from Rancho Las Hermanas, vintner Bill Foley’s vineyard in Sta. Rita Hills which was originally developed by Fess and Eli Parker and dubbed Ashley’s Vineyard. (Camp 4 Vineyard, also launched by the father-son Parker team, was sold to the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians in 2010, the year Fess Parker passed away.)
Blair Fox leads a tour through the Fess Parker barrel room
Head winemaker Blair Fox agrees that, since about 2000, “we’ve become much more focused and quality-oriented.” The UC Davis alum and former Sunstone winemaker leads a winery team of about 15, most of whom he’s personally trained, and employs what could be called an Old World winemaking style. “Hand-stirring everything, basket pressing, the very best barrel cooperage, the best fruit sourcing,” he says. “I’ve always been a hands-on winemaker, I have small winery mentality as far as wine-making is concerned, and I’ve always liked a delicate touch.” That touch helped Mr. Fox earn the prestigious André Tchelistcheff Winemaker of the Year Award in 2008, two years after Eli Parker won the same honor, and has made the Fess Parker wines among the most award-winning in Santa Barbara County.
The Parker family enterprise also includes the Epiphany label, launched by Eli Parker in 2000 to focus on Rhone varieties and blends; it runs its own tasting room in Los Olivos. The family’s Bubble Shack opened in Los Olivos in 2015 to promote a growing line of locally produced sparkling wine. And Addendum is a new small-lot project that sources cabernet sauvignon from throughout Napa Valley; grapes are harvested, loaded onto temperature-controlled trucks and transported to the Parker winery.
Fess Parker’s foray into wine was an extension of his penchant for thoughtful real estate development, which had started two years earlier with the opening of a 23-acre resort along Cabrillo Blvd. After he’d left Tinsel Town in the 1970s, Mr. Parker and his wife, Marcella, became Santa Barbara residents ,and the hotel project in 1986 marked the onset of a partnership with Hilton Hotels that remains to this day. The Parker family is 50-50 owners of the property with Hilton, which manages it and just last year rebranded it from a DoubleTree hotel to the Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort.
The Fess Parker Wine Country Inn & Spa in Los Olivos
Mr. Parker purchased the luxury 19-room Fess Parker Wine Country Inn & Spa in 1998, which quickly became one of the county’s premier boutique stays. Today, the downtown Los Olivos property is also a foodie haven, thanks to the stellar success of the Bear & Star restaurant. With Chef John Cox at the helm, the popularity of the upscale ranch-inspired eatery hinges on its ingenious, sustainable dining concept. Most every item on the menu is raised, grown or harvested on the Parker family’s 714-acre ranch, less than seven miles away, including Wagyu beef, pork, rabbits, quail, chicken and organically grown vegetables, herbs and fruits. Chef Cox calls it “a true ecosystem.”
The focus on hospitality that threads through all the Parker family brands – known collectively today as FESPAR – is very much an extension of Fess Parker’s own personality. The star-turned-vintner was known for daily strolls through his tasting room, engaging guests, telling stories and signing autographs. “That personal touch is something that persists in the DNA of everything we do,” says Mr. Snider. “Our goal is that people can feel that, that they see that the family’s involved, the family cares, and the family takes personal pride in all of it.”
That family focus -- “Fess would be over the moon to see it,” says his daughter. In fact, a third generation of Parkers is already intricately involved in the business. Of Ashley Parker’s three children, son Spencer Shull, a Denver resident, manages sales and pours at trade events across the country, and daughter Greer helps manage the company’s digital marketing and social media.
I have tons of early memories of running around on the grass at the winery while my grandpa, parents and uncle greeted guests and poured wine during events,” says Greer Shull, 24. “My Grandpa was such an amazing people person and had a really unique ability to make people feel like they were part of the family. Now that I’ve joined the business, I hope I can help continue that.”

Eli Parker’s children in the family business include Katie Parker McDonald, who raises the family’s 100-plus Wagyu cattle and leads trails rides across the family ranch through her company, KAP Land and Cattle; Amanda Parker White, who oversees catering and special events at the Inn; and Kris Parker, who’s expanded the family footprint into beer with his Third Window Brewing Company.
The second- and third-generation Parker family continue the Fess Parker legacy today. From left: granddaughter Greer Schull, grandson Spencer Schull, so-in-law Tim Snider, daughter Ashley Parker-Snider, granddaughter Katie Parker McDonald, son Eli Parker, granddaughter Amanda Parker White and grandson Kris Parker.
Several special events are celebrating Fess Parker Winery’s 30th anniversary year, including the limited release of only 500 magnum bottles of a commemorative sparkling wine, which will be sold through the tasting room beginning in mid-January. "Open That Bottle Night" takes place on February 23rd at the winery’s barrel room and includes a gourmet dinner with dedicated sommeliers at each table and an array of library wines; tickets are $125 through And World of Pinot Noir, an annual gathering of the world’s top pinot producers at the Ritz-Carlton Bacara in Goleta, will feature a “30 Years of Fess Parker” retrospective dinner on March 1; tickets are selling for $165 at
Look for other 30th anniversary events to be announced throughout 2019.

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In Montecito’s Name: Local Shop Launches Product Line with Powerful Brand ID… and Purpose

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 12/24/18

This story about a new line of gourmet foods bearing the Montecito name -- wine, coffee, olives and, soon, beer – actually begins in New Zealand. That’s where a young John Braid, back in the 1960s, fell in love with wine, and sold a lot of it out of his shop. It’s a passion that followed the entrepreneurial Kiwi when we packed his bags and moved to Santa Barbara, and then acquired a little shop on East Valley Road.
John Braid would come to be adored by the Montecito community over the 45 years he ran the Village Cheese & Wine Store. His regulars loved the simple yet generous sandwiches, the global food products he carried and the small, rotating selection of wines. It was his personality they treasured most, though – genuine, gentle and generous. A renaissance man and a gentleman at once. And when John Braid died in 2016, a stunned Montecito mourned him.
First responders at the Village Cheese & Wine Store
“I sort of inherited the village shop and suddenly found myself managing it, on the side,” recalls Patrick Braid, 48, John’s eldest. An entrepreneur himself, the younger Braid had built a career launching tech companies. Running a sandwich shop had never really been on his radar.
Serendipity, though, has a funny way of calling the shots, even in the throes of tragedy.
“And then here comes the Thomas Fire…” continues Patrick Braid.
The colossal Thomas Fire that roared through Santa Barbara in December 2017, and the roaring Montecito mudslides that followed in January 2018, would go on to generate a litany of stories. Heart-wrenching stories of the 20 residents who perished. And heroic stories of the emergency personnel who risked it all to help.
Patrick Braid saw his own personal story suddenly unfolding, too – and a story anchored by that tiny sandwich shop he’d unwittingly inherited from his dad.
The night the Thomas Fire thundered into Montecito, and even as evacuations ensued, Patrick Braid rushed to the store to gather photos and mementoes. “We decided to hold our ground instead and to keep the doors of the shop open,” he says, “for the Cal Fire guys and all the first responders. They were stoked to have access to the restaurant, restrooms, cold drinks – just Snickers, even. Funny how the smallest things can make the biggest impression.”
Just weeks later, in the wee hours of January 9th, Patrick Braid found himself rushing to his shop all over again, this time in boots, lugging gear, as he trounced through knee-high mud. His business had survived. But its location – where East Valley and San Ysidro Roads converge – instantly became “ground zero for responders,” recalls Mr. Braid. “So we jumped into action again, opened our doors, put candles in the bathroom, hand-carved more than 100 sandwiches just that first day. All those guys were so pumped that we said, no matter what, we’d stay open throughout the entire event.”
No easy task, of course. While the Village Cheese & Wine Store did become the only Montecito food shop open for weeks, not only for rescue personnel but for marooned residents, too, keeping the business open required pulling strings. A few lawmakers and law enforcement leaders did step up to bend the rules just enough, and Patrick Braid became perhaps the only civilian with unfettered access to what had suddenly become a disaster zone. Donations from companies like Vons, Trader Joe’s and Smart & Final ensured he’d be able to offer sundries and supplies to his new clientele at no cost.
Months later, as normalcy began its slow return to Montecito, Mr. Braid couldn’t shake just how impressed he’d been by the mettle of the rescuers, especially the Montecito Fire Department, his shop’s neighbors across the street. “So inspired, actually,” he says, “that I hatched this concept of creating brands to help.”
Patrick Braid w/KEYT's John Palminteri, who covered the mudslide from day one
So, on the one year mark of events that changed Montecito forever, Mr. Braid is launching a line of specialty food products that honor its name.

The logo of the Montecito & Company brands features a flame that denotes the Thomas Fire and a heart that signifies recovery. Sales of all its products are linked to a nonprofit that translates a portion of proceeds into donations. Funds are earmarked for any of the various groups assisting in bringing Montecito back on its feet, from the Bucket Brigade to the Food Bank of Santa Barbara County.
Montecito Coffee Co. launched a few weeks ago – a line of coffees produced from top-quality beans from around the world and crafted by renowned Ventura-based roaster Gayla Moore. The packaging features bright, colorful paintings by Santa Barbara plein air artist Jeremy Harper of iconic local landmarks like Butterfly Beach, Hammonds Reef and, of course, the historic Montecito Firehouse. The coffees sell for $12 and in smaller half-pound packages because “the key is drinking coffee as close to roast date as possible,” says Mr. Braid.
Montecito Wine Co. is a tribute to Mr. Braid’s late father. It launched this month in partnership with winemaker Doug Margerum, who was himself displaced by the Montecito debris flow. The Butterfly Beach 2017 White Rhone Blend from the Los Olivos District AVA sells for $36 and the Old Firehouse 2017 Pinot Noir from the lucrative Sta. Rita Hills growing area retails for $67.
“This is not cheap, discounted stuff,” insists Mr. Braid, who aims to ensure his brands yield premium products that “live up to the high quality Montecito is known for. Montectio is, itself, a luxury brand, and at an even more global scale now. So whatever products we release that bear that name have to be the crème-de-la-crème. And,” he continues, “people won’t mind paying a slight premium because they know it’s all going to the greater good of humanity and a community that’s been devastated."
Montecito Olive Co. just hit the market, too – a collaboration with Craig Makela of California Coast Naturals. And plans for Montecito Beer are already underway.
All the Montecito Co. brands are selling at the Village Cheese & Wine Store, though Mr. Braid has his sights set on mass distribution as well as direct-to-consumer sales through specialty clubs and, in particular, e-commerce. In fact, he’s already secured a lengthy list of online real estate that bears his venture’s name, including, and
John Braid
And Montecito is just the beginning.
The power of retail to aid communities in recovery has Mr. Braid thinking on an international level, as he looks ahead to “a brand of collections” inspired by regions around the world hit by disasters. “We can create a line [of products] for them and a percentage of the gross revenues goes to each affected area,” he says.
“A social movement,” he calls it. “And to think – it all came from a huge disaster in one of the most beautiful and affluent areas of California."
Village Cheese & Wine Store, 1485 East Valley Rd., #14, Montecito. 805-969-3815.
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Taste California: 4 Golden State Wine Regions to Visit in 2019

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 1/3/19

We’ll dedicate most of the ink here this year to touting Santa Barbara and all its wine wonders. Our region may, in fact, be the most diverse viticultural region in all of California, and home to many of its most talented wine growers. But California is vast, home to 100-plus AVAs and more than a half-million acres of wine grapes. So, to ensure that our sipping doesn’t become overly provincial – and to broaden not only our own wine savvy but our appreciation of California’s enological treasure trove – here are four other Golden State regions well worth the travel in 2019.

South Coast Winery Resort in Temecula offers overnight stays
Temecula and San Diego: Yes, there’s an attractive and burgeoning wine region south of LA. Viticulturally speaking, Temecula has gone through some growing pains in the last couple of decades, but the wine country experience it’s created recently – including rolling estates, vineyard-side B&Bs and unique events like the annual Balloon & Wine Festival each spring – makes this a bona fide wine lover’s destination. There are more than 40 wineries in the Temecula Valley, many of which win attention for sangiovese, syrah, zinfandel, tempranillo and cabernet sauvignon. Just south, northern San Diego County, where Franciscans planted grapevines as far back as the 1700s, offers its own wine country experience; you’ll find dozens of small wineries, actually, near inland locales like Fallbrook, Ramona and Escondido.

Lodi: Family-run farms define this laid-back wen region, many of them in the hands of fourth- and fifth-generation farmers whose predecessors survived Prohibition under the law’s legal home-winemaking provision. Many of those older vines grow zinfandel – more than 40% of California’s premium zin grows here and the annual Lodi ZinFest in May is a huge draw. Cabernet and merlot also flourish in this predominantly red grape zone, along with some 100 other Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, German and French varieties. Lodi Wine Country is located 100 miles inland from San Francisco Bay, where the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys converge, making a day trip from our state’s capital super easy.

The original water tower at Mendocino Co.'s Handley Cellars is a recognizable landmark
Mendocino Co.: This lovely coastal haven north of Sonoma and a two-plus-hour drive from San Francisco is covered in redwoods; in fact, you’ll find the world’s tallest living tree here – a stunning 370 feet in height. Grapevines thrive here, too, of course, to the tune of more than 500 vineyards and an impressive one-third of California’s total organic wine grape acreage. Red grapes rule here – pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon and zinfandel, mostly – with chardonnay and sauvignon blanc as the predominant whites. Some 90 miles of rugged coastline, two dozen national and state parks and a bevy of pretty town in valleys like Redwood, Anderson and Potter make a long weekend here a no-brainer. After grapes, Mendocino’s top crop is cannabis.

Santa Cruz Mountains: Altitude variation helped distinguish this AVA when it was established in 1981, with a range of 400 to 3200 feet.  Set west of San Jose and southwest of San Francisco Bay, the cool climate and rugged terrain here help pinot noir and chardonnay thrive. Visitors will find a slew of special cabernet, merlot and zinfandel projects here, too. Of the region’s 60-plus wineries, Bonny Doon is among the most recognizable, set right along Highway 1 and home to a museum and rotating art displays. And Ridge Vineyards’ Monte Bello Tasting Room in Cupertino is home to lovely gardens and picnic areas. There are plenty of boutique overnight options in this AVA, which includes towns like Santa Cruz and Los Gatos.

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