by Debbie Pepper
Our 4th Annual Cordillera Cellar Club Trip recreated our own Cordillera version of an exclusive Sideways tour, wining and dining our way through the wine regions of Santa Barbara, including Santa Rita Hills near Lompoc, and wineries in and near the quaint little town of Los Olivos and Santa Ynez Valley. The wine movie Sideways (for those of you not familiar with the film) made Pinot Noir famous and became a trip theme for recreating and visiting many of the same wineries and locations in the movie. The Santa Rita Hills, where much of our time was spent, produces extraordinary Pinot Noirs due to the proximity to the coast, cool Pacific air and afternoon fog, resulting in very intense and flavorful wines.
We extended this year’s trip one additional day making it a six day/night trip allowing our group to not only enjoy bountiful wine tastings and dinners, but two days of personal leisure time to explore the beautiful sights of Santa Barbara, beaches and amenities staying at the exclusive oceanfront Bacara Resort. Additionally, The Sandpiper Golf Course, just down the road from Bacara, offered oceanfront golf and spectacular scenery.
Arriving on Sunday morning, we were greeted with a champagne toast by our wonderful host Tiffany Hampton of the Foley Food & Wine Society. There was more sparkling wine to take with us on our motorcoach to The Reagan Library and Museum in Simi Valley. At the Reagan, we enjoyed a private White House Luncheon just adjacent to Marine One in the Air Force One Pavilion. After lunch we had a private docent tour of Air Force One, Marine One and the library/museum. What a grand way to start our first day, followed by a welcome
Our day began with an interesting wagon vineyard tour at Babcock Winery with owner Bryan Babcock learning about his unique viticulture innovation on “canopy pivoting” whereby the grapevine pivots upside down rather than the standard vertical shoot positioning. This revolutionary technique reduced his farming costs by 30 percent and made for a very interesting and educational stop. We then headed to Foley Estates where they once again rolled out the red carpet with a wonderful plated lunch paired with reserve wines in their lovely courtyard. Later that evening we enjoyed a truly extraordinary wine dinner at Fiddlehead Cellars Estate Vineyard (Fiddlestix) out in the countryside near Lompoc. Dinner was served in the vineyard’s rustic barn with wide open views of the mountains and a spectacular sunset in the distance. Owner and winemaker Kathy Joseph, recognized as a pioneer among women winemakers, delighted us with her wine journey stories and her passion for creating stylistic Sauvignon Blanc and silky, textural Pinots. A truly memorable evening.
We ventured to Los Olivos and the Santa Ynez Valley for a quick shopping stop and tasting at Byron before heading to lunch at Lincourt Winery for a casual picnic-style lunch and great wines on the covered patio. Lincourt was the first acquisition where Bill Foley launched Foley Family Wines in 1996. (Read more about Bill Foley and The Foley Food & Wine Society in next month’s magazine.) After lunch we headed to Firestone Vineyards for a vineyard tour and private reserve tasting in the Barrell Room. Dinner that evening was at the Harbor Restaurant at Stearn’s Wharf in Santa Barbara where we had an unexpected surprise when a baby whale surfaced outside the restaurant and we all went racing to take pictures! After dinner we boarded the Azure Seas for a private sunset yacht cruise enjoying truffles, cheese, port and wines…. and the wonderful companionship of each other.
The day began in a leisurely way — golfing, shopping, spa treatments, beach walks and exploring — everyone’s personal pleasure. We joined back together late in the afternoon to return to the countryside near Lompoc to enjoy a fabulous paired wine dinner in the Barrel Room at Sanford Winery. We had several single vineyard exclusive wines and were fortunate to taste the Sanford and Benedict Pinot Noir exclusively sourced from the estate vineyard planted in 1971 — the first vineyard planted in the Santa Rita Hills.
On our last day in Los Olivos, we visited Andrew Murray Winery for an educational blending class of Rhone varietals and tastings. Then it was off to Fess Parker Winery for another delicious courtyard lunch featuring Santa Maria Style BBQ and tastings. We even met Fess Parker’s young grandson who helped serve us! We enjoyed fun shopping and coonskin caps and headed back into Los Olivos for more shopping before one of our favorite dinners at Mattei’s Tavern, originally built in 1886 as a stagecoach stop. We enjoyed meeting Chef/Partner Robbie Wilson whose Santa Ynez Valley-inspired menu of locally sourced product wowed our group. But the fun actually began before dinner when we all took turns playing bocce ball on the outdoor lawn adjacent to our dining room. A very fun and lively evening!
This was our last leisurely day before heading into downtown Santa Barbara for a reserve tasting at the Margerum tasting room. Our final dinner was at The Wine Cask where we enjoyed wonderful wines and dinner with farewell tributes and enjoyed the camaraderie of new friends.
“The Cordillera Santa Barbara Wine Trip, like last years’ Sonoma Wine Trip, exceeded our expectations! The combination of new wineries, tasting wines we can’t easily get in Texas, exceptional food, perfect 72 degree weather and sharing with Cordillera friends made for another ‘over the top’ experience. I’d love to describe a few special moments but ‘what happens on the wine trip stays on the wine trip’”
– David and Gail Sanders
“Our recent Santa Barbara experience was outstanding and I would highly recommend to anyone who shares a passion for wine education and good food, to consider signing up for the next Wine Cellar Club trip! Debbie and Manny gave such excellent attention and planning to every detail — from our private tour of President Reagan’s Library and Museum and unique experiences like our Air Force One White House luncheon, to the carefully selected wineries and dinners. Each experience surpassed expectation! It is truly difficult to say which one was my favorite! Moreover, I know the friendships that we formed on this trip will be meaningful and lasting, which is important to me as we look forward to living at Cordillera!”
– Joanne Williams