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Santa Barbara's wine country comes of age.

It's difficult to picture a more idyllic scene of old California than you find in western Santa Barbara County this month, with dusky green oaks tufting tan hills that resemble unfurled bolts of suede. But amid the natural scene, waves of vineyard plantings reveal the hand of man.

More than half of these vineyards were planted between 1964 and 1974. (UC Cooperative Extension tests back in the '30s revealed the county's wine-grape potential.) This means that most vines are now "past their 15th leaf," a grape grower's way of saying they're 15 years old-and entering their prime.

Plantings and acclaim for Santa Barbara wines continue to grow, and attention of the wine world has never been greater. To see what the excitement's about, consider visiting this month. Harvest continues for Cabernet and other late-ripening grapes used in highly regarded wines, and nearly two dozen wineries buzz with the early stages of winemaking.

A taste of geology and climate

Unique in California, the east-west range of Santa Barbara's mountains creates valleys that funnel the flow of ocean fog and breezes deeply inland. From May through harvest, this convection fog hugs the hills and vales for part of each day.

As winemakers and vineyard masters refine their knowledge of microclimates, they are using the predictable weather and fast-draining soil of this onceundersea limestone terrace for experiments. A dry climate lets them regulate irrigation to control the vigor of the vines and, therefore, grape size and ripening. Through spacing, pruning, and leaf thinning, they manage sun exposure so more goes to the fruit, less to the plant (eliminating undesirable herbaceous flavor).

"We're in the varsity league now"

If you enjoy wine, you've probably sampled Santa Barbara grapes in many California wines (80 percent of the grapes are sold outside the region). Now, as winemaking inside the county increases in quantity and quality-expressed by one winemaker in the quote at left-out-ofthe-area wineries are buying acreage to ensure continued access to the grapes.

Biggest buyers in recent years have been Napa-based Beringer and Robert Mondavi, and Lake County's Kendall-Jackson (whose first Chardonnay crush in '88 for its Cambria label was the county's largest to date).

Wineries to visit-from north to south

The wineries in the open, rolling Santa Ynez Valley area are easy to reach from main highways-US. 101, State 246, and State 154. To visit wineries accessible ftom Foxen Canyon Road east of US. 101, you'll wind through some of the county's most beautiful scenery. The following places welcome retail customers, at least by appointment. Groups should always call ahead. For more details, call individual wineries (area code 805) or the Santa Barbara County Vintners' Association, Box WINE, Los Olivos 93441; 688-0881.

Qupi Wine Cellars, Santa Maria Mesa Road; 688-2477. To taste at this new winery amid 197 2-planted vineyards, call for appointment. Wines sell under Qupe (Chardonnay, Syrah) and Vita Nova (Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay) labels.

Byron Vineyard & Winery, 5230 Tepusquet Road; 937-7288. Open 10 to 4 daily for informal tours ending in pine-paneled tasting room. Byron recently acquired county's oldest commerical vineyard, planted in 1964 with Christian Brothers rootstock. Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, others.

Rancho Sisquoc Winery, off Foxen Canyon Road; 934-4332. Open 10 to 4 daily for informal tours, tasting of seven varietals (winemaker's special interest is Sylvaner). Wines are sold only on site, in rustic ranch building up road behind 1875 chapel.

Foxen Vineyard, Foxen Canyon Road; 937-4251. On remnant of 1838 land grant, descendant of original settler produces handmade wines in 150-year-old barn. Open by appointment. Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon.

Zaca Mesa Winery, 6905 Foxen Canyon Road; 688-3310. Weathered timber complex open 10 to 4 daily for tours (hourly 10:30 through 2:30) and tasting. Chardonnay (biggest seller), new lightened style of Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, others.

Firestone Vineyard, 5017 Zaca Station Road; 688-3940. Open 10 to 4 daily for tours (until 3:30), tasting in modern hilltop facility, the county's largest. A pioneer in the region's winemaking since '75. Johannisberg Riesling (flagship wine), Gewurztraminer, Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon.

Babcock Vineyards, 5175 Highway 246; 736-1455. 0pen 10:30 to 4:30 weekends (or by appointment). In a hilltop barn, you can see production, taste Johannisberg Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir.

The Brander Vineyard, 2401 Refugio Road; 688-2455. Open 10 to 5 daily in roughhewn wood barn and fanciful pink stucco chateau. Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Bouchet (blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc). Tours by appointment. Annual bouillabaisse festival in spring,

Ballard Canyon Winery, 1825 Ballard Canyon Road; 688-7585. Open 11 to 4 daily. Signs provide self-guided tour. Wines served at tables on oak-shaded deckperhaps the region's pleasantest tasting locale. Johannisberg Riesling, Chardonnay, blush wines, Muscat Canelli (spicy white dessert wine). Harvest Festival from 11 to 4 October 7, 14, 21: tastings, barbecue, dancing, grape stomping. For required reservations (adults only), call 9 to 4:30 weekdays. Also April jazz concerts, other events.

Houtz Vineyards, 2670 Ontiveros Road (just west of Refugio Road); 688-8664. Open noon to 4 weekends for informal tours, tasting in redwood barn winery. Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Nouveau (sold only on site), others.

J. Carey Cellars, 1711 Alamo Pintado Road; 688-8554. Open 10 to 4 daily for informal tours of winery in 1920s red dairy barn, tasting in yellow-and-white farmhouse-both seen in this season's opener of "Falcon Crest." Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Semillon (sold only on site). Harvest dinner October 28 (call for reservations); special wine sales October 28 and 29.

The Gainey Vineyard, 3950 E. Highway 246; 688-0558. Open 10 to 5 daily in contemporary hacienda amid vineyards. Geared to visitor education, tours (hourly 10:30 to 3:30) begin in demonstration vineyard, end with tasting of four varietals. Sales only on site, by mail, in restaurants. Six varietals, notably Chardonnay. Also wine appreciation classes, cooking classes, concerts.

Mosby Winery at Vega Vineyards, 9496 Santa Rosa Road at US. 101; 688-2415. Open 10 to 4 daily for tasting in 19thcentury carriage barn next to owners' landmark 1853 adobe home. Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, late-harvest Riesling, Pineau. Harvest Fest September 23 (tasting, barbecue, food samples, jazz from 11 to 4) and 24 (blues concert 2 to 6). Also concerts, dinners, chef events.

Santa Ynez Winery, 343 N. Refugio Road; 688-8381, Open 10 to 5 daily in converted dairy barn on working ranch. Tours (hourly on weekend afternoons) show barrel storage in old stalls. Sparkling wines, CabernetMerlot blend, Pinot Blanc, others. Blues Festival from 2 to 5 October 1. Also concerts, wine fests, twilight dinners.

Santa Barbara Winery, 202 Anacapa Street; 963-3633. County's oldest winery (founded 1962) opens 10 to 5 daily in warehouse-like complex with sleek remodeled tasting room off production area. Tours (11:30, 3:30), tasting of several varietals, including Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon. Vineyards west of Buellton.

Tasting rooms without winery settings

Austin Cellars, 2923 Grand Avenue, Los Olivos; 688-9665. Tasting room open 11 to 5 daily in cozy farmhouse. Pinot Noir, dessert wines made of Johannisberg Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc. (Winery overlooks Firestone and Zaca Mesa operations.)

Sanford Winery, 7250 Santa Rosa Road, Buellton; 688-3300. Tasting room open 11 to 4 daily in converted dairy barn. Southwest-style interior has wine library. Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, blush wines, Pinot Noir. New production facility will be built alongside barn.

Stearns Wharf Vintners, on Stearns Wharf, Santa Barbara; 966-6624. Tasting room, with city and sea views, open 10 to 5 daily. Some two dozen wines to taste, including those of owner's Santa Ynez Winery, where Stearns Wharf wines are made. Also coffees, cheeses, croissants, local seafood.

Other places to taste

Some places sell picnic supplies, meals. Los Olivos. Los Olivos Tasting Room & Wine Shop, 2905 Grand Avenue; 688-7406. Open 11 to 8 daily. For $2.50, taste 12 wines; choose among wineries rarely open: Au Bon Climat, Foxen, J. Kerr, Longoria, Qupe, Vita Nova.

Ballard. Ballard Store Restaurant, 2449 open 6 to 9:30 Pm. Wednesdays through Saturdays, from 10:30 A.M. Sundays; $2.50 to $6 per glass.

Solvang. Copenhagen Cellars, 448 Alisal Road; 688-4218. Open 10 to 5 weekdays, until 6 weekends. Wines of Santa Ynez Winery, Stearns Wharf Vintners.

Santa Barbara. Wine Cask, 813 Anacapa Street; 965-1178. Shop and wine bar open 10 to 9 daily, noon to 5 Sundays; $2.50 to $7 per glass. Restaurant.

Montecito. Montecito Wine Cask, 1290 Coast Village Road; 969-3955. Shop and wine bar open 11 to 8 daily, noon to 5 Sundays; $3 to $7 a glass. Courtyard cafe.

Lodging options, an annual fest

Solvang, with more than 700 rooms, is the wine country's overnight center. For a brochure listing hotels, campgrounds, and restaurants, write or call Solvang Visitors'

Bureau, Box 70, Solvang 93463; 688-6144.

For information on the area's handful of B & Bs, and hotels and restaurants outside Solvang, ask the Solvang Chamber of Commerce, Box 465, 93463; 688-0701.

The best showcase for the region's winemaking is the annual Santa Barbara County Vintners' Festival, April 21 and 22, 1990. On a luxurious Santa Ynez Valley ranch, taste wares of the county's 23 wineries and 30 restaurants and caterers. Most wineries host open houses and events. Tickets go on sale-and sell out-February 1; to have a chance, request ticket information by January, Write or call the Vintners' Association (address above).
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Date:Oct 1, 1989
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