Just five years ago, the Santa Maria Valley was called “an insider’s secret” by a leading wine authority. Now the secret is getting out, and this northern Santa Barbara County region is emerging as one of California’s leading appellations for Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and other cool-climate varieties.
“More and more visitors are discovering the Santa Maria Valley as an exciting wine tasting destination,” says Gina Keough, manager of the Santa Maria Valley Visitor & Convention Bureau (VCB). “Local wines have racked up an impressive track record in leading wine magazines, and now more and more wineries are calling the Santa Maria Valley home. There’s a definite sense of momentum, and word is getting out.”
The Santa Maria Valley is a relatively uncrowded and intimate wine region, with winery tasting rooms tucked along picturesque country roads. The cool ocean air channeling directly into the valley results in one of California’s longest growing seasons, which ensures the development of complex, flavorful and exquisitely balanced grapes. Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah are among the varietals that excel in the region.
The VCB has a new “Tasting Brochure” highlighting Santa Maria Valley wineries, tasting rooms, wine bars and breweries. The piece is free to the public and may be requested by phone 800/331-3779, or downloaded from the VCB web site.
The Santa Maria Valley and neighboring areas host several wine events throughout the year: the Autumn Arts Grape and Grains Festival in September in downtown Santa Maria; the Celebration of Harvest Grand Tasting on October 10, at the Old Mission Santa Innes in Solvang; the Santa Barbara County Vintners Festival Grand Tasting in April in the Santa Ynez Valley; and the Chardonnay Symposium in early May in Shell Beach.
Wineries and Vineyards In and Around Santa Maria Valley
Cottonwood Canyon Vineyard & Winery is a small winery specializing in estate grown, limited production Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Syrah. The winery’s picturesque wine caves are often used as a venue for concerts, dinners and events.
Cambria Winery & Vineyard is recognized for its lush, tropical Chardonnay, velvety Pinot Noir and rich, spicy Syrah. Visitors also enjoy its deck with stunning views.
Rancho Sisquoc Winery offers the picturesque 1875 San Ramon Chapel and barn set on land once called “Sisquoc” or “gathering place” by the Chumash tribe of Native Americans.
Foxen Vineyard’s two tasting rooms honor both “old” and “new” with rustic charm. The 1860s-era “Shack” was once the blacksmith shop for the historic Rancho Tinaquaic, and is a perfect backdrop for sampling the winery’s Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Syrah and Cabernet Franc. The new solar-powered winery built in 2009 features a tasting room that focuses on Burgundian and Rhone-style wines.
William James Cellars’ owner-winemaker Robin Bogue named the winery after her father, a longtime vineyard irrigation consultant. Since her first efforts with Chardonnay and Syrah, Bogue has added a dozen more varietals to her wine making portfolio, experimenting with stainless steel, oak and neutral oak, as well as blends.
Presqu’ile Winery includes 73 acres of certified sustainably farmed vineyards. The winery crafts Santa Maria Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah. To complement estate production, the winery also partners with top growers to source additional outstanding fruit.
C Nagy Wines, launched by local winemaking veteran Clarissa Nagy, is a boutique tasting room that opened in November of 2014 in Santa Maria’s Orcutt neighborhood. Clarissa, a winemaker for Riverbench Winery, specializes in Pinot Noir, Syrah, Pinot Blanc and Viognier.
Riverbench Vineyard & Winery sold its fine Pinot Noir and Chardonnay fruit for decades to renowned wineries throughout Santa Barbara County until 2004 when it began producing its own wines in limited quantities, many of which are available exclusively through the winery’s tasting rooms in Santa Maria and Santa Barbara.
Costa de Oro Winery’s tasting room opened in 2006 at the location of the original Gold Coast Farms strawberry stand near Highway 101 in Santa Maria. Costa de Oro specializes in Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and other varietals that excel in the Santa Maria Valley and Santa Barbara County.
Brucher & Golden Bear Wine Company is owned and operated by Mike and Janis Schmidt, who bought the brand from their friend, Peter Brucher, in 2009. The Brucher label specializes in Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Port, while the Bear Wine brand also produces Syrah, Grenache and Riesling.
Ca’Del Grevino Café and Wine Bar is a newer culinary star along Santa Maria Valley’s historic Old Orcutt district. Chef Nicolette Oliphant is passionate about gathering ingredients from fresh and local sources. And, of course, with the Santa Maria Valley wine country in her backyard, the quality of her wines is a given.
Lucia’s Wine Company in Old Orcutt is known for its exceptional variety of Central Coast wines, knowledgeable, friendly staff and its brick pizza oven! Lucia’s takes pride in its unrushed, intimate atmosphere. The tasting room, located at 126 East Clark Avenue, is also known as a hub for live music and spirited “jam sessions” from a variety of beloved local artists.
Old Town Market, located in the Old Town Orcutt District, features a world-class wine department with hundreds of varietal selections from more than 70 local wineries, including tough-to-find boutique winery offerings. The shop also hosts weekly wine and food tastings and pairings, and is beloved for its on-site Santa Maria Style Barbecue sandwiches and other mouthwatering fare.
The Wine Saloon is a tasting bar within the historic 1880 Union Hotel – an original Wells Fargo stagecoach stop located in the hamlet of Los Alamos, about 15 minutes south of Santa Maria. This distinctive spot exclusively features three labels: GoGi wines, which are produced by film actor Kurt Russell; the Hudson-Bellamy label (by actress Kate Hudson and Matt Bellamy of the band, Muse); and Ampelos Cellars owned by Peter and Rebecca Work.
Casa Dumetz Wines is owned by actor/writer/director Emilio Estevez and his fiancée/winemaker Sonja Magdevski. Its tasting room is located in Los Alamos. Here, the commitment is to producing elegant, small batch, balanced wines most of which are Rhone varietals such as Grenache, Syrah, Viognier and Roussanne sourced from the Santa Ynez Valley.
Martian Ranch & Vineyard is an estate winery in Los Alamos featuring a range of Santa Barbara County varietals. Proprietor Nan Helgeland says that “Martian” is the blending of the names of her sons Martin and Ian, and that the Martian seen occasionally on the premises is as much a mystery to her as it is to anyone else.
Lucas & Lewellen is a family owned operation focusing on its three estate vineyards grown in Santa Ynez Valley, Los Alamos Valley and the Santa Maria Valley. The winery’s tasting room is located in the heart of Solvang and features more than 20 wine varietals.