Photo Credit: Demetria Estate Winery
Wine is a staple of the Santa Barbara lifestyle—locally made vintages are accessible at every turn whether you’re by the beach or in the countryside. With more than 200 local wine producers to choose from, dozens and dozens of tour companies specializing in guided day trips and countless restaurants hosting winemaker dinners on the regular, our wine-infused adventures run the gamut from immersive and offbeat to adrenaline-fueled and ultra-luxe. If you’re looking to elevate your sniff, swirl and sip experience to a new standard of memorable, here are a dozen anything-but-ordinary ways to wine when you’re on The American Riviera®.
Book Your Stay
Literally elevate your experience and take to the skies with Nanco Helicopters on one of their intimate, scenic wine tours by helicopter. Perfect for a party of two, the pilot and knowledgeable wine guide will fly with guests from Santa Barbara Airport over the hill to Sanford Winery for a guided vineyard tour and estate tasting with the option to add a picnic lunch for an additional fee.
Sip & Sail
Take your sipping to the sea on a customized Sip & Sail tour with Coastal Concierge. The six-hour experience starts with wine tasting along the Urban Wine Trail in downtown Santa Barbara. Then you set sail on a private Catalina yacht where a gourmet lunch is served with a bottle of local bubbly. You’ll even have the option to play deck hand if you want to learn how to sail—otherwise, you can kick back and enjoy the views of The American Riviera® while your captain charts the course.
Sip & Cycle
Burning calories never tasted so good! Santa Barbara Wine Country Tours offers a full-day wine country bike tour with round trip transportation to the heart of wine country and all cycling gear provided. Your guides will lead you on a scenic 10 to 15 mile ride through vineyards and ranch lands with two tasting stops and a picnic lunch. Don’t worry about tiring out or getting stranded—the van follows as a support vehicle the whole time!
Hot [Green] Wheels
Ride in sustainable style and get down to earth with Sustainable Vine Wine Tours who offer a deluxe experience in their all-electric Tesla Model X SUV that can accommodate up to five guests. The private tours via Tesla grant exclusive access to by-appointment-only, private wineries and biodynamically-farmed vineyards. You’ll feel really good about your investment because every aspect of the experience takes the health of the planet and community into consideration. Not to mention you can learn the ins and outs of what goes into eco-conscious wines.
Horses and wine? Yee-haw, we do. In fact, several Santa Barbara outfitters offer horseback riding and wine tasting tour combinations, each with its own unique twist. Captain Jack’s Horseback Riding and Wine Tasting Tour keeps the two activities separate with a trail ride on a privately owned ranch followed by lunch and a wine tour in the Sta. Rita Hills. Vino Vaqueros leads private horseback rides through Estelle Vineyards followed by a tasting in their barn. For horse lovers who may not want to ride but want to see, learn and taste, Wine & Horses offers “A Day of Wine & Horses” that includes a guided tour of two equestrian facilities and two wineries in the Santa Ynez Valley.
Get Your Om On
Yoga and wine are another unexpected match made in wine pairing heaven. Vineyard Yoga Santa Ynez Valley hosts a monthly class in different vineyards throughout the valley. The morning yoga classes are followed by a well-earned tasting flight of wines made by the host winery.
Somm’s in Session
Sommeliers go through rigorous training to earn their credentials and they drop serious wine knowledge—which you can soak up like a sponge at regularly scheduled tasting events featuring local star “Somms.” Every month, Armada Wine & Beer Merchant hosts a blind tasting event at which you can expand your palate and become a critical taster while learning to taste wine like a Sommelier. On the third Thursday of each month Les Marchands’ General Manager and Advanced Sommelier Emily Johnston leads an educational Somm tasting. These ticketed events focus on the nuances of different wine producing regions and varietals and will get you talking and sipping like an expert.
What if you could (a) go wine tasting while (b) sampling a handful of restaurants, (c) getting your daily steps in and (d) upping your food porn photography game—all at the same time?! Eat This, Shoot That! does just that. Guests on their small group walking tours get digital photography tips while visiting eight food and wine tasting locations and exploring local culture in downtown Santa Barbara.
For those whose artistic ability extends further than an iPhone, Gypsy Studios equips guests with the supplies and tutorial needed to sip and paint a piece of wine country. With a glass of wine in one hand, and a paint brush in the other, you’ll be inspired by the vineyard tranquility to channel your inner Picasso. In just 2-hours, you’ll have created a masterpiece to be hung at home upon your return.
Breaking bread with winemakers is a pretty darn special way to learn about their wines. Bob’s Well Bread Bakery in Los Alamos hosts a monthly Meet the Winemaker afternoon tasting series with different esteemed local winemakers. Talk shop, taste through the flight and savor bites prepared by the beloved bakery. There are tons of winemaker dinners happening throughout Santa Barbara County year round, too. These fabulous feasts are meticulously prepared with the wine pairings in mind, so it’s the ultimate foodie experience—especially because the winemakers are onsite to share the backstories and tasting notes. Ask your favorite wineries for their upcoming dinners or check our event calendar to see what’s coming up.
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Make Your Own
Do you secretly dream of becoming a winemaker? Try your hand at blending to get a feel for that aspect of process. Artiste Winery & Tasting Studio celebrates the art of blending—and art in general—and the Los Olivos tasting room offers blending workshops by appointment. Not only do you get to experiment with your own blends, you get to create your own label. If you’re reading this from afar and can’t wait to make it to Santa Barbara, start working on your own custom wine to whet your palate before your visit. Bottlest allows you to create your own custom wine from start to finish online. They also have a brick-and-mortar winery, restaurant and bar location in Buellton and invite “winemaker” customers to come in for a tour.
By Appointment Only
Pull your VIP card and make a booking at wineries that offer tastings exclusively by appointment. These are places that aren’t open to the general public on a daily basis. In some cases, you’ll be the only clients and will get to have the undivided attention of the winemaker or owner. Sanguis Wine in downtown Santa Barbara offers tastings by appointment in their Funk Zone production facility. Over the hill in wine country, make an appointment and spend the afternoon with winemaker Deborah Hall who shares her exquisite Gypsy Canyon wines produced with grapes grown on her historic 1887 vineyard in Lompoc’s Sta. Rita Hills. In the same area, Pence Vineyards & Ranch is now open for private tastings and tours of the working 200-acre ranch. Over in Los Olivos, Demetria Estate is open daily—just call or email ahead to book your reservation. The stunningly beautiful winery has one of the most picturesque settings in the entire Santa Ynez Valley so you’ll want to bring a picnic or snacks to settle in for a while.
If you love Santa Barbara County wines or want a crash course to get to know them for the first time, there’s no better way than to attend one of the region’s marquee wine festivals. Santa Barbara Vintners hosts two major events each year—Celebration of Harvest in the fall and Vintners Spring Weekend. Each extended weekend line-up features multiple events over the course of four days. Winemaker dinners, open houses, seminars, vineyard hikes and more bookend the grand tasting events that feature numerous wineries and restaurants in one glorious venue. This year, Santa Barbara Vintners is introudcing a new event to kick-off Celebration of Harvest, Taste of Santa Barbara Wine Country. On September 29, join fellow wine-lovers for an oceanfront evening sampling 50+ wineries at Fess Parker, A Doubletree Resort by Hilton. Now, that’s the ticket!