Day 2 - Santa Maria Valley Wine Country
Our next destination took us twenty miles north of Solvang to Santa Maria Valley Wine Country where the air is peppered with sea mist in their glorious mornings. This region, known for its Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Syrah, benefits from the ever present Pacific. Burgundy grapes thrive in this cooler climate, which are essential to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir varietals.
We took HWY 154 from Santa Ynez to Foxen Canyon Road and gushed at the rolling vineyards, fields of lush produce, and scampering wildlife. Known as the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail, it connects Santa Ynez and Santa Maria Valleys, with the following wineries nestled in between:
- Rancho Sisquoc Winery
- Fess Parker Winery & Vineyard
- Cottonwood Canyon Winery
- Costa De Oro Winery
Foxen Canyon Road Trail Winery Reviews
Fess Parker Winery & Vineyard
Open daily from 10-5:00
If you are planning a wine wedding or a wine country picnic then you have to check out Fess Parker. It‘s enclosed within the vineyard which lends a classy, invigorating setting with gorgeous landscaping, a peaceful wrap around porch, and a stately huge stone fireplace.
As you enter their tasting room you’ll notice these adorable Davy Crockett mini coonskin caps for the tops of the wine bottles, coonskin cap logos on their wine glasses as well as certain wines; such as the “Crockett”, twentieth anniversary, 2006. This wine is currently sold out, however Sean has a bottle he’s holding onto. The Davy Crockett influence comes directly from Fess Parker who acted the part of “Davy Crockett” in a Hollywood film. He also portrayed “Dad” in Old Yeller.
The Fess Parker Tasting List Included:
2006 Chardonnay Ashley’s
2008 Viognier, Santa Barbara County
2006 Pinot Noir, Rio Vista
2006 Pinot Noir, Bien Nacido Vinearyd
2005 Syrah, ATR
2005 Syrah, Rodney’s Vineyard
While with Sean, a wine club member, our tastings were free. You too can taste for free! Sean’s available Saturdays and Sundays - just kidding! Click here for a free wine tasting coupon. Of these wines our favorites were the highlighted ones above. Their 2008 Viognier, “Santa Barbara County” is a great value; an extremely refreshing Viognier with flavors of pineapple, white peach, vanilla and butterscotch.
The grapes that make their 2006 Pinot Noir, “Rio Vista” comes from vines that produced grapes for the first time. Robert Parker also enjoyed our other favorite, their 2005 Syrah, “ATR”. He gave this wine 90 Points. In order to purchase a bottle of this big Syrah you’ll have to visit their winery. It boasts “concentrated fruit elements of plum, boysenberries and blackberries; along with vanilla, toast and smoke; with hints of spices, cinnamon and nutmeg; create a rich, powerful and complex Syrah.”
Rancho Sisquoc Winery
The winding road that leads up to Rancho Sisquoc Winery was a pleasure to drive. Cattle were roaming the land, vines and produce were growing in their fields. Their tasting room is so quaint, as you can see in our photo. This is a great spot to take a break, drink some wine, and enjoy some great views of the sprawling ranch.
The Ranch hostesses, Becky and Sarah, were informative with delightful sense of humors. They educated us on the background of the ranch which sits on 37,000 acres. The owners are in the cattle, produce, and grapevine business, the vineyards located in the cooler area of Santa Ynez Valley. We were surprised to see the tasting glasses were stemless. Stemless wine glasses have evolved into a popular wine gift over the years. Little did we know but this would be the first of many visits with wineries using stemless glasses.
Cave Tours: Saturday & Sunday 11am, 1pm & 3pm
If you are a chardonnay lover you will certainly like Cottonwood Canyon Winery. Their reserve wine tasting list includes the following:
We sipped on the Non-Vintage Bistro Chardonnay which was my favorite. The hostess paired it with an olive, explaining the acidity in the wine paired good with olives and spicy foods. This one had a creamy base with a lingering finish. Sean’s favorite was the 2001 Estate Chardonnay. He picked out the pear notes right away! The hostess served this wine warmer than most Chardonnays you’re use to drinking. When served warm the fruitier it will taste.
At Cottonwood Canyon they aerate their youthful wines with a wine funnel filter. The wine hostess put the funnel in a crystal decanter and poured; which had holes at the base of the funnel where the wine aerate through and hit the insides of the decanter as it dripped to the base.
I really enjoyed this tasting. Our wine hostess was very informative on their wines, food and wine pairings, and how to enjoy your wines. She was strict with us when it came to first lightly swirling our wines to savor the aroma before tasting. Then she had us compare the first swirl, sniff and sip to a much more intense swirl, sniff and sip. We were very impressed with the noticeable difference. I felt as if I were eating dinner with a cook and knew not to add pepper to a meal until I had tasted the cook’s creation. As you can see from our experience at Cottonwood Canyon Winery, aerating your wine can immensely improve the entire experience.
Costa De Oro Winery
What a fantastic end to our wine tasting day in Santa Maria Valley. We closed Costa De Oro Winery with our entertaining wine hostesses. They invited us to join them Friday night where they regularly have live music, wine tasting, and cheese plates from 4:30-7:30. Unfortunately we couldn’t stick around long enough for that, but we’ll definitely check it out the next time we’re in the area.
Wine Country Stay in Santa Maria
We finished our wine trail adventures at the Historic Santa Maria Inn in Santa Maria. This historic inn was built in 1917 and they‘d done a tremendous job of maintaining the original aura. I felt as though I moseyed into an old western movie where I could rustle a stagecoach from the window. Once we got settled in, we visited their cozy wine cellar in the basement. I enjoyed a glass of Wild Horse Viognier while Sean sipped on a glass of Pinot Noir.
Arched brick structures with wine racks lined the right side of the old, charming wine cellar. As you entered and turned the corner there was a small private room with a chess board. Sean was lucky the cellar was closing early so we didn’t get a chance to play.
We roamed from the basement’s wine cellar through the inn’s first floor historic settings, where we walked across their lobby and past their impressively carved front desk. In the halls we passed a couple pianos, one rumored to be played by the ghosts haunting the hotel.
This Inn is highly recommended by Sean and I as the perfect end to a wine vacation day. Each room’s settings are cozy, inviting, and completely relaxing. The romantic Historic Santa Maria Inn granted us a memorable evening after a wonderful day of wine tastings.
The inn keeper informed us that the inn served as a mid-point for travelers back in the day for those riding from Southern California to San Francisco. The suite we stayed in had many windows with a continuous bench wrapping around the corner of the room. The view out the windows were the picturesque San Rafael Mountains. I won‘t forget waking in the morning to the view of those beautiful mountains. The room was enormous and included a love seat, desk, two armed chairs with a table, and the window seats. The bathroom was large as well and included separate his and her sink vanities for a leisurely morning.