The Santa Barbara wine region was made famous in the movie Sideways a few years ago, and most online resources focus on doing the same tour as done in the movie. We weren't really interested in visiting famous wineries as we were in visiting excellent wineries. We stayed in Santa Maria, an hour north of Santa Barbara, and explored the Santa Ynez wineries from there. I'll point out a few of our favourites. Most places charge $10-20 per person to taste 4-6 wines, and most of them give you a wine glass. Some of the glasses are even nice (though not all, See Parker, Fess).
Firestone. This was our favourite inexpensive winery. Several solid, good tasting wines, for a decent price. We visited Firestone on the same day we went to Fess Parker, which was much more disappointing. Fess Parker is a famous large production winery. Their cute little glasses that come with the tasting have a little etching on them that looks rather like a turd (but apparently is supposed to be a beaverskin cap). Anyway, Fess Parker sells solid wines at exotic prices. Hit Firestone instead, for good, inexpensive wine.
Foxen was one of our favourites. They had many wines we liked, including a fortified dessert wine (called Mission Accomplished). Simple grounds, with two different buildings for tastings, their staff was super-friendly, and gave our two-year old a temporary tattoo which he talked about for the next 2 days.
Bridlewood certainly had the nicest grounds. When you drive into the vineyard, you drive under a canopy of trees that makes you feel like you're in New England, not in the deserts of southern California. Nice touch. The wines here were very good, particularly their syrahs. I could have happily taken several of their syrahs home with us.
Zaca Mesa was good fun as well. They had an enormous chessboard out front (with pieces the size of my son), which provided 20 minutes of good fun for us. The wines here were really innovative and fun, using several types of grapes we'd never heard of before. Roussanne? What's a Roussanne?
And finally, our absolute favourite, Kenneth Volk. The photo at the top was taken in the back of his tasting room. Every wine we tried here was interesting and tasty on several levels. They were complex and delicious, with long and interesting finishes. And we tried a *lot* of different wines here. We were so enthralled, that for the first time, we joined a wine club and look forward to receiving many more of their wines. Tasty, complex and delicious. These were world-class wines.
We'll be visiting this area again.