As we jump back onto the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail, part of the larger Sideways wine region, we also travel through wonderful history.
The character Maya, from the movie Sideways, sets up this second series of tours beautifully. This next line serves as the perfect introduction. Played by Virginia Madsen, Maya tells Miles (Paul Giamatti) how she approaches each glass of wine:
I like to think about the life of wine…How it’s a living thing. I like to think about what was going on the year the grapes were growing; how the sun was shining; if it rained.
Foxen, Fess & Kitá Wineries
When my husband and I arrive at the Foxen Winery, we enjoy both the history and their luscious wines in the busy tasting room. Foxen Winery is named in memory of British sea captain William Benjamin Foxen, who was the founder’s great great grandfather.
Foxen arrived in Santa Barbara in the 1800’s, and purchased 9,000 acres of Rancho Tinaquaic which comprised what is now called Foxen Trail. In fact, his ranch brand was an anchor that still adorns Foxen wine labels today.
Next stop, Fess Parker Winery. It was large and accommodating, befitting this much-awarded winery. Some of the bottles on display had small coon hats on their corks in homage to the former actor’s role as Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone back in the 1960’s. While Parker is no longer alive, he made Santa Barbara his home for many years. His vineyard is very
successful and his two lovely resorts in the area are flourishing under Fess Parker Enterprises. We enjoyed sampling a wide variety of beautiful wines including two unique dessert wines, their Traditions Port Style Red Wine and their 2009 Finale.
In 2010, shortly after the actor/vintner’s death, Fess Parker Enterprises sold 1400 acres of their Camp 4 land to the Chumash tribe. Tara Gomez a member of the Chumash tribe, who earned a Bachelor of Science in Enology in 1998 (one of two women) from Cal State Fresno, convinced her tribe to make wine. In 2010, they offered three different types of wine: Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Grenache.
It’s wonderful to celebrate Gomez and her successful Kitá Winery. It provides Gomez with a real opportunity to give back to her tribe. The name of the winery – Kitá – means “Our Valley Oak” in the Chumash native language of Samala. It pays homage to the gifts of Mother Earth and certainly preserves the historical spirit of the Santa Ynez Valley.
It’s also worth noting that only 20 wineries of the 200 in the Santa Barbara region are run by women. While women vintners are making strides into the 3400 plus wineries in the greater state of California, the 10% of women who are winemakers highlight the underrepresentation of women.
La Fond, Palmina & Santa Barbara Wineries
On our last day in Sonoma we toured the Santa Rita region. Driving past Solvang, a Danish themed town, we spotted the “windmill” motel where Sideways characters, Miles and Jack famously stayed. We made our way to La Fond Winery, where we sampled light and fresh Chardonnays and medium bodied Pinot Noirs that were all reasonably priced. These vintages are part of the Santa Barbara Winery, the first vineyard of the region. Created in the 60’s, Santa Barbara Winery is the granddaddy of them all!
Vintner Joe La Fond was a part of these early beginnings. It’s amazing to see that after 40 years this small region has over 200 vineyards. We enjoyed the scenic picnic area and beautiful jaw-dropping vineyard views while waiting for friends to join us for our afternoon tasting adventures.
Before long,we’re back on the road to Lompoc. It’s about a 15-minute drive through a vineyard lined highway from La Fond before we arrive at an area known as the Wine Ghetto. This is an industrial park with several small wineries in close proximity. While lacking the traditional vineyard views, the wines we sampled at Palmina Wines proved to be extraordinary and worth the visit.
You just never know what undiscovered treasures await. Palmina wines use many Italian grapes not normally found in California wines. The result is outstanding. We enjoyed delicious reds, ranging from the lovely Dolcetto delicious (served cold or at room temperature) to the full-bodied Pinots and Syrahs. We eagerly ordered a case of these wonderful vintages.
Knowing there is no rest for the thirsty, we head back to the vineyards at Babcock Winery for full bodied Chardonnays and delicious Pinot Noirs. Their tasting room were filled with eclectic wine displays and wonderful sitting areas. Different vignettes displayed everything from vintage album covers to camera displays. We loved the vintage typewriters next to a pool table made for our sipping pleasure.
Wandering with our sampler, we were on sensory overload as you can see from the photo below. The nostalgic displays in the Babcock room were a feast for the eyes. Classic rock music tickled our ears, while full bodied and rich tasting wines rolled over our taste buds. This vintner had us opening our wallets and packing their bottled treasures to take home!
What better way to end our final night than by stopping at The Hitching Post for cocktails and dinner?! The bar was exactly the same as the one used in the Sideways movie. I’m sure the restaurant will never change it, so tourists and locals who frequent it regularly aren’t upset. Many photos adorned the walls from the movie filming, appeasing fans.
While enjoying dinner in a traditional red booth, we choose from menu offerings like lobster tail, a variety of steaks and seafood with traditional sides. Our group enjoyed steaks, rack of lamb and lobster all expertly prepared and served. I kept sneaking looks for Miles at the bar, but he was a no show.
We did our own freelance tour but there are many tours that offer pre-packaged options like the Sideways Movie Tour for die-hard fans. Biking and tasting tour options are also offered along with more traditional tours. Frequent wine events advertised online make trip planning easy. Because many of the wineries are small family operations, it is always best to call wineries before leaving. You can check their tasting room hours and also make a reservation.
Heading home, we celebrated our sizeable stash of wines for our modest cellar and the memorable meals we enjoyed. We had fun spotting movie sites from Sideways and discovering a few smaller winery gems closer to home without having to drive to Napa and Sonoma vineyards. Each winery has its own interesting and definitive history and traditions that make each one a unique discovery.
Overall, the Santa Barbara wine growing region has come into its own, with talented chefs and increasingly popular restaurants providing the perfect complement to the region’s expanding wines. Vintners are expanding their variety of grapes, once better known in Italy and France, with delicious results. And increasing numbers of female vintners will soon add another dimension to the Santa Barbara wine region’s popularity over the years to come.