10 Best Santa Barbara Wineries to Visit

Zaca Mesa
Photo: © George Rose

Santa Barbara County is home to some of the most exciting Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Syrah in California. Much of that success is thanks to a geological oddity: Coastal valleys that run west to east (as opposed to north to south), and serve as superhighways for chilly ocean air. Combine that with a wonderfully varied terrain, complex terroirs, and a passionate community of grape growers and winemakers, and it's no wonder that Santa Barbara County — and its appellations of Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Maria Valley, Sta. Rita Hills, Happy Canyon, and Ballard Canyon — is so popular among consumers and respected among professionals. Here are 10 of the best wineries to visit in the Santa Barbara area, listed alphabetically. — Richard Nalley

01 of 10

Alma Rosa

Alma Rosa Winery
© Roe Anne White

Richard Sanford was among the first to extol the virtues of the cool-climate Pinots and Chardonnays from Santa Rita Hills, and his deft touch is still evident in these lovely wines, though Alma Rosa was sold to the Zorich family in 2014. The gorgeous, design-magazine-worthy Buellton tasting room employs recycled Douglas fir, harvested in Washington in 1912, for its benches, bar-tops, and shelves. And the wines, the majority produced in runs of less than 400 cases, are fabulous. Indoor and outdoor tastings feature five wines and cost $25. Visit Sunday through Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Thursday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. almarosawinery.com

02 of 10


Babcock Winery
© Babcock Winery & Vineyards

Hippest tasting room ever? Babcock's hangar-sized "retro-rock-and-roll" venue in Lompoc is chockablock with vintage photos, antler chandeliers, mid-century furnishings, board games, and a party atmosphere. The old tasting room is now the cozy, funky Soulstruck Lounge for private events. For those who'd like to base themselves here, Bryan Babcock's own handsome Mediterranean house is available, B&B-style. Best of all for fans: The Pinots and Chardonnays. Visit Sunday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Friday from 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. babcockwinery.com

03 of 10


© Jeremy Ball, Bottle Branding

Brewer-Clifton's site-specific Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs are critical darlings and consumer favorites, and some of them may be challenging to find in some states, giving all the more reason to stop by and experience them right here. Reservations are available Thursday through Monday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and are all done on the patios off the tasting room. For $25, the Vineyard Designate Flight is a delicious introduction to their single-vineyard bottlings from the Sta. Rita Hills. brewerclifton.com

04 of 10

Dierberg/Star Lane

Dierberg / Star Lane
© George Rose

Dierberg and Star Lane wines are excellent any time you pop a cork, but even more so when savored in the chic, barn-like setting of the Sta. Rita Hills tasting room, just to the back of their famous Drum Canyon Vineyard. Tours of that vineyard are available by appointment, and while reservations for the tasting room are recommended, they're not required. The experience includes six wines, costs $35, and is available Thursday through Monday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.. dierbergvineyard.com

05 of 10

Fess Parker

Fess Parker
© Peter Malinowski

The late television actor's family runs a mini-empire in Los Olivos, which includes the main winery tasting room — rustic-chic and very welcoming — the sparkling wine-focused Bubble Shack, and the upscale, boutique Fess Parker Inn. The winery turns out a considerable range of expressions, including the Rhône-oriented Epiphany label, most of it of high quality, and at a welcoming range of prices. 90-minute tastings can be booked online. fessparker.com

06 of 10

Foley Estates

Foley Family Wines
Courtesy of Foley Estates

Foley's 3,500-square foot, and very comfortable Lompoc tasting room is a familiar stop for Sta. Rita Hills wine tourists. Foley's Pinots and Chardonnays may get most of the attention, but don't overlook the rosé of Grenache. Tastings are by reservation only, daily from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and can be booked online. While you're on their website, make sure to check out their roster of events; the Mother's Day brunch, for example, looks fantastic. foleywines.com

07 of 10

Lompoc Wine Ghetto

Lompoc Wine Ghetto
© Jason Reynolds

If you're more focused on the wine than the winery, you'll definitely will want to check out this surprising enclave off of 12th Street. Several wineries have tasting rooms here — Fiddlehead, Ampelos, Pali, and more — making it a great place to really see why this part of California is so unique and special. Check the website, and the individual producers' listings, for hours and pricing. explorelompoc.com/lompoc-wine-ghetto

08 of 10


Melville Winery
© Erin Feinblatt

One of the region's most sought-after labels, Melville is a popular stop for lovers of Santa Barbara Syrah, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay. Fortunately, they make visiting easy. The Santa Barbara Tasting Lounge is open Sunday - Thursday from noon to 7 p.m. and Friday through Saturday from noon to 8 p.m.; and the tasting room at the estate winery hosts tastings Sunday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Friday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.. $25 gets you five samples, though that fee vanishes if you purchase three bottles. melvillewinery.com

09 of 10


Sanford WInery
© Sanford Winery

Sanford has been producing world-class Pinot Noir for more than four decades — in fact, it's home to the oldest Pinot vines in Santa Barbara County. Yet a visit to this historic property is about more than the past, as the team here has its eyes trained on the future, too. The hourlong, $30 Estate Tasting is by appointment only, every day from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and includes six single-vineyard and single-block bottlings. An All-Terrain Vehicle Experience can be reserved for $100 per person Saturdays at 10 a.m., noon, and 2 p.m. sanfordwinery.com

10 of 10

Zaca Mesa

Zaca Mesa
© George Rose

One of Santa Barbara County's trailblazers, Zaca Mesa continues to produce fine Rhône-style wines at relatively gentle prices. The winery offers a wide range of tasting experiences, from Mixed Flight and Reds-Only Flight tastings in the courtyard to the Reserve Flight at The Lounge and Courtyard, and beyond. You can even book the tables beneath The Vineyard Oak Tree if you'd like to open full bottles with your family and friends. Reservations are available online. zacamesa.com

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