Just a few hours north of where I live in Orange County is Santa Barbara County where you’ll find hills and valleys full of cute little towns, orchards, growing fields, scenic drives and of course – wineries.
Every fall the Santa Barbara Vintners Association holds the much anticipated Celebration of Harvest. This is one of the best wine festivals I’ve been to and eagerly look forward to this event every year.
In addition to purchasing the Festival ticket, which takes place on Saturday on the gorgeous grounds of the Rancho Sisquoc winery, you can purchase a tasting Visa. The Visa allows you to taste at up to a dozen participating wineries Friday through Monday. This makes for one heck of a great weekend!
For the past several years, my friend Linda and I have been attending. This past year (2010) we celebrated my 40th birthday that same weekend and my friend Amy flew in from New Orleans to join us. What a way to turn 40!
Our favorite way to enjoy this weekend is driving up early on Friday and bringing a picnic to enjoy at our first winery. Lafond winery is located on Santa Rosa Road and in addition to creating some wonderful wines has one of my favorite places to picnic. Their tables look out over a valley to the mountains beyond.
Next it was on to Lompoc where we visited Palmina and Fiddlehead. I really enjoyed the Italian style wines of Palmina and joined their wine club. Final stop of the afternoon was over at Dierberg, Star Lane & Three Saints which enjoys a shared location off the 246. I’ve been a m ember of Star Lane for some time and the wines of Dierberg and Star Lane are top notch.
While this seems like quite a few wineries for one afternoon, we also manage our tasting by sharing tastings and partaking of the spit bucket. Afterall, you have to drive and this lasts for three full days!
We continued on to our hotel in Solvang where we refreshed for the night before heading out to dinner. I enjoy staying in Solvang. It’s an adorable, totally touristy little town designed to resemble a Danish village. Completely ketchy but wonderful at the same time. What I like about staying in Solvang is there are restaurants, shops and tasting rooms to keep you occupied so you don’t have to drive once there.
For dinner I had made reservations at The Hitching Post just outside Solvang on the way to Buellton. Good wines and great steaks are the hallmark of this place. It was quite crowded so I was glad for the reservations.
To get to the festival on Saturday, we purchased bus tickets along with our festival tickets which provides round trip transportation for a mere $25. Definitely the way to go when you’re going to attend an afternoon of tasting.
The day turned out to be one heck of a scorcher. Temperatures were in the mid to upper 90s and the sun was out in full force. Was definitely a challenge to keep the wine chilled and out of the sun.
After moving through the entrance we picked up our glasses and began to explore. Row after row of tents are setup throughout the grounds. Wineries interspersed with restaurants and other booths. Several bands provide live music, a silent auction, beautiful day, good friends and great wines. What more can you ask?
What is so wonderful about this festival is that it’s not too crowded. While there are hundreds of people there, the festival is large enough that you rarely have to wait more than a moment for anything. The longest lines are typically around some of the restaurants.
The only thing that would have made it better would be to have a tasting plate – you know those great little plates with the cut-out for the wine glass? We had looked for some ahead of time but couldn’t fine them. We’re prepared for next year though!
After the festival wound down we returned on the bus to our hotel and then simply enjoyed a casual dinner in Solvang.
On Sunday we headed north to Los Olivos to enjoy a few wineries before heading back down toward reality and home. All in all, a wonderful weekend.
So, just a few tips if you go:
- wear comfortable flat shoes – you’ll be walking on dirt, and grass
- bring sunscreen
- drink lots of water along the way
- get your tickets early and reserve your hotel early
- take the bus or have a designated driver