A Business & Lifestyle Magazine for Physicans
Food, Wine and Travel
Insider View: Santa Ynez Valley
By Steve Heimoff
I recently returned from a trip to one of favorite wine
regions, the beautiful Santa Ynez Valley of Santa Barbara County.
I 'd been invited to do a signing for my new book, New
Classic Winemakers of California: Conversations with Steve Heimoff, at
the Santa Ynez Inn, a bed-and-breakfast in Santa Ynez, where I stayed for
The two-story inn, with its gables and brick chimneys, resembles an old
Victorian mansion, but is of recent construction. The owners have spared no
expense in luxury appointments, from the antique furniture and Frette linens
to the gourmet breakfast and the gas fireplace that warmed up my suite on a
cold December night.
Santa Ynez town is one of the valley's population hubs, the other being Los
Olivos, a charming little village of antique shops, galleries and wine
tasting venues; and Solvang, a bustling, trafficky faux-Danish town that's a
garish combination of Copenhagen and Disneyland. The tree towns for a
triangle within the beautiful Santa Ynez Valley Wine country surrounded by
hills that peak in the mile-high San Gabriel Mountains to the east.
Long the getaway for the horsy Hollywood set (Ronald
Reagan's ranch was here and so is Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch), the
Santa Ynez Valley has acquired a new identity as Southern California's best
wine country. Some of my favorite local wineries are Gainey, Brader, Foxen,
Zaca Mesa and Fess Parker. They've proven themselves with brilliant syrahs,
pinot noris, chardonnays, sauvignon blancs and other wines. The only major
California Variety that has yet to succeed in Santa Ynez Valley is cabernet
sauvignon. Check out the Santa Barbara County Vintners' Association's
The valley is beautiful year-round, and any season can conjure up
postcard-perfect views of pastoral vineyards, rolling hills, gnarled old
California oaks, grazing horses and distant mountains. In addition to wine
tasting, outdoor recreation abounds. Go to the Santa Ynez Valley Visitors
Association website, www.syvva.com and click on the "activities" link and
don't forget the camera!
The after my book-signing, I drove 90 minutes south to the Ventura County
town of Ojai, about 15 miles inland from the coast. It achieved fame for
being the home of the Indian spiritual leader, Yogananda, but these days
it's booming in tourism. My purpose was to taste the wines of Ojai vineyard.
Well know to insiders, it was founded by Adam Tolmach, one of the pioneers
of Santa Barbara wine making and co-founder (with Jim Clendenen) of the
famous Au Bon Climate winery, or "ABC" to its admirers.
Ojai's wines range from luscious Santa Rita Hills pinot noirs and
chardonnays to dense, full-bodied syrahs and cherry-flavored grenaches. The
winery is not open to the public, but you can find the wines locally in
restaurants and wine shops. Highly recommended: Ojai 2005 Fe Ciega Vineyard
Pinot Noir, which lists for $56.
In Ojai, I stayed at the beautiful Su
Nido, a new luxury boutique Inn. Resembling a Mission-style
hacienda, it's a cluster of suites wrapped around a cobblestone courtyard
with a bubbling fountain in the courtyard. Each suite has a fireplace,
kitchenette, soaking tub, feather bed and Molton Brown of London skin care.
Located 2 blocks walking distance from Ojai Avenue with its antique shops
and art galleries. Don't miss Primavera Gallery; its art glass and woodworks
are museum quality.
A visit to this romantic part of part of Southern California is off the
beaten path, and the Santa Ynez Valley is particular makes for great
multi-day vacation. Some of the better restaurants in the valley include
Grappolo (a wine maker's favorite), the Ballard Inn Restaurant and the
Hitching Post in Buellton, which was already famous long before the movie Sideways made
it eve more so. In Santa Ynez, check out the maverick Saloon, were
millionaires mingle with cowboys and line-dance to live country music.
If you have extra time, the city of Santa Barbara, with its beaches and
Southern California glamour, is about one hour south of the Santa Ynez
Steve Heimoff is the West Coast Editor of Wine Enthusiast Magazine and
has written numerous articles on the wine industry.