According to the clever folks at Giessinger Winery, the best wine is the one you like. Following that logic, they invite visitors into tasting rooms to sample the winery's many varieties and figure out which most agrees with their palate. Bestowed with the honor of Santa Barbara's Best Winery and Best Tasting Room in Santa Barbara by the U.S. Commerce Association in 2013, resident winemaker Edouard Giessinger and his associate Justin Tatum also lead groups through the nuanced process of crafting wines during comprehensive classes, wherein visitors can learn how wine is made, visit the production facility, and even taste wines.
Agua Dulce Winery unfurls its trellised vines and winemaking facilities across 90 acres of the Sierra Pelona Valley, effectively extending wine country a few hundred miles south. The grapes rely on the region's cool evening breezes and alluvial soils to maintain the earthy, peppery flavors and restrained acidity that characterize the region's wines. Medium- and high-toasted barrels from France, Hungary, and the United States each lend their own influence to the freshly fermented creations, aging the juice and subtly tweaking the flavorful interplay of rich fruit and restrained spice.
Thanks to Southern California's dry summer days and cool nights, the grapes around Antelope Valley Winery enjoy a long growing season with ideal temperatures and conditions. This translates into a variety of wines that run the gamut from robust reds to sweet sparkling concoctions perfect for toasting raisins who escaped the press. And although wine is Antelope Valley Winery's main focus, it's not their only one. In addition, they sell grass-fed buffalo meat hailed for its low-cholesterol goodness, and run a farmers' market from May through November, where shoppers can pick up exotic meats, organic juice, and locally-made goat cheese.
At tastings held daily from June to August, Jaffurs Wine Cellars tempts oenophilic tongues with five Rhône varietals. Growers in the fertile Santa Ynez, Santa Rita, and Santa Maria wine regions carefully cultivate the future intoxicants on small lots, observing high farming standards and ancient Bacchanalian rituals. With a limited production of about 5,000 cases each year, Jaffurs' winemakers can thoroughly inspect each individual grape, screening out overripe fruitlets and anthropomorphized raisins. The results are red and petite syrahs, grenache, and mourvedre wines that play pleasantly atonal chords of fruit across the palate, an aromatic white viognier with floral and peach intonations, and other varieties that croon seductive verses to receptive taste buds. A private tasting appointment, necessary for groups of more than six, may incur an additional fee ($5/person).
Mike and Chris Brown's story of Cantara Cellars starts as many success stories do: with a humble beginning. Back in 2002, the husband and wife team started off with just 250 pounds of chardonnay grapes that had been hand-picked from Mike's parents' vineyard in Lodi, which eventually transformed into their first 18 gallons of wine. And like most creative endeavors, the winemaking was a labor of love, something the couple doted upon, developed, and refined over the coming years. In 2007, once they had accumulated a huge amount of knowledge—and inventory of wine—the tasting room opened to the public, where visitors could relax, snack on small plates, and enjoy vinos by the ounce, full glass, or bottle. These days, Cantara works with more than 50 tons of harvested grapes each fall, and crafts more than 10 varietals throughout the year.