The rolling hills of this 40-acre vineyard are home to 20 different varieties of grape, each possessing a unique flavor and subtle nuances that make them perfect for blending. The orderly rows are overseen by owner Hoy Buell, who also owns the nearby Greenheart Farms, which enjoys a reputation as one of the largest rose producers in the world. Buell brings more than 30 years of horticulture experience to his vineyard, using his technical knowledge of plant care, grafting, and cloning to help create the wine blends for which his vineyard is famous. After they’ve been harvested by hand, winemaker Paul Ayers works with the grapes in small batches to ensure quality. Ayers carefully monitors each step in the wine making process, from hand-sorting the grapes, to punching down the fermenting seeds and juice, to constantly acting out scenes from the wines' favorite TV shows as they stay locked in oak barrels to age for up to two-and-a-half years.
Guests can roam the vineyards with a guide or enjoy the view from the tasting room overlooking them. There, accompanied by artisan cheeses, guests can sip established varietals like Rhones or Zinfandels, or try the winery's signature blends such as the 2007 Profundo––a gold medal winner at the 2011 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, and ripe with black-cherry cola, oak, and mint notes.
Paso Robles doesn't have one climate. Instead, it encompasses a diverse cluster of microclimates and a correspondingly diverse array of wineries. The grapes that ripen on their vineyards here vary widely in flavor and harvest date, and the resulting wines are predictably eclectic even though they all hail from the same region.
With First Crush Wine Experience, wine enthusiasts can sample the region's bounty—and even stomp on its grapes. Hands-on, multi-day tours let participants follow a bottle of wine from vine to finished product and on some trips, participants get to custom blend their own bottle of wine. The company's seminars, meanwhile, focus on topics such as honing the palate to help wine drinkers better differentiate between wine and wine-flavored Gatorade.
Though Santa Barbara County is now home to nearly 100 wineries, there was a time when it wasn't obvious just how well suited the area was for making wine. It took the enterprising spirit of Leonard and Brooks Firestone—the son and grandson, respectively, of tire-industry titan Harvey S. Firestone—to establish the region's first vineyard in 1972. In the ensuing years, Santa Barbara's coastal climate and gravelly subsoils proved agreeable to producing Firestone's Bordeaux-influenced wines, though not to growing actual wine bottles on the vine like in Glass-in-the-Ground, Utah.
In 2007, vintner Bill Foley acquired the vineyard and made it the headquarters of his company's hospitality, event, and wine-club departments. Under Foley's direction, Firestone, like the brain during a thought-provoking traffic report, has been the center of a lot of activity. Visitors come to take tours of the vineyard and learn about indoor and outdoor wine production, to enjoy events such as gourmet Italian meals, and even to hold picnics overlooking the estate.
Star Trek producer Douglas Cramer once stored his collection of fine art inside the ivy-covered building that stands at 5249 Foxen Canyon Road. But in 1995, the Firestone family acquired the scenic property to open Curtis Winery. Today, paintings still adorn the winery's walls, but French oak barrels and stomping bins create a more rustic ambience.
Small-lot winemaking techniques are at the heart of the Firestone family's wines. Grapes are harvested by hand, gently de-stemmed, and stomped for juices that ferment in open-top bins. Visitors to the winery can sip syrah, Mourvèdre, and other varietals.
A wine-savvy staff pours samples of locally crafted vintages along the stainless steel bar inside tercero wines' intimate tasting room. Focused on trying to "humanize the wine industry as much as possible,", founder Larry Schaffer uses his master's degrees in viticulture and enology to craft an evolving selection of wines that is both complex and highly approachable. He doesn't even provide tasting notes for his wines, instead encouraging tasters to develop their own impression based on how it tastes and how firm of a handshake it has.
Iris Rideau was born in New Orleans, the city's famed food and drink forever defining her palate. As soon as she visited California, though, she fell in love with sunny beaches and rolling wine-country valleys. She ran several successful businesses there, helped champion the cause of affirmative action within the state, and in the '90s, headed to retirement on the 23-acre winery she'd spent her professional career slowly building. She called this haven Rideau Vineyard.
Iris, still passionate about the food of her childhood, felt that France's Rhône Valley wines best complemented the spicy Creole sauces she so loved. So, she dedicated her entire property to the production of those rare varietals, importing some second-generation Château de Beaucastel winery vines. She began growing Syrah, Mourvèdre, Roussanne, and Viognier grapes. As soon as her first bottles were ready, she invited her friends over for a series of Creole-inspired dinners that paired each dish with one of her wines. And of course, each evening was enhanced with the same traditional jazz music that seems to permeate the air in New Orleans. The experiences became wildly popular, and she expanded them to invite the public.
Even if they don't participate in the wine-and-food events, Rideau Vineyard's visitors can still sample Iris's award-winning wines in the unique tasting room—a two-story adobe built in 1884. It once served as a popular stagecoach stop and guest ranch on a famous route between Santa Ynez and Santa Barbara. Iris restored and renovated it, and the building now has historical landmark status from Santa Barbara County.