Quaint stone buildings, cool dark cellars full of oak barrels, and fertile fields of grapevines—these are the images that Carina Cellars hopes to evoke with its European-style wines, which celebrate grapes that originated in the Rhone region of France. The winery sources its favored grapes from vineyards all along the central coast, especially Paso Robles and the Santa Ynez Valley. In the late 2000s, Carina also purchased 83 acres of land it called Rancho del Cielo—“ranch of the sky,” after its steep slopes—to grow its own vines of viognier, syrah, grenache, and other grapes. Though Carina Cellars’ wines are manufactured using Old-World techniques and grapes, the terroir of California’s central coast shines through to define each style. Its whites feature a smooth 2006 viognier from Stolpman Vineyard, whose limestone soil adds a hint of minerality to the flavors and aromas of fruit before a butterscotch finish. In addition to several single-vineyard reds and carefully harmonized red rhone blends, Carina Cellars cultivates a list of reserve wines that includes Iconoclast, its rich flagship blend of cabernet sauvignon and syrah. Iconoclast's initial earthy aroma gives way to lush currant notes and a mocha finish, showcasing the care with which it was aged in small batches. Vintner Joey Tensley found his calling at the tender age of 12, when a radioactive wine bug bit him in a Bordeaux winery. He broke into the business 10 years later in 1993, eventually establishing his own brand that exclusively creates vineyard-designate syrahs. In 2002, he partnered with longtime enophile and businessman David Hardee to create Carina Cellars.
To craft their signature dish—The New York Sizzle— the chefs of Steak & Grape Restaurant hand carve a choice cut of Angus steak. They sizzle up the meat in a special broiler until it's juicy and tender, and then serve it on a 600-degree plate with a decadent garlic butter. Servers bear the premium cuts out into the airy, rustic dining room, along with plates of handmade specialty burgers, fine pastas, and fresh seafood. Bartenders bustle about behind the sleek wood bar, uncorking bottles of fine wines beneath the glow of flat-screen TVs.
Before they could move into their dream winemaking facility, the proprietors of Casa Barranca Winery Tasting Room had to exhume it. The team dug 15 feet into the earth and hacked their way through two feet of stone in order to gain access to a century-old stone water cistern, which they subsequently converted into a solar-powered underground winery. Today, the winemakers handcraft Old World–style varietals from organic grapes that flourish in the Ojai Valley's warm climate.
Grown and farmed without pesticides or herbicides, the grapes are part of the natural, sustainable practices that earned Casa Barranca the first organic certification for a winery in the Santa Barbara region. They're also what give Casa Barranca's critically lauded and award-winning wines their fruity, earthy flavors. Visitors can sample these bouquets amid murals of the local wine region in the winery's tasting room, located in downtown Ojai's Historic Arcade.
From the ivy-covered outside in, Barrel 33 cultivates a cozy bar atmosphere conducive to long conversations and savored sips of wine. Their wine cellar, kept at a constant 56 degrees, hosts dozens of domestic and international red and white wines by the bottle. Reds include a hefty selection of cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir from Sonoma and Santa Barbara. French champagne, sparkling wine, and chardonnay from Napa and the Russian River valley, on the other hand, dominate the selection of whites. To accompany the wine, Barrel 33’s kitchen assembles plates of olives, duck pate, brie with Grand Marnier strawberry sauce, or crisp thin-crust pizzas.
Red walls stretch around the interior of the wine bar, complementing both the stone-topped bar and the dappled tulip lights hanging over it. Tall chairs with carved arms and plush crimson cushions sit at attention at the counter. Outside in the enclosed wine garden, palm fronds reach up to the strings of fairy lights stretched across the patio. A wood fire crackles in a fireplace made from the same chunky boulders as the building’s exterior, sending light flickering over wicker chairs and the glass tables’ ornate legs, which were donated by the late glass man, who lived in a glass house but never threw stones.
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).
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.