Winter Wine Tasting in Santa Ynez Valley, California

It’s no wonder the movie Sideways chose Santa Ynez Valley as the setting for its whirlwind wine-tasting tour. In the middle of winter, this area greets the road warrior with a promise of spring and summer to come.

After a week of rain in northern California, a break in the clouds and a break from non-stop work were just what I needed. My friend and I decided to spend a Sunday soaking in the beauty of this area.

Santa Ynez Valley is known as the heart of Santa Barbara County's wine country. Just off Highway 101, a few miles north of Buellton, we meandered onto Highway 154 and quickly made a left onto Zaca Station Road. Wineries along Zaca Station Road are easily accessible and offer a range of wines to taste and enjoy. The many wineries beckon like jewels along the winding road, through valleys and hills that looked like green velvet from recent rains.

We had visions of tasting all along Zaca Station Road, but spent most of our time at the Fess Parker winery. Our favorites included a Viogner and the surprising find of a 1999 Syrah! There are so many wines and not enough time to taste them all.

A word to the budget-conscious traveler: there’s a $10-12 cost for tasting per person. And the wines themselves are similar to Napa Valley prices – expensive. We were fortunate to get a free tasting ticket for two, courtesy of the Marriott Hotel in Buellton.

The backroads of this area also offer a beautiful drive through Los Olivos, where generous salads at Panino's satisfied our hunger. Continuing on from Los Olivos, Highway 154 over San Marcos Pass is a scenic route to Santa Barbara.

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