Santa Ynez Wine tour - photo from Sustainable Tours websiteDuring a recent visit to Santa Barbara, we decide to check out wine country in the Santa Ynez valley. We booked a full-day tour with Sustainable Wine Tours.

Karina, our tour guide, picked us up from our hotel in Santa Barbara at 10 am. Our ride was a luxurious Mercedes van.

Interesting Facts: The Santa Ynez valley is sideways. This means it runs East to West instead of the usual North to South. That creates unique growing conditions and allows for a large variety of grapes.  

McKenney Winery  - photo from Sustainable Tours websiteKarina was a wealth of information about Snat Ynez, the wineries, and wine tasting. We found out that she started tasting wine at the age of 8 – but at that young age, she had to spit it out after tasting.

During this tour, we visited 3 wineries that only cater to private tours and wine club members. All three were very gracious and generous with their samples.

Interesting Facts: Other than wineries, the valley is home to Solvang, a unique Danish town with many restaurants and bakeries.

Along with tasting great wines, we enjoyed the scenery throughout the valley. The vineyards were spread out over hills and valleys, and the weather was California perfect.

Mckinney Family Vineyards

McKenney Winery  - lunch picnic with wineOur first stop was at the McKinney Family Vineyards. We were greeted by Jared who took us on a tour of the vineyards while enjoying the first two wine tastes.

We learned about the different types of grapes and how they are processed and aged. Jared reminded us that they don’t sell their wines at stores or restaurants. They are only available through direct purchase and to wine club members.

Interesting Facts: Matt Mckinney, the owner, used to run wine tasting tours before starting his own winery.

We tasted six wines during our visit – all were very good, but my favorites were the Sauvignon Blanc and the Pinot Noir.

McKenney Winery  - goats help with cleanupInteresting Facts: Santa Ynez is also home to the Chumash tribe reservation. When you had enough wine tasting head to the Casino for some slot machine fun.

At lunchtime, Karina, our guide, brought in sandwiches and chips. The turkey sandwiches were especially good with sips of wine. We enjoyed this relaxing lunch out on the porch with comfortable chairs and great views.

Note: The wines we tasted were the most expensive we had on this tour, but the quality was also the best.

You don’t have to be on a guided tour to do some wine tasting. You can arrange for a private 2-hour tour and wine tasting for $50. The fee is waived if you buy three or more wines per person.

Grassini Family Vineyards 

Grassini Family Vineyards - main house with tasting roomsI loved this place as soon as we passed the gates. Immaculate vineyards, a private lake, and lots of trees. All this before reaching a rustic-looking building and gardens.

Our host here was Dean. He greeted us outside the beautiful building in a covered patio with an elegant dining table and chairs. They have tasting rooms inside the house, but the outdoor seating is appropriate for California weather and Covid-19.

Interesting Facts: In 2019, the vineyards received the “Best Santa Barbara Winery” award from the Independent magazine.

Grassini Family Vineyards Dean was a wealth of knowledge about winemaking in the Santa Ynez valley. He introduced us to five of their estate wines. They were all delicious, but I especially enjoyed the Afiora Rose.

You also enjoy their wines in the tasting room in Santa Barbara. Both the tasting room and the vineyards receive multiple awards.

Note: Wine prices here are more reasonable. Their wine clubs are a good bargain.

Happy Canyon Vineyards (Piocho Ranch)

Happy Canyon Vineyards at Pinocho RanchPiocho Ranch is one of the biggest vineyards in Santa Ynez. They grow many varieties of grapes using a variety of techniques. They pride themselves on using manual sustainable growing and harvesting methods.

Interesting Facts: The ranch name “Piocho” is a native American name that means Where the two rivers meet and go to heaven."

Happy Canyon Vineyards at Pinocho RanchThe owner, Sean, greeted us at the main tasting room and explained his passion for winemaking. He had the wine flights ready for our taste buds. He also prepared a plate of crackers, cheese, and chocolate to pair with the wines.

Interesting Facts: Heading back to Santa Barbara, try to take the 154 highway – AKA Chumas Highway. This scenic highway crosses over the Santa Ynez mountains while passing through a lake. As you descend into Santa Barabara, you will have a commanding view of the city and the ocean beyond.

We enjoyed all of the wines, but my favorite was the Piocho Red Blend.

Piocho Ranch is also home to a popular Polo field and tournaments.

Note: The Piocho wine prices are very reasonable. This also makes their wine clubs affordable.