Santa Barbara County may not be as well known as Napa or Sonoma to Northern California folks, however, it is a destination I suggest you get to know and spend some time exploring. For us Pinot Noir and Chardonnay addicts (yes, that is a fair way to describe my love of these Burgundian varietals), Sta. Rita Hills is one of the AVA’s in Santa Barbara and is making some of the best, most flavorful, and adored wines. After numerous trips to the area, I am beginning to feel like a local and quite the expert, so I wanted to share my list of must-see Sta. Rita Hills Wineries. Read more below!
About The Sta. Rita Hills AVA
The Sta. Rita Hills AVA, which is where the best of Sta. Rita Hills Wineries are located, were granted in 2001 by the Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms Regulation Division.
“The Sta. Rita Hills American Viticulture Appellation is located on California’s Central Coast in Santa Barbara County. The Pacific Ocean’s marine layer and afternoon ocean breezes traverse the coastal valley corridors between the Purisima Hills and the Santa Rosa Hills, creating the perfect environment for growing Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and other cool climate wine grape varieties.”
The Best Sta. Rita Hills Wineries
Pence Vineyards & Winery
One of the newest additions to this best of Sta. Rita Hills Wineries list is Pence Vineyards & Winery. I visited during the Spring of 2018 and fell in love. It’s really hard not to with stunning wines, a beautiful winery with endless hills of rolling vineyards, as well as horses and other farm life. This is such a magical experience whether you visit in their casual tasting room (they’re building a larger winery at the moment) or in the vineyards in their amazing seated outside tasting areas—you can’t go wrong. See more of this stunning winery below and read my full Pence Vineyards & Winery post here. It truly deserves to be on my list of best Sta. Rita Hills Wineries. 1909 CA-246, Buellton, CA 93427.
The spectacular lunch spread from our visit to Pence Vineyards & Winery dining with Blair and Dianne Pence. What a treat, so delicious, fun, and beyond memorable!
Melville Winery is one of my favorites among all of the Sta. Rita Hills Wineries. During the first of about 7-8 visits to Santa Barbara’s Wine Country, I visited Melville and the rest is history…This family-owned winery makes some incredible wines, has fabulous parties (read about their Fall Harvest Party here), and has a great team sharing their amazing wines and beautiful winery with the guests. 5185 CA-246, Lompoc, CA 93436.
The spectacular views from Melville Winery of their vineyards.
The lineup of library wines I enjoyed at their Fall Harvest BBQ. I love getting to try both old and new wines to see how the vintages compare and see how the wines age.
Strange Family Vineyards
Strange Family Vineyards is the newest winery on this list of Sta. Rita Hills Wineries and is launching its wine any day now. I had the privilege of visiting Strange Family Vineyards this September during my visit to Sta. Rita Hills and loved everything about the story; the family owners, and, of course, their winemaker, my friend Steve Clifton. Steve is making both still and sparkling wines for Strange Family, which you should look out for when they launch. 1050 Drum Canyon Road.Lompoc, CA 93436.
Views as we arrived at the family home (on top of the hill) which overlooks the vineyard and the cool historic barn.
Our lineup of wines to taste with the Strange Family, their fabulous publicist Lacey Fussel, and Winemaker Steve Clifton. Pretty hard to beat this backdrop.
Me and Strange Family Vineyards Winemaker Steve Clifton; if he looks familiar, it’s because he’s also the winemaker at Palmina Wines and La Voix Wines (to name a few). Yes, he’s an extremely successful, busy guy – also one of the nicest, most approachable winemakers in the region.
The incredible lineup of amazing eats the Strange Family shared with us. Pizza pairs perfectly with wines and this pizza was from Industrial Eats (one of the best restaurants in Buellton), so I was a happy girl!
Steve talking us through the wines as we nibbled on snacks and enjoyed the vineyard views.
Our lovely hosts and Strange Family Vineyard Owners, Brian and Shamra Strange
Spear Vineyards & Winery
Another new addition to the Sta. Rita Hills Wineries is Spear Vineyards & Winery, which is also a family-owned winery, a detail that is always nice to hear. When they opened, they took the historic barn (shown below) and renovated it so it had the old charming historic feel on the outside, but inside, it’s brand new and beyond beautiful. During my visit, I toured the vineyards with Winemaker Kat and had a fabulous time getting to see their spectacular property, tasting the wines, and learning more about history. 6700 CA-246, Lompoc, CA 93436.
The ladies heading out on an ATV ride of the vineyards. Front row is me and Winemaker Kat, and my pal Kelsey and Lacey (their publicist extraordinaire) in the back row.
The incredible rolling hills of this vineyard. When we got to the top we felt the extreme wind, which is what this region is known for. The harsh winds within the Sta. Rita Hills region is part of what makes their Pinot Noir wines so incredible and the skins so durable and strong because they have to withstand the wind as they grow.
Hanging in the vineyard with Winemaker Kat, and Lacey.
Touring the beyond gorgeous and spotless brand new winery with Winemaker Kat (who’s a total rock star by the way).
Views of the new Spear Tasting Room – it was still under construction when I visited but you can get an idea for how beautiful it is with stunning views and tons of bright light.
Peake Ranch Winery
This is another one of the Sta. Rita Hills Wineries that are not yet open to the public, but shouldn’t be missed when they do open! Peake Ranch Winery is a project from John Wagner, who also owns John Sebastiano Vineyards, a newer vineyard on the eastern side of Sta. Rita Hills. The winemaker for Peake Ranch is Paul Lato and, after numerous visits to the region, I have gotten to know him and done many tastings with him. He’s incredible and makes some of the most elegant, beautiful wines in Santa Barbara. Combining his winemaking with the incredible John Sebastiano grapes makes for perfection!
Arriving to Peake Ranch in style with this fabulous Audi on Demand A5 Convertible. We had the top down and, after seeing the dusty road, unfortunately, had to take it up. Regardless, it’s so much fun to drive around this beautiful region of Santa Barbara’s Wine Country. Read more about Audi on Demand and see how to save 20% as a new user here.
Tasting the 2014 Peake Ranch Pinot Noir Wines.
Cheers to the delicious Peake Ranch Chardonnay.
Paul Lato Wines
As I got to know the winemaker for Peake Ranch and Paul Lato Wines, Paul Lato, I realized how talented he is and that he makes some of the most spectacular wines in the region. I had the privilege of joining him and Steve Palmina for lunch at SY Kitchen (another favorite of mine in Santa Ynez), and we shared delicious wine, pizza, and an afternoon of fun.
Arriving at an afternoon lunch at my favorite restaurant in Santa Ynez, S.Y. Kitchen (read more about S.Y Kitchen here) with the fabulous Audi on Demand A5. So excited for lunch with Winemakers Steve Clifton and Paul Lato. See more of the fun below!
A huge thanks to this guy, Steve Clifton, for organizing this lunch. I am a huge fan of his La Voix and Palmina Wines, and now Strange Family Vineyards, too, and he was so great to invite Paul Lato to join us for an afternoon of delicious wine, amazing food, and great company.
Our lunch lineup!
Winemaker Paul Lato
Dragonette Cellars is producing some of the loveliest, most flavorful, beautiful wines in the region. I adore them so much that I was a wine club member for a year or so (I try not to join as a cardinal rule as there are so many wineries I love that I have a hard time saying no).
“Brothers John and Steve Dragonette and close friend Brandon Sparks-Gillis founded Dragonette Cellars in 2005 after having worked together at a renowned wine shop in Los Angeles. Their shared passion for great wine brought them to wild, windy, and remote northern Santa Barbara County where they spent the next several years seeking out extraordinary, cool-climate vineyards and dedicating themselves to careful, patient, minimalist winemaking. They have committed themselves to the mindful farming of precise blocks in exceptional vineyards for low yields and high quality. Dragonette Cellars produces small lots of Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, and Syrah of interest and distinction.” Visit them at their Los Olivos Tasting Room found on my Top 10 Los Olivos Tasting Room post here.
Last, but certainly not least, JCR Vineyards is another one of the many Sta. Rita Hills Wineries of Santa Barbara to visit. Located about 20-30 minutes from Lompoc, in a remote, ranch-like setting, JCR is worth the trip. Their Winemaker, Alison, is fabulous as she had worked previously at Sine Qua Non and Palmina Winery before becoming the assistant winemaker for Samsara Wine Co. It was at Samsara, under the guidance of Chad Melville, that she began making wine for JCR Vineyard. In 2015, Alison took over to become the head winemaker at JCR, where she continues the pursuit of crafting high-quality wines that showcase the unique characteristics of the estate. 1500 E Chestnut Ct Unit D, Lompoc, CA 93436.
The guest houses located at JCR Vineyards. This setting is so picturesque as you look over the vineyards.
Cheers to the amazing ATV ride and my fabulous visit to JCR Vineyards. Thank you for having me!
One of the adorable winery puppies I fell in love with during the visit! He was so cute that I wanted to take him home with me. Instead, I’ll have another reason to return to JCR Vineyards, besides, of course, the fabulous wine!