Anyone who know me, knows I love wine and I am very fortunate to live in California where 90% of US wine is produced. Just about every wine lover is familiar with Napa or Sonoma but a lesser know wine region, the Santa Ynez Valley, lies just 2 hours north of Los Angeles and is one of the country’s most diverse grape growing regions.
The Santa Ynez Valley was made famous in part to the movie Sideways, where fans learned to branch out and trade their glass of merlot for the more delicate pinot noir the region is known for. What the movie didn’t mention is that this region grows an array of grape varietals due to it’s vast latitudinal span & east/west facing valleys producing Cabernet, Chardonnay, and Rhone & Italian style wine. The result is that the largest concentration of wineries in Santa Barbara County lie in the Santa Ynez Valley AVA.
With such a high concentration of vineyards and wineries how does the area sustain the environmental impact from the wine production and heavy tourism? What the movie also didn’t mention is the large amount of sustainable wineries in the region. With an estimated 1 million acres used for growing grapes across the United States, sustainable wine growing has become increasingly important. Sustainable wine growing practices farm the land in conscious manner which help vintners make quality wine and provide a healthy and beautiful environment for all to enjoy.
In order to learn more, I visited 3 beautiful wineries in the region each with their unique approach to sustainability and organic practices.
First stop; Foxen Vineyard, established in 1985, this sustainable winery is dedicated to small production using a minimalist approach. There are two distinct tasting rooms, The Shack focused on Bordeaux and Italian style wine is the original and a good place to start. Then head about a mile down the road to taste Burgundian and Rhone-style wines at the newer solar powered tasting room, Foxen. There are tables and natural landscape offering relaxing views of the land including their dry-farmed vineyards, where grapes grow without irrigation. The roots struggle and grow deeper to find water and the result is a very tasty grape and wine.
Nestled in the hills in Foxen Canyon is a family owned biodynamic winery, named after their daughter Demetria, meaning “goddess of harvest”. Known for their old-world style blends, they farm based on the philosphy that the entire property is a living organism and don’t use synthetic pesticides and farm by the phases of the planets and the moon. In biodynamic agriculture, they consider the forces in addition to the chemicals that affect the crop.
Tasting occur table side on their gorgeous nation and guests are encouraged to kick back and relax. This is the perfect spot to enjoy a picnic lunch or a cheese board. I always bring snacks like olives, almonds, cheese, dried apricots and water.
SUNSTONE ORGANIC WINERY
Sunstone is a certified organic vineyard committed to growing grapes without the use of herbicides, pesticides or fungicides since 1990. The 28-acre vineyard features world class Bordeaux & Rhone varietals, including the Viognier, which received a Gold Medal at the San Fransisco Wine Competition.
I loved their wine & brownie pairing menu featuring fare trade brownie bites made exclusively for Sunstone. After the tasting, be sure to order a glass of your favorite wine and go explore their grounds. Surrounded by lavender & rosemary, they have large picnic areas and cool caves fun that are not to be missed.