This post originally appeared in Wine Tourist Magazine
Celebrate Harvest. Celebrate the Vintners. Celebrate both in Santa Barbara Wine Country. Of course, we encourage you to head to wine country any day of the week, but twice a year the Santa Barbara Vintners organizes a large weekend festival, bringing all of the winery members to one place to celebrate the wines, to educate and to have fun.
The Santa Barbara Vintners (Santa Barbara County Vintners’ Association) is a nonprofit organization made up of winery members, vineyard management companies and hospitality companies. Started in 1983, the association is focused on promoting the wine and grape industry. When the Association was created more than 30 years ago, they also launched the Spring Vintners Festival, one of the longest-running wine festivals in the U.S. Then in 1989, the Harvest Festival was created.
Morgen McLaughlin, executive director of the Santa Barbara Vintners, likes having two festivals in the region “because it gives folks the chance to come for a visit twice a year and different times of the year means different wines, different weather and a different vibe.”
Every fall, the Harvest Festival takes place over Columbus Day weekend in October, about the same time harvest is taking place. Then in April, the Spring Vintners Festival occurs, just as the grapes are starting to ripen on the vines. The formats for both weekend festivals are similar. Saturday is the big grand tasting that takes place outdoors with more than 100 wineries, as well as local restaurant and food purveyors. Wineries also have open houses during the weekend and host winemaker dinners. When McLaughlin came on board as the executive director in April 2013, additional activities were added. There is now a Friday night paulee-style kick-off event that brings industry, growers and passionate enthusiasts together. She also added a Saturday seminar in the morning before the grand tasting which focuses on a specific topic with a noted speaker.
McLaughlin said the festivals “bring wineries of Santa Barbara county together to share new wines, chat with old friends and make new friends.” With approximately 40 percent of attendees returning year after year, the region has a lot of “old” friends, and I am one of them. For the past three years, I have made a weekend getaway to Santa Barbara for both festivals.
The grand tasting is a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon. Excellent Southern California weather allows for the tasting to take place outside. Even the one rare year in which it rained, it didn’t stop anyone from attending and traipsing through the mud. With so many wines, it is a lot to take in and the format does not really allow for in-depth questions or discussions about wine.
That is why I enjoy starting the day with the wine seminar. I can think of worse things to do at 10 a.m. But there is also a lot to learn. Seminar topics have ranged from a general discussion of Santa Barbara wine, with a panel of winemakers and led by journalist Matt Kettman, to a panel entitled “Zaca Mesa University”, led by Sommelier Chris Sawyer with a panel of winemakers who have worked at Zaca Mesa. One of the best wine seminars I have ever attended was at the recent 2015 Harvest Festival. Wine Critic Elaine Chukan Brown moderated a panel of six winemakers as they delved into the topic of chardonnay. Focused on three vineyards, there were two winemakers from each vineyard who spoke about the terroir of that vineyard and why they like to work with it. We then tasted the wines, truly understanding through the diversity of each vineyard and producer that chardonnay is like a blank slate. It is a grape variety whose flavor is determined by the climate and vineyard from which it comes.
The Friday night paulee-style dinner is one of my favorite events. The idea behind a paulee-style event is that every attendee brings a bottle of wine to dinner. Throughout dinner, attendees get up and walk around to other tables to share the bottle they brought and trying other wines on the tables. It is said that the best way to enjoy a good bottle of wine is with friends. This is the perfect dinner for opening “that” bottle as it is a roomful of people who appreciate and enjoy wine. This is not the dinner to swing by the grocery store on your way, but rather to bring a special wine, domestic or international, old or young. There are some very special bottles that come out of the winemakers’ cellars as well. At a past dinner, we were told to bring a wine that was Vintage 2009 or older from Santa Barbara County or beyond to share. At the upcoming 2016 Spring Harvest Festival, the theme is a “big bottle bash”.
The 2016 Santa Barbara Spring Festival is coming soon! I am working on selecting my magnum bottle for the “big bottle bash” and starting to plan the weekend getaway. Perhaps I will see you there!
Friday, April 22, 2016, 6:30 p.m.
Big Bottle Bash
Presqu’ile Vineyard & Winery
Price: $100 per person
Saturday, April 23, 2016, 1:00-4:00pm
Vintners Festival Grand Tasting
River View Park, Buellton
Get ready for the 34th Annual Santa Barbara Vintners Festival Grand Tasting! Held Saturday, April 23, 2016 at the beautiful River View Park in Buellton. The Vintners Festival is the largest tasting of Santa Barbara County wines of the year. Celebrate with over 120 wineries and winemakers, more than thirty food purveyors and chefs, regional artists, live music, and more! Tickets are all-inclusive and include free parking, all wine tastings and food sampling.
Price: $75 per person ($85 at the door)
Saturday, April 23, 2016, 10:00 – 11:30 a.m.
Saturday Wine Seminar
Join us for the Saturday morning Santa Barbara Wine Seminar at the Santa Ynez Valley Marriott, just minutes from the Festival Grand Tasting at the Riverview Park. The tasting seminar, moderated by noted wine writer, educator, and judge, Patrick Comiskey, will feature an in-depth exploration of Santa Barbara Country Syrah as showcased by a panel of six local winemakers.
Price: $35 per person