Come as you are, plan on spending a night or two and experience the Central Coast’s most historic wine.
If it’s been too long since your last weekend getaway and you need to stock your wine shelf (and fridge), we’ve got your weekend wine plans, stock lock and barrel. Santa Maria Valley is the oldest American Viticultural Area (AVA) on the Central Coast and the primary growing region for all Santa Barbara County wines. The geography in Santa Maria Valley is transverse, which allows coastal breezes to blow in and linger, creating a cool environment for grapes to grow in and hang on the vine longer. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes really love it here, as will you.
Beyond exceptional wine, the people here are just as special. In fact, National Geographic recognized Santa Maria Valley as one of the top 25 happiest cities in the United States. Plain and simple, the good folks in this valley will welcome you like family. You can expect a casual wine scene where you don’t have to swirl your wine ‘just so’ to fit in, and you’re likely to meet the winemakers themselves in the tasting rooms you visit.
Your Trip at a Glance
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Start your day in Santa Maria Valley’s Old Town Orcutt. The charming, walkable East Clark street is the perfect starting point to your day of tasting. You’ll enjoy breakfast at Kay’s Country Kitchen. Try a local’s favorite, the Santa Maria Style tri-tip and eggs.
Then, head to cnagy and CORE tasting rooms to kick off your day of Santa Maria Valley wine tasting. cnagy Wines is owned by winemaker and Santa Maria Valley native, Clarissa Nagy. She makes her cnagy brand wines using grapes from several vineyards around the region including Bien Nacido, Riverbench, Garey Ranch and White Hawk. Clarissa works with the grapes she has grown to love as a winemaker and wine lover. You can taste for yourself the sophistication in her Viognier, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir and Syrah. CORE Winery is owned by Dave and Becky Corey. Best known for their red blends, CORE blends small lots of their favorite varietals, Mourvedre and Grenache.
While visiting CORE, you can purchase a ticket to ride the Santa Maria Valley Wine Trolley which is the best way to taste a variety of Santa Maria Valley wines with safe transportation. The trolley makes stops along the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail every Saturday and Sunday from mid-May to mid-October. The trolley route takes an hour, allowing riders to step on and step off at your leisure.
The first vineyard stop is one of Santa Maria Valley’s most beautiful and renowned wineries, Presqu’ile. At Presqu’ile, you can enjoy delicious wines and sweeping scenic views with even a peek at the ocean on a clear day. Voted a top 10 tasting room in USA Today’s 2018 Reader’s Choice Awards, Presqu’ile focuses on making wines from around the area as well as from their sustainably farmed vineyard. Taste the Santa Maria Valley blend and compare this to the single vineyard designate wines for a true Pinot Noir educational experience.
Next, enjoy boutique crafted wines at Cottonwood Canyon Winery and Vineyard. Cottonwood Canyon’s 78-acre estate specializes in hand-crafted Pino Noir, Syrah and Chardonnay. Santa Maria Valley’s cool growing environment coupled with Cottonwood’s hands off approach to winemaking produces age-worthy wines similar to what you would find with most French Burgundies.
Your last Trolley stop will be at Costa de Oro, a vineyard that uses old-world winemaking styles and new-world grape growing methods to make their complex and harmonious Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays. A veteran of the Santa Maria wine industry, winemaker Gary Burk uses the artistry of old world winemaking styles and new world grape growing practices to make wines of character. Try the “CF” Pinot Noir, a smooth expression of the grape with layers of flavors such as spice, earth, and fruit.
By now you’ve worked up an appetite. We like to joke that Santa Maria Valley wine is best paired with jeans (because we really are that laid back here) but truly the best wine pairing is with our legendary barbecue. Check out one of our classic Santa Maria Style barbecue joints like The Swiss, located in Santa Maria.
Wake up, hydrate and head back to Orcutt to enjoy a #SantaMariaStyle brunch at Far Western Tavern for some contemporary California ranch cuisine. Then, choose a designated driver as you head out to the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail to spend the another day exploring more vineyards in the Santa Maria Valley.
Deep in the heart of the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail, you’ll find Riverbench’s craftsman style tasting room in the middle of their estate vineyard. Here, you can sample various clones of Pinot Noir from historic vines planted in 1973. The vineyard is planted on the steep river bank known as the Santa Maria Bench and gives you a real sense of the unique geography of the valley. Try the Pommard Pinot Noir, made of an old world Burgundian clone, for something more assertive and sophisticated or the the Bedrock Chardonnay for a glimpse of unadulterated Chardonnay, with no oak at all.
Make the scenic drive to the rustic Rancho Sisquoc Winery and explore Santa Maria Valley culture and wine together. Rancho Sisquoc is part of a Mexican land grant back in 1852, prior to that, the Chumash Indians called the area Sisquoc or gathering place. Today, the winery grows more than 300 acres of grapes to make their exquisite wines and is indeed a gathering place for those who love wine and the beautiful landscape along the Sisquoc river.
Your next vineyard is Foxen Winery, a sustainable, solar-powered winery that’s been growing grapes for more than 30 years. The “Foxen Boys,” Bill Wathen and Dick Doré, have been making wine together since 1985. Since that time, their dedication has remained the same: the creation of small production, sustainably farmed, vineyard focused wines. One of the most recognized names of the Santa Maria Valley, Foxen Winery offers more than six types of wines. The Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir is a fantastic representation of the area style.
Keep making your way a bit south until you find yourself at Bell’s in Los Alamos for a late lunch. This French-inspired bistro menu includes plates like handmade pasta, steak frites, rotisserie chicken and salads. A late lunch or early dinner is best on Sundays as Bell’s closes at 5:00 p.m.
Now you’re just in time to catch a spectacular sunset from Cambria Winery. With gorgeous valley views and a sneak peek at the barrel room from inside the tasting room, you can get a great sense of winemaking at Cambria. Sip on their delicious Chardonnays from the region while learning about the 200 years of farming history at this beautiful estate. The single vineyard designate Katherine’s Vineyard is a beautiful, classic style Chardonnay.
With 34 tasting rooms within a 30-minute drive, two days isn’t nearly long enough to experience all that Santa Maria Valley has to offer. If you can, stay a bit longer or make plans to come back again soon. With so much do do from here, Santa Maria Valley is the perfect home base on the central California coast where you can eat, drink and do more for less.