If you’re a fan of California wine or just looking for a fun place to go wine tasting on the Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley wineries should be top of the list. This is one region that I can’t get enough of. It’s absolutely gorgeous, as wine regions tend to be, but it’s also got super punchy fruit and some really fantastic winemakers who bring it all together in the bottle.
The Santa Ynez Valley AVA is one of seven located in Santa Barbara County. It contains the largest concentration of wineries in Santa Barbara County, and if you’ve watched the movie Sideways, this is where it was set. It’s known primarily for Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah; however, the mix of micro-climates in the region makes for a long list of varietals that grow well here.
A wine tasting trip to Santa Ynez Valley will have you traversing from east to west among the various AVAs in the valley, tasting everything from buttery or neutral Chardonnays to the deepest jammy Syrahs. Since there are so many wineries to choose from, you’ll want to reserve at least a couple of days for your trip, or plan to come back often if you live in the area.
Santa Ynez AVAs
Before you go, you’ll want to get the lay of the land, so you know where you are within the larger AVA of Santa Ynez. It’s quite vast, spanning from Lompoc in the west to beyond the town of Santa Ynez in the east. There are plenty of great small towns along the way.
Within the Santa Ynez AVA are four smaller AVAs:
- Sta. Rita Hills AVA stretches from Lompoc to Buellton, producing some of the areas best Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines.
- Ballard Canyon AVA, established in 2013, is focused primarily on Syrah, which grows well in this mixed climate with cool marine influences coming from Sta. Rita Hills and warmer air coming from Happy Canyon.
- Los Olivos District AVA is the newest to be recognized, in 2016. We love visiting the cute town of Los Olivos for wine tasting. It’s not overrun with visitors and it’s a great place to spend a day. The wines are mostly Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Rhone varietals.
- Happy Canyon AVA is on the eastern border of the valley and is a little more isolated than the rest of the region. There are no tasting rooms in the canyon. This is where most of the Bordeaux varietals are planted and some really high-quality wine is being produced there.
» Try this tour: Santa Ynez Valley Wine Tour
Our Favorite Santa Ynez Valley Wineries to Visit
Foxen Canyon Area
Foxen Vineyard & Winery operates on a part of the original 9,000-acre Rancho Tinaquaic, bought by ancestors of the Foxen family that still owns the 2,000-acre ranch where the winery and tasting room are. Foxen has vineyards located the Santa Maria AVA as well as several of the Santa Ynez sub-regions.
This diversification allows them to craft an array of different wines, including Bordeaux and Italian varieties that you can taste at the Shack and Burgundy, Rhône, and Loire varieties that you can taste at the new Foxen tasting room. Their specialty is Pinot Noir, but we really like their Cabernet Franc.
Reservations for a seated tasting are recommended in advance, those you can sometimes be seated without one (when it’s not too busy). You can also bring snacks to enjoy a picnic while you’re there. The two tastings they offer are a FOXEN flight and a Pinot Noir flight. Tasting fees are waived with a 3-bottle purchase.
Location: 7600 Foxen Canyon Rd, Santa Maria, CA 93454
Hours: 11am-4pm daily | Website
Zaca Mesa is a family-owned and operated winery dedicated to producing distinctive, single-vineyard Rhône-style wines. The tasting room is large and very inviting, with plenty of outdoor seating. You can bring your picnic with you to eat while you’re tasting, as well, which is great because it’s pretty far from restaurants for lunch. Dogs are welcome.
There are two flights available in the courtyard outside – the mixed or the reds only. We enjoyed the Inceptive – their GSM blend – and the Cabernet, but there are many different varietals to try. In the indoor lounge, there is a Tread label tasting flight and a Reserve flight. Tasting fees are waived with a $75 purchase.
Location: 6905 Foxen Canyon Rd, Los Olivos, CA 93441
Hours: 10am-4pm daily | Website
If you’re looking for somewhere great to hang out with friends, Andrew Murray is a great spot, with tons of outdoor seating areas, as well as seating in the barrel room. It’s trendy and nice. Their specialty is Syrah. Their current releases include at least 6 Syrahs and we really enjoyed their Esperance, a rich red blend of 65% Grenache, 20% Syrah and 15% Mourvèdre.
In nearby Los Olives, they have a second label called E11even where you can also go for tasting of their other offerings. The tasting fee at Andrew Murray is $25. You can add on $5 for a tasting coupon at E11even.
Location: 5249 Foxen Canyon Rd, Los Olivos, CA 93441
Hours: 10:30am-5:30pm daily | Website
Los Olivos Area
We always enjoy our tasting at Stolpman, for a number of reasons. First, the wine is great. They also have a great outdoor seating area with a mister for when it’s hot, and comfortable chairs from which to enjoy your tasting. Finally, the experience is top notch thanks to their helpful and friendly staff.
You can do a tasting of their regular wines on their patio, and you can also taste their carbonic maceration wines at their Fresh Garage Patio next door. This style of winemaking is becoming quite popular in the area. The grapes are fermented with native yeast, they are un-crushed in whole bunches. This makes light fruit wines softer and more approachable. They are served chilled.
Reservations are required, though we’ve walked up before and were not turned away.
Location: 2434 Alamo Pintado Ave, Los Olivos, CA 93441
Hours: 11am-4pm daily | Website
SAMsARA’s Los Olivos tasting room is located right next to Stolpman, so it should be your next stop. They produce limited releases of Pinot Noir, Syrah, Grenache and Chardonnay. Their grapes come from micro-sites in the Sta. Rita Hills and they have a low-intervention winemaking style, which allows the fruit to speak for itself. I also love that they are 100% solar powered.
You can taste either inside or outside on the patio. They tasting consists of 5 current releases for $25, with the fee being waived with a 2-bottle purchase. Reservations are recommended on the weekends and can be made on their website.
Location: 2446 Alamo Pintado Ave, Los Olivos, CA 93441
Hours: Thursday-Monday 11am-5pm | Website
Four Brothers Winery
This family-owned boutique winery is run by four brothers, each with their own skill set, who came together to form the winery. I really like this location in Los Olivos because of their lovely outdoor tasting garden. There’s plenty of space and lounge chairs to spread out and enjoy your tasting.
It retains its boutique uniqueness, which is definitely something special. They are also open a bit later, until 7pm, so it’s a great place to end your Los Olivos wine tasting before heading to dinner.
Location: 2935 Grand Ave, Los Olivos, CA 93441
Hours: 11am-7pm (Tues-Wed 6pm) daily | Website
Epiphany & the Bubble Shack
Epiphany houses two labels – Epiphany still wines and their Fesstivity sparkling line (both owned by Fess Parker). In the front you’ll find the tasting room for Epiphany and in the back is the Bubble Shack, which sounds cool but we were told they don’t use that shack anymore, sadly. You can try both wines in the main tasting room.
Choose between a classic tasting or a bubbles flight. You can sit inside or outside in their covered courtyard. The bubbles are quite good, done in the méthode champenoise style.
Location: 2974 Grand Ave, Los Olivos, CA 93441
Hours: 11am – 5pm daily | Website
Santa Ynes Area
Brave & Maiden Estate
Full disclosure, we didn’t do a tasting at Brave and Maiden because we couldn’t fit it into our schedule, but I have heard only great things about this winery. The tasting fee is a bit high at $50 and the tastings are all by appointment only. They are a sustainably farmed vineyard estate with a personalized, unhurried wine tasting experience and high-caliber wine.
Location: 649 N Refugio Rd, Santa Ynez, CA 93460
Hours: 10am – 4pm daily | Reservations Required | Website
If you’ve watched the movie Sideways, you might recognize this winery as the tasting room where Jack meets Stephanie, where she’s a pourer. Some of the vines were planted in 1968 and were part of the original ‘Vina de Santa Inez’ inaugural vineyards in the area.
If you like dessert wine, Kalyra is the place to go. They have two different tastings – a sampler tasting of their regular wines and a dessert tasting, both for $20. We tasted through the sampler and really liked the Grenache. We also tried the vintage port and Sticky Wicket.
Location: 343 N Refugio Rd #9302, Santa Ynez, CA 93460
Hours: 12pm – 5pm Tues-Fri; 11am – 5pm Sat-Sun; Closed Monday | Website
One of the large wineries in the area, Gainey Vineyards is located just south of the town of Santa Ynez. The original owner who planted the first grapes in 1984, Dan J. Gainey, was one of the first pioneers of the winemaking in the area. Now, his son has continued the tradition at this family-owned vineyard.
The property is large enough for big groups, but you’ll still want to make a reservation on the weekends because it’s quite popular. They also own the tasting room Evan’s Ranch in Los Olivos, if you’ve got time to stop by both. The wines at Gainey are all estate grown grapes. You’ll be able to try 6 limited selection wines for $20 on the terrace or in the barrel room.
There is picnic space on the lower lawn where you can enjoy your own food with a purchase of Gainey wine. On the weekends they also have charcuterie plates if you get a little peckish.
Location: 3950 CA-246, Santa Ynez, CA 93460
Hours: 11am – 5pm daily | Website
Sunstone Winery is an organic vineyard and winery located just south of the town of Santa Ynez. The space at this winery is huge, to match the crowd that converges here on the weekends. There’s a beautiful Provençal French courtyard, stone barrel-aging caves that make you feel like you’re in an old world wine cellar, and a HUGE outdoor picnic area.
This is definitely the place to go to enjoy a relaxed tasting in a beautiful setting. You only need to approach the bar to refill your glass as you taste through the flight of 5 wines ($25 per person – waived with 3-bottle purchase). Reservations aren’t required, but it gets quite busy on the weekends.
Location: 125 N Refugio Rd, Santa Ynez, CA 93460
Hours: 11am – 5pm daily | Website
With so many great wineries to choose from in Santa Ynez, wine tasters definitely have some tough decisions to make on where to go. We love wine tasting and have been to nearly all of the tasting rooms and wineries in this area, so we hope you like the ones we’ve added to our list. If you visit them, let us know which are your favorites and where you had a great experience.
Laura has spent lots of time exploring California’s cities, beaches, and national parks.