Using techniques that are centuries old, Whitcraft Winery has been producing old world style Pinot Noir and Chardonnay since 1985. Pressing in whole clusters and fermenting with wild yeast takes commitment to making wines for European palates. With very little manipulation to their juice, their wines are clear and crisp with lower alcohol levels. They begin with a Chardonnay that has the best balance of old and new worlds. With tart crisp acidity it wakes up your taste buds yet has a creamy texture and finish.
They believe a wine should taste like its terroir, the place where the grapes were grown along with all the unique characteristics of that place. Their Pinot Noir from Santa Maria has crisp tight acidity with a thin layer of fruit and spice. Another Pinot Noir from Anderson Valley has tart cherry, raspberry, and eucalyptus with a whiff of fresh mint. A taste here makes for a great comparison of what these regions contribute to this noble grape.
Say what you will about the “Funk Zone” in Santa Barbara but it really takes reusability to new levels. Once an art culture, the vibe here is now redefined with a nod toward hip food and wine with an unexpected look and refreshing feel. You’ve no doubt seen wine tasting rooms in some unusual spaces converted from other businesses. But the Oreana Winery tasting room is in a converted tire shop. Believe it or not, the thick cement brick walls with no windows make it an ideally cool wine cellar.
The relaxed and unpretentious atmosphere allows you to focus on the wine. The winemaker at Oreana sure does. Simply because he loves big bold wines, that’s all he makes. Their Chardonnay is steely clean and crisp with big fruit of banana and apricot. It may be hard to find and even harder to say but their Pinot Noir is full bodied. It’s dark fruit of black cherry, and dark plum overwhelms the usual tart cherry, raspberry, or other red fruit and its long finish makes it a great wine for rich meat dishes. But the wine to watch here is the Petite Merlot made out of 50% Merlot and 50% Petite Verdot, which is usually just a background singer. It’s tight tannins and crisp acidity make you take notice initially and wake up to its thick rich body. But the deep dark fruit and smoky dank texture keep you thinking about it.
When you hear the term “Urban Wine Trail,” you might presume this region to be relatively new to wine. If you’ve heard of the “Funk Zone,” you may think its driven by a younger generation. But Santa Barbara County has been a wine producing region longer than most in California. Since wine is not its primary draw, it has never really become synonymous with wine like the Russian River Valley or Dry Creek.
Santa Barbara Winery has been making wines from the same location since 1962. Their tasting room has been located in the Funk Zone even before the hood had that moniker. Since 1964, Santa Barbara Winery has been pouring wine from their tasting room adjacent to downtown Santa Barbara. Using grapes from Santa Rita Hills, they craft light and crisp white wines and Pinot Noirs in the classic styles.
Probably the best bet in Summerland for food quality, Cafe Luna takes rustic to a different level. While they have patio dining on several different patios, their converted home is cozy yet in need of a few updates. Let’s face it, there’s charming clean rustic and there’s barnyard rustic. Of course I’d link to their website or menu but they don’t even have a website. However, they do offer Summerland Winery wines exclusively. Showcasing local wines only takes farm-to-table to a new level. They are literally on the same block!
The food speaks for this place. This fab arugula salad with a light olive oil and lemon dressing was fantastically dressed and impressed with salty rich Parmesan.
Their gnocchi with chicken in a sun-dried tomato cream sauce was rich yet light and fluffy. Delicious is the word.
The funk zone, now referred to as the “Urban Wine Trail,” is worth a trip to appreciate how these buildings have been restored and revitalized. But stroll through downtown Santa Barbara for a different wine tasting experience. Grassini Family Vineyards are located in Happy Canyon within the Santa Ynez Valley where they benefit from warm sunny days and cool nights without as much coastal influence as the rest of Santa Barbara County. Here’s where Bordeaux varietals flourish.
They begin a tasting flight with a traditional Sauvignon Blanc that has lots of lively citrus and a bit of grassy minerality. A pretty long finish makes this wine ideal for a picnic or barbecue. Their next Sauvignon Blanc could not be more different. Called Equipo, meaning to work as a team, this wine was made by their full time vineyard workers. It has more stone fruit of apricot, guava and a bit of lime from 10% in stainless steel and 90% in oak. Its balance and long finish may entice you but its story will inspire; all the proceeds of this wine are returned to the vineyard team that tended these beautiful vines.
Most know Bordeaux for its big bold Cabernets and Grassini’s represents what this grape is capable of in this region. Elegant tannins and big Bing cherry form a balance with slightly creamy layers of chocolate and dates. Finally, their Articondo shows off what Merlot can do in this happiest of canyons along with some help from Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Verdot. Its lush lively cherry and berry flavors dance with a bit of smoke and the soft feel of supple leather.
First impressions of the “Funk Zone” in Santa Barbara is that name’s appropriate. A term like funky works to describe dancing or dilapidated and restored artistic architecture. but not wine. Although it fits the wines at Giessinger, who mixes real fruit in dessert wines like Summer Apricot, a Cognac styled dessert wine with the thickness of syrup. Their chocolate port has overripe grapes of almost raisin quality and lots of vanilla and caramel.
Based on smart phone maps, internet searches, and restaurant listings, Summerland appears to have a handful of restaurants all in walking distance. Who among us cannot get through a week without a handful of options for good eats?!
But, on a closer look, two of these food options are playing a little fast and loose with the term “restaurant” when “deli” is more like it. Another raves a delicious country style breakfast, which is priceless in a weekend getaway town like this and definitely worthy of trying but they close by 3PM most days. So, there’s really only 2 options for dinner and only one has a full bar, which serves unremarkable steaks, seafood, and burgers yet is packed every night of the week. Locals appear to know each other at this establishment and servers greet most patrons by first name.
You don’t have to be a restaurateur or investor to realize the value in opening a restaurant with decent food in this town! Even a wine bar with a small selection of food pairings for wine would thrive as long as they are open late. Add live music to the menu, and you’ve got a local hangout. Most people will just eat and drink there simply because it is more entertaining than being at home.