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Only a Few Days to Wine Tasting Season: What’s Your Strategy?

Wine tasting is available all year in Santa Barbara County, but spring brings many more opportunities. It helps if you have a plan to take advantage of the offerings

You can pretty much go wine tasting in Santa Barbara County all year round; there are more than 75 winery tasting rooms. Each season is beautiful and each has specific advantages. But in the spring, the tasting opportunities increase dramatically with Wine Futures, New Release parties and the granddaddy of them all: The 2009 Vintners Festival, which takes place from 1-4 p.m. Saturday at Lompoc’s River Park on Highway 246 at the intersection of Sweeney Road. 

The spring festival has been presented annually for more than 20 years, starting with a small cadre of wineries and growing to more than 100 members pouring their wines — plus nearly three dozen restaurants handing out samples.

Tre Anelli of Los Olivos is another small-lot producer that will be pouring its pinot grigio and Nebbiolo wines Saturday.
Tre Anelli of Los Olivos is another small-lot producer that will be pouring its pinot grigio and Nebbiolo wines Saturday. (Bob Dickey photo)

If you show up without a strategy, you’ll have the deer-in-the-headlights look as you view all the possibilities. There is no way you can sample all the wines being poured, so here are some suggestions to manage the opportunities.

1. Focus on One Category.

You can separate the wide variety of wines available into conveniently sized tasting categories:

» Varietal: Some counties only produce a few varietals; Santa Barbara produces dozens. You might pick a varietal you particularly like — chardonnay, Sauvignon blanc, pinot noir, syrah — and just taste that varietal. Or you might pick a varietal you really don’t know very well — Viognier, Rousanne, Nebbiolo, petite sirah — and taste a number of examples to see whether you’d like to add that varietal to your regular wine drinking.

» Newer/Older Wineries: You might want to seek out newer wineries that you haven’t yet had a chance to taste — Addamo, Dragonette, Fontes & Phillips, Imagine — or visit some of our pioneer winemakers to see how their styles may have changed and/or why their wines continue to be so popular — Au Bon Climat, Brander, Santa Barbara Winery, Whitcraft, Zaca Mesa.

» Small Lot Productions: Some wines are difficult to find because so little is made. This is a chance to try some of those wines. If you like them, you can ask where they’re available. Those at the festival will include Blair Fox, Carhartt, Prodigal, Silver, Tre Anelli and Vogelzang.

» Serendipity: For those who think having a strategy to taste wine is far too left brain for a right-brain activity, try serendipity — you know, chance. With glass in hand, walk along the winery tables until you spot one that’s empty. Taste a couple of wines, talk with the winemaker, and then walk along the row to the next empty spot. Repeat.

2. Drink water between wines.

The festival will have water, but you might want to bring a small bottle. Water cleans the palate between wines and keeps you hydrated.

3. Take advantage of the food offerings.

Some of the area’s best restaurants are represented at the festival. Alternating wine tasting with food tasting is a delight. It’s tasty, gives ideas on where to eat later, and slows the absorption of alcohol. It also enhances the nature of the festival, making it a more comprehensive food and wine experience.

4. Enjoy yourself.

This is not a competitive event; there is no prize for the number of wines tasted. This is for wine lovers. It’s a chance to acquaint yourself with wineries you had forgotten about or didn’t know existed. A chance to try some wines outside of what you ordinarily drink or to seek different producers of your favorite varietals. A chance to soak in the sun (although it’s frequently breezy in Lompoc) as well as the wine. A chance to talk with winemakers at a time when they’re not consumed by harvest.

On Sunday, meanwhile, many of the wineries will have open houses. If there are some wineries that you fell in love with, you might want to visit them the following day; taste the wines and talk with the winemaker in a more intimate surrounding.

Click here for Bob Dickey’s photo album from the 2008 Vintner’s Festival.

Noozhawk contributor Bob Dickey is a local photojournalist with Wine & Dine magazine. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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