Santa Maria Wine Country

We had previously attended the open house at Au Bon Climat. Our drive to the event and an extra stop at Cottonwood Canyon Winery inspired both of us to come and see what else was out there in Santa Maria. We wish we could say that this trip was planned but Andrew sometimes investigates wineries for a couple hours and then declares: “Get in the car, this is going to be fun.” Matthew is always a good sport and in all fairness we did have some previous recommendations such as Foxen Vineyard and Winery, but we kept most of this day trip flexible. This can lead to awesome experiences that only come from winging it. So as Frank Sinatra used to sing: “Come fly with me, we’ll fly, we’ll fly away.”

Wineries Visited

  • Foxen Vineyard and Winery
    Main Tasting Room Address:
    7600 Foxen Canyon Rd, Santa Maria, CA 93454
    Hours: Daily 11 am – 4 pm
    Phone: (805) 937 – 4251
    Favorite(s) of the Day: Chenin Blanc and 2015 Solomon Hills Vineyard Pinot Noir

    Foxen had been repeated recommended to us so it seemed appropriate that their tasting room would be the first we visited. They have two different tasting rooms the primary tasting room specializes in Burgundy style and the other emphasizing Bordeaux style. We chose the main tasting room, which offers two different flights available: (1) Mixed flight – Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, and 3 Pinot Noir ($15) and (2) All Pinot Noir (6 tastes for $25). We were told Foxen 7200 (aka The Shack) offers big, bold reds that focuses on Bordeaux and Italian varietals. We did not visit Foxen 7200 this trip, but we will visit it on another trip to Santa Maria.

    Despite our love for Pinot Noir, the wine that surprised us as being our favorite was their Chenin Blanc. In addition to the tasting room, there are tables outside so you can enjoy your lunch or just soak in the sun and the views.
  • Kenneth Volk Vineyards
    Address: 5230 Tepusquet Rd, Santa Maria, CA 93454
    Hours: Thursday – Monday 10:30 am – 4:30 pm; Closed Tuesday and Wednesday
    Phone: (805) 938 – 7896
    Favorite(s) of the Day: Verdelho and Mourvedre

    Kenneth Volk showed up on our radar when it was discovered Ken Volk was the founder of Wild Horse Winery in Templeton, CA (he has since sold Wild Horse). We were delighted and surprised by the extensive tasting offerings on the tasting menu. Each wine feels like a personal expression from the wine maker. We were able to choose 6 tastes of the offering provided that day. Their current tasting list was full of Austrian, Portuguese, and Spanish Varietals. The grapes for their wines are sourced from the AVAs that are able to grow the grapes. For the current list, Kenneth Volk sourced from Paso Robles along with elsewhere.
  • Riverbench Vineyard and Winery
    6020 Foxen Canyon Rd, Santa Maria, CA 93454
    Hours: Daily 10 am – 4 pm
    Phone: (805) 937 – 8340
    Favorite(s) of the Day: 2010 Blancs de Noir.

    The tasting staff from Kenneth Volk recommended that we visit Riverbench for their lovely property an excellent sparkling wines. We welcomed the change and also relished the idea of visiting the physical property. It was a happy coincidence that the day they went they were pouring a sparkling flight with two library wines to compare to current releases. The sparkling flight consisted of a 2016 Blancs de Blanc, 2012 Blancs de Blanc, 2015 Blancs de Noir, and 2010 Blancs de Noir. The 2010 Blancs de Noir was described to us as “brunch in a glass” and we both highly recommend this one if you have a chance to try it.

Zaca Mesa Winery and Vineyards
6905 Foxen Canyon Rd, Los Olivos, CA 93441
Hours: Daily 10 am – 4 pm
Phone: (805) 688 – 9339
Favorite(s) of the Day: Too Hard to Pick

This was our first visit to Zaca Mesa, we had heard that they were the best and could not wait to visit. Unfortunately, we arrived later than anticipated and were not sure if we would be able to be served or finish a complete tasting. Mackenzie, our tasting room attendant, welcomed us and assured us that they were able to accommodate us. She was extremely knowledgeable about the wines and property, which made for an insightful experience. We would recommend talking to her if you ever visit the tasting room. We had an amazing experience and the wines were all excellent. Zaca Mesa not only met but exceeded our expectations. We recommend this be a top priority when visiting the area.

  • Andrew Murray Vineyards
    Foxen Canyon Rd, Los Olivos, CA 93441
    Hours: Daily 10:30 am – 5:30 pm
    Phone: (805) 686 – 9604
    Favorite(s) of the Day: 2018 Espeance Rose

Andrew Murray was our final stop of the day, the most noticeable difference from the rest was a tasting area for the public as well as a private lounge for wine club members. The staff was friendly and we enjoyed our time. Their tasting consists of five tastes of the current offering. During our tasting we found out about the All-Access Pass ($25) that allows you to enjoy tasting flights at Andrew Murray (tasting room on Foxen Canyon) and Elleven (Downtown Los Olivos). They also offer local chocolate for purchase along with other products. We wish we had more time here but since this was an impromptu day trip we figured we could do a deeper dive on our return to the area.

Thanks for reading! Cheers friends!

Two Keys for Approaching Wine Tasting

First and foremost, the two of the most important things to keep in mind when you are going wine tasting is to approach each wine tasting with (1) an open mind and (2) a willingness to learn. This does not change whether you are a novice and you are reading this in preparation for your very first trip to wine country or if you are a seasoned wine tasting pro. Having an open mind and a willingness to learn will provide you with the foundation to discover and experience everything the winery has to offer.

One of Our Many Learning Experiences

We know first hand about how bias can influence a winery or a particular wine, however, we also have been able to overcome biases of particular wineries or varietals when we remained open and continued to give a winery or particular varietal a chance to impress. Early on, Matthew did not enjoy Sauvignon Blanc because he explained that Sauvginon Blanc’s contained too much of a sour grapefruit component for his palate. As a result, when he would go tasting he would attempt to see if he could replace Sauvignon Blanc with a different wine or he would not choose it when given the option. After hearing about why Matthew did not enjoy Sauvignon Blanc, the pourer at Pear Valley challenged Matthew to try their Sauvignon Blanc and he was promised a different taste of a new wine if he did not enjoy their version. Matthew accepted and was pleasantly surprised about how Pear Valley’s Sauvignon Blanc tasted compared to the others he had not enjoyed. With this experience, Matthew learned the importance of how wine making styles differ across wine regions and countries.

Winemakers are Artists

Winemakers are artists in their trade. Each winemaker has their own philosophy for the type wine they want to create. The winemakers use the type of terroir and climate where the vines are located to help determine their goals. The soil may be sand or it may be clay; the climate may be warm at day and cool at night or it may have coastal influences. All of this influences how the grapes grow, and therefore, how the wine tastes.

You may not enjoy how a particular wine tastes or an entire winery may not leave you impressed and that is perfectly natural. What you enjoy may not be what your friend enjoys or what you and your friend taste may be drastically different. The best part about wine is that it is perfectly ok to taste or smell something different from the person next to you. Each person experiences different tastes and smells because of the memories that the wine draws you towards.

At the end of the day even if you do not enjoy a particular wine or a winery, please conduct yourself with appropriate behavior out of respect for the artist, winery, and wine making process. Just because you do not enjoy a particular wine, does not mean that it was not made well. So if you find a wine that does not suit your palate, politely make use of the spittoon buckets that each winery makes available for people who decline to finish an entire taste.

However, if you allow yourself to enter a tasting room biased either against the winery or a particular varietal, you can end up missing out on a new experience, an experience that may have the ability to change your mind. Without having an open mind and a willingness to learn, Matthew would probably still refuse to drink Sauvignon Blanc.

Thanks for reading! Cheers friends!