When most people think of California wines, they think of Napa Valley. Even most Angelino's (people from L.A.) have never heard of the Santa Ynez Valley. Santa Ynez is just north of Santa Barbara, and is one of most diverse grape-growing regions in the county. Near the Pacific, fog and cool air rolls in at dusk, ideal for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes. Thirty miles inland, it’s sunny and hot—perfect for Bordeaux varieties like Cab Franc and Merlot. We went on the Wine and Bike Tour with Santa Barbara Wine Country Tours to experience the delicious blends and the valley’s rolling green hills and beautiful, ancient oak trees by bike.
The tour picks up in Santa Barbara and drives you to the first winery, Brander, whose castle-like building reminds me of the Grand Budapest Hotel. Every wine was very drinkable and balanced. We sipped varietals in the sunshine on the spacious patio. My favorite wine was the Sauvignon Blanc, but usually that's my go to, especially on a hot day.
After Brander we had a quick bike tutorial in the parking lot to prepare us for the 10 mile ride to Rideau. The tour provides road bikes and helmets, with easy instructions for the ride. If it's too hot, or you're just tired, you can opt out and jump in the shuttle. We rode through the rolling hills enjoying the views of vineyards, horses, and haystacks along the way. The last part off the ride has some steeper climbs so you can really earn lunch and the next tasting. On this particular day in June that we went I felt like I was going to pass out on the last few hill climbs. ;p
We arrived at Rideau and sat down to enjoy our locally sourced, organic meal catered by Channel Islands Provisioners. I had the char-broiled "jidori" chicken breast, apple-cilantro calico slaw, and sharp cheddar on a baguette. Y.U.M. My meal also came with freshly baked cookies that were perfectly fluffy and flavorful.
Rideau looks like a quaint cottage out of a fairytale with roses everywhere. They are a small-lot winery that hand-harvests their grapes sustainably and have a wide variety of wines to try. We really enjoyed their Sangiovese and bought one to enjoy that evening.
I'd recommend doing this bike tour or one of the other Santa Barbara Wine Country Tours. They're most famous is the wine/cupcake pairing. The nice thing is you don't have to drive yourself around wine-tasting (bad idea), and you have a knowledgeable guide along with you. We also met some really fun people to wine taste with which made the trip that much more enjoyable!