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Dining Guide for Families in Orange County

Santa Barbara’s 5th Annual Winter Wine Classic Wows Wine Lovers

We attended as a guest of the venue

Winter Wine Classic

I entered the Fess Parker resort wide-eyed. In front of me were what seemed like endless tables of winemakers pouring generous sips of all their best grapes. I grabbed my glass and hit the ground running.

With nearly 100 wines to choose from, and not knowing where to start, I’d often ask the question, “Can I try your most popular wine or what you’re known for?” Frequently, I’d get the response, “Our most popular wine isn’t here. We’re pouring from our reserve (or ultra-premium) wines tonight.” This was possibly the best response an oenophile could hope for and part of what made the 5th Annual Winter Wine Classic such a unique tasting experience. I put myself in their elite hands and was transported on a tasting journey from Santa Ynez to Napa Valley.

Santa Barbara Wine Event

VIP ticket-holders entered an hour earlier for an exclusive meet and greet with the producers. However, what I really appreciated about this event was that even though there were 550 attendees, it still felt intimate, and there was plenty of time to chat with winemakers about what makes their wine special.

For example, I discovered the story behind Ampelos (Greek for “vine”), a small boutique winery in the Santa Rita Hills, which was started by a husband and wife team, Rebecca and Peter Work. When a World Trade Center meeting that Peter was scheduled to attend on the morning of September 11, 2001 was cancelled, they realized the brevity of life. Newly inspired, the couple left their corporate jobs and turned their wine-making dream into reality.

Wine Tasting in Santa Barbara

They are now one of the first vineyards in the United States to be officially certified sustainable, organic, and biodynamic in their farming practices. This respect for the land is evident in the flavorful Syrahs I sampled, as well as in the words advertised in their handout, “We did not inherit this land from our father – we are borrowing it from our children.”

This seemed to be a common theme of the evening: a commitment to the environment, to family, and to producing a truly stellar product.

Ushered along by the stirring sounds of live Spanish guitar, I stumbled upon a standout winery, Beckmen Vineyards. Their ripe, full-bodied Grenache had me planning a trip up to their Santa Ynez vineyard in the near future.

Lieff Wines’ rich and smooth 2012 Auberge Road Rutherford Napa Cabernet Sauvignon was powerful yet smooth, and would be the perfect accompaniment for a nice steak dinner.

Luckily, the steak could wait! There were plenty of delectable bites to enjoy along the way from local eateries. Standouts included a luscious lobster bisque topped with a puff pastry crouton from Enterprise Fish Company.
Blush Restaurant’s Ahi Tartare featured a generous sampling of fresh ponzu-marinated fish, and Cielito’s Ceviche California filled with local white sea bass, pineapple, jicama, red onion, avocado, pickled cabbage, and tomatillo-serrano sauce delighted the whole palate.

For those looking for something a little heartier, popular local food truck, Georgia’s Smokehouse satiated meat lovers with their mouthwatering pulled pork topped with crunchy coleslaw.

After stopping by the always delightful Ancient Peaks, which I first tried at local restaurant Sama Sama Kitchen, I was thrilled to stumble upon the Santa Barbara Public Market’s I’a Fish Market & Café. Their fresh, lime-infused ceviche enjoyed alongside Ancient Peaks’ crisp and zippy Sauvignon Blanc was the perfect pairing to reinvigorate my taste buds after a solid hour of sampling.

Wine tasting at the Santa Barbara Winter Wine Classic

Westerly Wines, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara County, 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, which received 92 points from Wine Enthusiast, also enlivened my palate. Tablas Creek, which has been influential in pushing Rhone varietals in California, embodied that playful wine tasting spirit sharing sips of their Tablas Creek – Paso Robles 2013 Esprit de Tablas.

The whole evening was made even more celebratory with the knowledge that the event would donate 25% of profits to the Food Bank of Santa Barbara, and as a member of 1% for the Planet, the California Wine Festival will also donate at least 1% of their annual net revenues to environmental organizations worldwide.
California Wine Festival LLC holds “California Wine Festivals” throughout the state all year, so if you missed this one, fear not! There will be wine festivals in Dana Point, Orange County, on April 15 and 16. The next one in Santa Barbara will be a summer celebration featuring three days of tasting events from, July 14-16. If this was winter in Santa Barbara, I can’t wait to see what summer will bring!

Visit their website to reserve tickets!

Rebecca Horrigan has always loved writing and food. She found her niche in college writing for the food section of UC Santa Barbara’s newspaper. Since then, she’s been published in the Los Angeles Times and in OC Menus. She also worked in food public relations. She now resides in Santa Barbara where she’s working on inspiring a hunger for reading, writing and life-long learning in her students as an English teacher.

Photos courtesy of Graham Burwell

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