Santa Barbara Wine Country: Part Three

Today I am wrapping up my posts on the Santa Barbara Wine Country blogger/influencer group trip with some highlights from the last portion of the trip.

This 48-hour adventure in wine tasting, fabulous food and sightseeing Santa Barbara’s wine region earlier this month was coordinated by Emily Martin of The Jetsettting Fashionista and Emily Martin Communications & Events along with Lacey Fussel and Lisa Gerbac of Muse Wine Management. You can read Part One here and Part Two here.

In my last post about Santa Barbara Wine Country, I left off in downtown Los Olivos where we visited three tasting rooms. After our day of wine tasting and touring concluded, we went back to our hotel rooms and rested for a bit before meeting up again that evening.

Alma Rosa Winery 

Our first stop that evening was to Alma Rosa Winery’s tasting room. Founded by Thelka and Richard Sanford in 2005, Alma Rosa is Spanish for “Soul of the Rose.” Our group was treated not only to a sit-down tasting at their rustic and elegant tasting room in Buellton but we had the honor of meeting the Sanfords and tasting their wines with them.

The Alma Rose tasting room is strikingly beautiful. It was designed with nature in mind and even includes a live olive tree in the center of the room.

The large back room where we sat and tasted wine is so cozy and inviting. It has rustic fireplace and a long gathering table.

Richard Sanford is a pioneer in the wine industry in Santa Barbara Wine Country, having been the first to plant Pinot Noir vines in the Sta. Rita Hills region, now an accredited AVA (American Viticultural Area). He has been making wine and growing grapes with Thelka for more than 30 years. Alma Rosa Winery & Vineyards is their latest venture.

It was fascinating to hear both Richard and Thelka tell us about this current project, as well as tales about their ranch, which is part of the original Rancho Santa Rosa and the original California Mexican Land Grant. What a special treat to listen to their stories while tasting their fantastic wines!

Sides Hardware and Shoes 

After our tasting, it was time to eat again! We dined at the popular Sides Hardware and Shoes in Los Olivos which serves American comfort food in a charming and lively environment. Stuffed and satisfied, we headed back to our hotel for the night to get some rest before venturing out for more wine tasting the next day.

Rusack Vineyards

On our last day, we packed up our things, grabbed a bite to eat at the hotel then drove out to Ballard Canyon to visit Rusack Vineyards, a boutique winery set among rolling hills, oak trees and horse ranches.

Husband and wife team Geoff Rusack and Alison Wrigley Rusack started Rusack in 1995. Their 48-acre ranch in Ballard Canyon includes a 17-acre vineyard. They primarily grow Syrah on the ranch but they also cultivate Sauvignon Blanc, Semillion, Petite Sirah, Merlot, and Petit Verdot grapes.

Steven Gerbac, Winemaker for Rusack, led us on our tasting and tour. Steven has been with Rusack since 2003, having started as a production assistant before eventually becoming Winemaker.

Steven showed us one of the vineyard lots on the estate property, then led us to the production area and barrel room before we went back to the tasting room and patio to taste more wine.

Rusack also has a vineyard on Santa Catalina Island, which Steven oversees, where they grow Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes along with some Zinfandel grapes that came from nearby Santa Cruz Island.

Rusack is such a relaxing and picturesque place and they have the most friendly and adorable winery kitty named Jujube.

Upon leaving the winery, we were given this lovely gift to take home. Two bottles of wine – a Syrah and a Rosé – in a beautiful box, tied with burlap and a twig from a Syrah vine. I liked the Rosé so much, I ordered a 1/2 case to be shipped home to me. Not only are Rusack wines delicious but they are reasonably priced too.

Riverbench Vineyard and Winery

After our visit to Rusack, we took winding country roads to Riverbench for a tasting and picnic lunch. It would be the final stop of our blogger/influencer adventure to Santa Barbara Wine Country.

Riverbench is boutique winery with a small portfolio of wines that include Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and sparkling wines. It’s located near the Sisquoc River in an area known as the Santa Maria Bench.

Riverbench Vineyard was established in 1973, planting Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes. For decades, Riverbench sold their grapes to well-known wineries. In 2004, they began producing their own wines.

The vineyard currently has 107 acres of Pinot Noir and 77 acres of Chardonnay. All of the wines from Riverbench are made with grapes grown on the property. The alluvial soil at Riverbench – with clay, silt, gravel and sand – makes for ideal drainage and fertileness.

Clarissa Nagy, Winemaker for Riverbench, is recognized for her sophisticated winemaking style and her love for fruit from Santa Maria Valley.

Bill and I enjoyed this chilled bottle of Riverbench Blanc de Noirs on a last minute getaway to San Luis Obispo before heading home. It was superb!


Disclosure: The wine tasting experiences, meals and hotel stay were part of the blogger/influencer trip. All opinions expressed here are my own, as always.

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