Santa Ynez Valley AVA is part of the beautiful Santa Barbara County wine region and the large Central Coast AVA. The AVA (American Viticultural Area) was officially established in 1983 and currently comprises 7,500 acres under vine. Sta. Rita Hills, Happy Canyon, Ballard Canyon, and the Los Olivos District AVAs are all nested within Santa Ynez Valley AVA.
The valley, which runs east to west, is formed between the Purisima Hills, the San Rafael Mountains, and the Santa Ynez Mountains. The Santa Ynez River runs through the valley out to the Pacific Ocean.
The proximity of the Pacific Ocean is key for the high quality wines produced in this region – the valley draws in and traps cool ocean air, helping maintain acidity in the grapes and lengthen the growing season. It gets gradually warmer further inland, allowing for a wide range of grapes to thrive in this area. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay rule in the cooler coastal region, while Rhone varieties, Cabernet, Merlot, and Sauvignon Blanc do well in the warmer inland vineyards.
Santa Ynez Valley’s other claim to fame (besides excellent wine) is that most of 2004’s Academy Award and Golden Globe winning movie Sideways was filmed here. The film is often credited with helping consumers discover the joy of Santa Barbara’s Pinot Noirs.
Santa Barbara County, as a whole, was named Wine Enthusiast Magazine’s Wine Region of the Year in 2021, and with good reason. Scenic coastal highways and rolling hills add visual appeal, while the fairly close proximity to Los Angeles makes traveling here easy. Popular towns in the area include Los Olivos, Santa Ynez and Solvang, all of which provide options for shopping, dining, and accommodations. Cheers!
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Note: We do our best to maintain up to date information on all wineries featured. However, we recommend checking directly with a winery before planning a visit. If you find any information below that needs to be updated please let us know.
1. Buscador Winery
CW Score: 89.3
Overview: Housed in an industrial warehouse, the Buscador Winery and tasting room offers visitors a unique experience. Guests are invited to get up close to the wine barrels, and the winemaker pours tastings from behind the bar.
Buscador focuses on producing wines from Bordeaux red varietals as well as red and white Rhone grapes along with the occasional surprise. The tasting room is open Friday through Monday from noon to 5 PM.
2. Story of Soil
CW Score: 87.6
Overview: Story of Soil focuses on producing wines from single vineyards and single varieties, so that the final product truly tells a story of a sense of place. Current offerings include a number of single vineyard Pinot Noirs, along with a Syrah, Grenache, and Sauvignon Blanc.
Reservations for their seated tastings ($20) are recommended, but they do accommodate walk-ins when possible. Guests can also enjoy wine by the glass or bottle and can take advantage of their lovely patio space, too.
3. Peake Ranch Winery
CW Score: 85.7
Overview: Peake Ranch Winery produces wine exclusively from estate-grown grapes – they have three estate vineyards that they source from. Their signature varieties include Chardonnay, Pinot Noir (including a Pinot Noir rosé), and Rhone varieties such as Grenache and Syrah.
Guests can taste these while visiting the tasting room; tastings are $50 per person. While they do not serve food in the tasting room, you’re welcome to bring a picnic to enjoy during your visit.
4. Storm Wines
CW Score: 83.5
Overview: Storm Wines can be described as old meets new – they pride themselves on their mix of Old and New World winemaking approaches. Uniquely, Storm produces several different bottlings of Sauvignon Blanc made in varying styles. Pinot Noir is their signature red wine. Guests can try these and more when visiting.
The sprawling tasting room includes ample outdoor space, including several shady spots. Tasting reservations are recommended but not required.
5. Margerum Wine Company Winery
CW Score: 81.7
Address: 59 Industrial Way Buellton, CA 93427
Overview: Margerum Wine Company Winery produces a wide range of wines, including several whites, rosé, and reds, along with fortified wines and specialty amaro. Grapes for these wines are sourced from the estate vineyards as well as select partner vineyards throughout Santa Barbara County.
The Santa Barbara tasting room has something for everyone. Wine tastings are available, as well as wine by the glass or bottle. Margerum offers seasonal small bites, and be sure to check out the gift shop during your visit.
6. CrossHatch Winery
CW Score: 81.5
Overview: CrossHatch Winery has a new tasting room now open daily in Santa Ynez, where guests can enjoy a wine tasting, wine by the glass, or purchase bottles to go. The current tasting flight is $25 for five samples, and you get to keep a souvenir glass.
CrossHatch specializes in blends, both red and white, with a heavy focus on Rhone grape varieties (such as Viognier, Grenache, and Syrah). Enjoy your wine on the sunny lawn out front of their tasting room!
7. Carhartt Family Wines
CW Score: 80.6
Address: 2939 Grand Ave Los Olivos, CA 93441
Overview: Carhartt Family Wines does not distribute their product, so a visit to the tasting room (also known as the ‘Carhartt Cabin’) is the only place to sample these wines.
This cozy space, open daily, offers a relaxed spot to taste through the Carhartt offerings. They also host weekly live music in the summertime. Carhartt Family produces a wine range of whites and reds, including a mix of single varietal wines and blends.
8. McClain Cellars
CW Score: 80.0
Overview: McClain Cellars has four different tasting rooms to check out during your visit to Santa Barbara County – two in Laguna Beach, one in Buellton, and one in Solvang.
While each location serves excellent wines (popular options include their sparkling wine and several signature white and red blends), they offer different amenities, from cellar tastings and barrel room viewings to custom artwork and corn hole tournaments. Hours vary by location, so make sure to check ahead when planning your visit.
9. The Brander Vineyard & Winery
CW Score: 78.3
Overview: Brander Vineyard and Winery is especially renowned for their Sauvignon Blanc, but they offer a nice array of whites, reds, and rosé. The tasting room is open daily and reservations are recommended, but not required.
The Brander Museum of Folk Art is also on the property, offering guests the opportunity to take in some Latin American folk art while visiting. The winery is also home to a rental property that overlooks the vineyards (bookings can be made via the website).
10. Hitching Post Wines
Overview: Hitching Post Wines extends a few different tasting options to their guests. The Traditional Tasting is a flight of five wines for $20 per person; they also offer a reserve tasting and a private tasting with the winemaker.
Lunch, appetizers, and snacks are also available at various times throughout the day. There are walking paths weaving through the property; guests are welcome to buy a bottle and bring a picnic to enjoy onsite. Dogs are also welcome outside.