For those wine enthusiasts who love to make weekend jaunts to the Santa Ynez or the Santa Rita Hills, there are many ways to visit the Santa Barbara County Wineries. Recently I discovered a really fun and relaxing way to tour the wineries and that is through Stagecoach Wine Tours.
What makes this a unique way to visit the wine country is owner Eric John Reynolds’ passion and knowledge of the area really shines through. One does not visit the big commercial wineries; rather the day tour gives you a broad range of different types of wineries with an emphasis on boutique wineries. The tours enable one not to have a designated driver, as someone else is doing all the driving for you.
Eric Reynolds is an entrepreneur with a very eclectic background. He first owned a coffee house in Santa Barbara. This was before the coffee rage took hold. Next he owned a resort clothing company in Santa Barbara. Drawn to the epicurean lifestyle of food, wine, art and travel, Reynolds moved up to the Santa Ynez Valley where in 2001 he started the first ever wine touring company in the area. With his contacts in the wine business in 2005 he opened the first wine bar in Solvang, Cabana Cellars, which he sold in 2007 to its present owners. Most people are familiar with this bar, known today as the Wandering Dog Wine Bar, and it is one of my favorites in Solvang.
In 2010, due to increased tour volume, Reynolds brought on long time friend Tyler Tomblin as Vice President.
Eric’s philosophy best describes his tours, “sharing a glass of wine is a way to bond with friends.” We certainly did that on our tour!
There is a wide selection of wineries, which Reynolds chooses from to personalize your tour. These wineries include private wineries that the general public cannot get into, boutique and medium sized wineries. Reynolds will match the wineries based on the type of group or whether someone is stocking their cellar. Some of the wineries are Curtis, Ken Brown, Demetria, Sanford, Dierberg, Rusack, Mosby, Melville, Qupe, Tantara and Andrew Murray. Those wineries that can only be toured through Stagecoach Co. Wine Tours are Bella Cavalli, Grassini, Harrison Clarke, and Refugio Ranch. These are based on availability at the time.
The most popular tour is the Wine Lovers Tour. This tour includes four winery stops where you visit the tasting rooms and vineyards and an enjoyable picnic lunch from New Frontiers Marketplace at one of the wineries, which is normally Bella Cavalli, Demetria or Rusack. Having now been to all three, you cannot go wrong with lunch at any of these wineries. While sitting in the gardens of Bella Cavalli you might be greeted by one of the Quarter Horses from the ranch, enjoying the magnificent views as you dine on the patio under the oak trees at Demetria or just sitting on the pleasantly landscaped patio at Rusack will enhance the relaxing experience of the day.
My husband and I joined our friends Tenley and Pete Fohl and Marci Kladik for a Wine Lovers Tour. Eric’s sister, Kelly was our informative and energetic tour guide who immediately zeroed in on our wine interests. Our group was very engaged as we visited Sanford, Mosby, Bella Cavalli and Rusack. Although I had tasted the wine at Sanford, I had not been to any of the four wineries. This was a treat for me. What I liked was the fact that we had a group of wineries that ranged from the Santa Rita Hills to the warmer climate of the Santa Ynez Valley with a broad variety in styles of wines.
Our tour started with Sanford Winery and Vineyards where we had a more in depth tour of the winery. Sanford is synonymous with Santa Rita Hills because it was a forerunner to the area. As a pioneer in the region, Sanford is known for Pinot Noir. The first Pinot Noir was planted in the Santa Rita Hills in 1971 and was first bottled in 1976.
At Sanford we sampled the Winemaker’s Flight, which consisted of the La Rinconada and La Entrada Chardonnays, Fleur Du Domaine a white Rhone blend of Viognier and Roussanne, The La Rinconada Pinot Noir and the Sanford & Benedict Pinot Noir. My favorites were the La Rinconada Chardonnay with its light creamy, almost buttery crisp flavors and the big bold Sanford & Benedict Pinot Noir with hints of currants. As I am a lover of those pink wines I had to sample the Pinot Noir-Vin Gris off the Classic Flight. By far my top choice at Sanford, this is an excellent and very balanced Rosé.
From Sanford we traveled to Mosby Winery and Vineyard that is located on a Spanish Land Grant in Buellton. Specializing in Italian varietals, owner and winemaker Bill Mosby turned to wine making after a career as a dentist. Like most wineries in the Santa Rita Hills, Mosby started off by planting Pinot Noir grapes. After taking a trip to Italy in the 1980s, Mosby was enthralled with the Italian wines and in 1983 began planting Italian varietals in his vineyard.
I was quite impressed with Mosby’s wines. The wines are colorful and to celebrate their bright palates, many of the wines have the most delightful vibrant labels. Italian artist, Robert Sherer, created these labels specifically for the various varietals. The artwork is reminiscent of the works of Chagall as they are almost like a stained glass window.
I highly recommend the 2011 Pinot Grigio, a refreshingly crisp, citrusy smooth and balanced wine, the 2011 Rosato di Cannonau with its hints of strawberries, the spicy yet balanced 2007 Sangiovese and the 2006 Primativo, which is known as the Italian Zinfandel is jammy and spicy. The 2006 La Seduzione is made from the Umbria grape known as Lagrein and the first to be produced in the United States displays a very velvety and silky finish. One must not leave the Mosby tasting room without trying the luscious Sofia, a raspberry dessert wine that exudes the aroma of raspberries.
The most relaxing part of our Stagecoach Wine Tour was our picnic lunch at Bella Cavalli Farms and Vineyard. Our visit to Bella Cavalli began with a greeting from Doodle, a buckskin Quarter Horse. This gentle soul set the stage for our peaceful repast.
Sitting under the shade of the oak trees watching Quarter Horses pass by encouraged us to linger longer. New Frontiers Marketplace in Solvang provided the lunches and most of our group opted for the Chefs Salad with the Lemon Herb Dressing.
Joanne and Jeff Lockwood, owners of Bella Cavalli graciously presented their wines. The wine that most intrigued me was the 2012 Bianco Rosso, a white Cabernet Sauvignon. This was the first time I had sipped a white cabernet. The wine reminded me of a Rosé from the south of France. It exudes hints of peaches. Bella Cavalli makes an excellent Viognier that notes pineapple.
If you love barbeque sauce Bella Cavalli’s General Store sells a dynamite sauce called Doc Jack’s Original Formula Grillin’ Soss.
Our final destination was Rusack Vineyards. Of all the wineries we visited Rusack was the busiest. Sitting outside on the patio at this Ballard Canyon winery was a perfect ending to a fabulous day. My top choice at Rusack was the 2012 Rosé, which is created from both the Syrah and Sangiovese grapes. This Rosé is both fragrant and fruity. One cannot leave Rusack without sampling the aptly named Soul of the Vine Dessert Wine. This 2010 Semillon based wine, which has a rich golden color, is as luscious as honey. It was the ideal finale to a spectacular tour of the region.
Touring Santa Barbara County Wine Country with Stagecoach Wine Tours promises to give wine connoisseurs the most diverse yet all encompassing tour of the region.
For more information:
Stagecoach Co. Wine Tours.
Brands Carried: Stagecoach Wine Tours
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Stagecoach Co. Wine Tour
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