Wine Tasting or Wine Experience?
Which would you prefer? If you’re like me, a great experience is what wine tasting and food touring is all about. This year, include Babcock Winery and the Sta. Rita Hills AVA (American Viticulture Area) in your tour plans and you will surely enjoy a great wine experience.
Recently, I drove up the coast to Lompoc to tour the Babcock Winery and learn about the newest releases from Bryan Babcock, owner and winemaker. Bryan is the son of Walter and Mona Babcock, original owners of the famous Walt’s Wharf restaurant in Seal Beach and the Babcock Winery. Both of the restaurant and the wine are featured on the Old Town Seal Beach Food Tour.
By tractor, Bryan took us into the vineyard to see how he meticulously grows and cares for the vines. He explained his latest vineyard farming techniques that saves 30% of the farming effort compared to traditional approaches, thus keeping prices low for all of us! This “ground breaking” technique has a federal patent pending and is explained in more detail by going to the Babcock Winery website or by experiencing the vineyard first hand (call ahead for tour dates).
Bryan took us straight from the vineyard to the barrel room to taste his latest creations, including “Radical” Pinot Noir from the Radian Vineyard and “Slice of Heaven” Pinot Noir from Rita’s Crown Vineyard (my favorite of the whole day!). From the barrel room we proceeded to the tasting room, where I found two extraordinary Chardonnays, the 2015 Top Cream (estate grown) and 2015 “The Limit” from the Radian Vineyard, plus two more standout Pinot Noirs including the estate grown 2015 “Ocean’s Ghost” and the 2014 Sta. Rita Hills, a cuvee from grapes grown in the Sta. Rita Hills AVA. Bryan presents an extraordinary variety of excellent wines, so you cannot go wrong, no matter which tasting menu you choose! If you’re wondering about the “Sta.”, the original AVA name was Santa Rita Hills, until they received notice of a trademark infringement from an Australian wine maker. The solution was to simply abbreviate Santa to Sta.
Bryan is an innovator, both in farming and winemaking. In his early years of winemaking, Bryan discovered that the Lompoc Valley had ideal weather for growing Pinot Noir grapes. He pursued his vision to create the highest quality Pinot Noirs, for which the whole area is now famous. In fact, Wine Spectator magazine (September 2017) rated the 2015 Santa Barbara County Pinot Noirs, on average, 90-93 points. That is equal to the rating for the highly esteemed Pinot Noir regions of Santa Lucia Highlands and Sonoma.
The prestigious James Beard Foundation once named Bryan to their list of the “Top Ten Small Production Winemakers in the World”. In a statement about the award, David Moore wrote, “Bryan Babcock best exemplifies the traits I look for in a great winemaker. The quality of Bryan’s wine speaks for itself, yet it is his personal commitment to excellence that stands out so much. His relentless experimentation, his willingness to explore the possibilities with so many grape varieties, and his aesthetic are a world apart from the usual American approach to wine-making.”
Bryan gives credit to his wife Lisa for establishing the “Best Tasting Room on the Planet”. It occupies the old barrel room with an adjacent outdoor dining patio that is perfect for your picnic. The tasting room is ultra-large and contains numerous rooms that feature intriguing displays of Americana memorabilia and antiques. While inside, you can pick up a game of pool, settle down at a game table or stretch out on a cozy couch. Everything is designed to help you relax and stay awhile!
Are you ready to enjoy this wine experience? Your tour of the Sta. Rita Hills AVA starts at the junction of Highway 246 and Highway 101 in Buellton, CA., just 45 minutes north of Santa Barbara. I recommend the scenic loop through the Lompoc Valley, going west on Highway 246 to Lompoc and returning via Santa Rosa Road to Highway 101. Start your tour with lunch or take a grab and go picnic from Industrial Eats in Buellton (try one of their specialty pizzas, smoked meats, or local seafood). On your way to Babcock Winery, enjoy a stop at Ken Brown, Melville or Foley wineries. Coming back, along Santa Rosa Road, stop and visit Sanford winery. You will find many other winery options at the Sta. Rita Hills website. While visiting Buellton, you may also enjoy a visit to the Firestone Walker Brewery. Better make this a full weekend trip. To mark a special occasion visit the Ballard Inn and/or enjoy a superb meal at their Gathering Table restaurant.
See a tour map here: https://goo.gl/maps/wCQVv4oCWz52
Can’t make it to Lompoc this year? Locally, you will find a full selection of Babcock wines at Walt’s Wharf, 201 Main Street in Seal Beach. They offer free corkage for all Babcock wines you bring into the restaurant, so stock up! The Santa Barbara Wine Collective, a tasting room in the “Funk Zone” of Santa Barbara, also features Babcock wines among others from Santa Barbara County. Seal Beach Food Tours conducts walking food tours every week along Historic Main Street in Seal Beach, including a stop at Walt’s Wharf to sample the Babcock Chardonnay and Walt’s signature crab cakes.
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by Leigh Sentenac – Owner – Seal Beach Food Tours