When it comes to wine in California, the northern regions of Napa Valley and Sonoma County often get most of the attention, and with good reason. They have been producing world-renowned wines for decades. However, the Santa Ynez Valley region in Southern California boasts a number of exceptional wineries that are producing award-winning wines in their own right.
The following are two stand-out wineries to visit in this fertile region of Southern California.
Fess Parker Winery & Vineyard
Located in Los Olivos, Fess Parker Winery & Vineyard was founded by the acclaimed Hollywood actor of the same name, famous for playing frontiersmen Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett in the 1950s and 1960s. Fess Parker left Hollywood life in the 1970s and eventually purchased a ranch that would become Fess Parker Winery and Vineyards. Following his death in 2010, the winery remained in his family and went on to continue producing a number of award-winning wines.
The winery’s selection of red wines boasts a number of exceptional Pinot Noirs, including the 2016 Pommard Clone Pinot Noir, which Wine Advocate awarded 92 points. Aged for 17 months in French oak barrels, this Point Noir features aromas of black cherry and baking spices as well as a variety of flavors from cranberry and cherry to vanilla and milk chocolate.
Fess Parker Winery’s red wines also include the 2016 Rodney’s Vineyard Syrah, which earned 91 points from Wine Enthusiast. Named after Fess Parker’s late son-in-law, the wine is aged exclusively in French oak barrels for 20 months, and stands out for its notes of cherry, clove cassis, and spice.
Meanwhile, the winery’s award-winning white wines include the 2016 Marcella’s White Wine. With 90 points from Wine Enthusiast, this wine features aromas of jasmine and honeysuckle as well as flavors of nectarine, white peach, green apple, almond, and vanilla, among others.
Visitors to Fess Parker Winery & Vineyard can sample these and other wines during one of the winery’s numerous tastings. In addition to basic tastings, the winery offers a full Tasting and Tour Experience, which includes a tour of the VIP Barrel Room and an explanation of the wine-aging process and cooperage selection.
Guests are also welcome at a number of special events throughout the year, including festivals, barbecues, and dinners. Members of the winery’s Wine Club gain access to exclusive events such as the Fess Parker Wine Club Member Pick Up Party.
A boutique winery located in the hills of Ballard Canyon, Rusack Vineyards maintains a commitment to producing high-quality wines with grapes sourced either in Ballard Canyon or in other nearby regions of California. Over the years, the winery has garnered a number of accolades for its wines, especially its excellent Pinot Noirs, such as the 2015 vintage from the Solomon Hills Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley, which benefits from great soil and a Pacific Ocean climate. Earning 92 points from Vinous and 90+ from Wine Advocate, this wine features violet aromas and flavors of raspberry and black cherry.
The award-winning Pinot Noirs also include the 2015 Santa Rita Hills Reserve, which earned 91 points from Wine Enthusiast. Aged for 11 months in French oak barrels, the wine features aromas of red raspberries, red cherries, and cola as well as flavors of cinnamon and black cherries.
Rusack Vineyards also produces a Syrah that earned 93 points from Vinous and 90+ from Wine Advocate. The 2015 Ballard Canyon Estate Reserve Syrah has a unique blend of aromas, including blueberry, boysenberry, and cinnamon. The wine then provides vanilla, anise, and dark chocolate flavors on the palate.
Also excelling at making white wines, Rusack has earned recognition for its 2016 Santa Maria Valley Reserve Chardonnay, which received 92 points each from Wine Advocate, Wine Enthusiast, Vinous, and Wine Spectator. The grapes from this wine were sourced from the Sierra Madre and Bien Nacido vineyards in the Santa Maria Valley AVA, which offers a long, cool growing season. Barrel aged for 10 months, this wine has scents of Meyer lemon, orange zest, and ripe stone fruits.
Other white wines include the 2017 Ballard Canyon Estate Sauvignon Blanc. Earning 90 points from both Wine Advocate and Vinous, this wine stands out as the winery’s first Sauvignon Blanc made exclusively from grapes grown in Ballard Canyon. The result is a fruit-scented white wine with flavors of jasmine blossom and caramelized pineapple.
Rusack invites guests to sample these and other wines in the tasting room or outside on the beautiful redwood deck built around four ancient oak trees. Visitors can purchase cheese plates or bring a picnic to enjoy with the wines in this beautiful setting with views of the vineyards and rolling hills.
The above two wineries offer the perfect start to your foray into the Santa Ynez Valley’s bountiful wine country. When you visit this fertile wine region, don’t be afraid to stop by smaller wineries or wander off the beaten path as you drive through the hills of this region. You may find that the Santa Ynez Valley becomes one of your favorite places to go vineyard hopping.