Oak-dotted hillsides, winding country lanes, rows of sweetly heavy grapevines stretching as far as the eye can see – it’s hard not to gush about the Santa Ynez and Santa Maria Valleys and the Santa Rita Hills wine regions. From fancy convertibles and Harleys to ecofriendly touring vans and road bikes, you’ll find an eclectic, friendly mix of travelers sharing these bucolic back roads.
You may be inspired to visit by the Oscar-winning film Sideways, which is like real life in at least one respect: this Wine Country is ideal for do-it-yourself-exploring with friends. Locals here are friendly, from longtime landowners and farmers displaying small-town graciousness to vineyard owners who’ve fled big cities to follow their passion. Ever more winemakers are showing their passion for the vine in earth-conscious ways, implementing organic practices and biodynamic farming techniques. Many happily share their knowledge and intriguing personal histories, as well as their love of the land, in intimate vineyard tasting rooms.
With more than 100 wineries spread out across the landscape, it can seem daunting at first. But the Santa Ynez Valley’s five small towns – Los Olivos, Solvang, Buellton, Santa Ynez and Ballard – are all clustered within 10 miles of one another, so it’s easy to stop, shop and eat whenever and wherever you feel like it. Don’t worry about sticking to a regimented plan or following prescriptive wine guides. Instead, let yourself be captivated by the scenery and pull over wherever signs looks welcoming.