Soak up a Santa Rita wine getaway

For beautiful scenery and even better wines, head to these hills in California's Santa Barbara County

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  • The Santa Rita Valley which is often visited by fingers of fog spreads out below the Lafond Winery and Vineyards.

    The Santa Rita Valley in California

    Chris Leschinsky

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Check out the map put out by the Sta. Rita Hills Winegrowers Alliance. Floating on a bed of fog above Lompoc is a face - with cheeks puffed and lips pursed - blowing for all it's worth. The cooling breezes and maritime influences that wash over the region help create ideal conditions for the late-ripening, moody, and quite literally thin-skinned Pinot Noir grape.

"There's a sequence to how the day progresses here," says Bruce McGuire, who arrived in the area in 1981 and is winemaker at Lafond Winery and Vineyards. "The fog leaves at 9:30. The wind comes up at 12:30 or 1. So we have a cool wind blowing when areas farther inland are getting hot. That means we can leave our grapes exposed when in other spots they would just get fried."

With eight tasting rooms open on a regular basis and others by appointment, the region is big enough to sample a variety of winemaking approaches but not so large that you become overwhelmed by choices.

Lompoc - once known for its flower fields, its rocket launches, and its federal penitentiary - is the de facto Dijon for this mini Burgundy. In a nondescript area tucked behind a Home Depot, a cluster of independent winemakers is lovingly called the Lompoc Wine Ghetto - three words that I never expected to see together.

From Lompoc, it's a short way south on State 1 to Santa Rosa Road. Various crops still grow here, but the vineyards now define the landscape. In fall the hills glow gold, the leaves take on a reddish cast, and vines hang heavy with grape clusters. And many of those vines are just now maturing, which promises great things to come.

"What we've already produced has been encouraging," McGuire says, "but it's at 10 to 15 years that the vines mature. You get more depth and texture. So they're now just hitting their stride and will only get better and better."




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