You've seen it in the Oscar-winning movie, "Sideways;" now see it for yourself

Matthew Jaffe

Read Western Wanderings in the April2004 issue of Sunset for more on the post-"Sideways" SantaYnez.

Near the baptismal font at Old Mission Santa Inés, a smalllandscape painting portrays a valley that looks much as the SantaYnez Valley would have when this mission was built some 200 yearsago. Lines of mountains drop down to rolling foothills. A brightsun lights a river shimmering gold. The painting seems to mirrorthe classic California landscape that endures in this valley justover the mountains from Santa Barbara. Or, to a modern visitor, itcould easily be a wine label, invoking as it does a valley that hasbecome one of the world's top wine regions.

Today, the Santa Ynez Valley produces a diverse range of superbvarietal wines, including Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Syrah. Withthe wines have come other sophisticated pleasures. Once mainlyranch country, the valley now supports some great restaurants andcharming country inns. Yet it hasn't forgotten its cowboy past.

The tasting room experience here remains relaxed, wherewinemakers often do the pouring and are eager to talk with youabout the basics of Santa Barbara County's varietals or the latestSyrah clones. And when you have enjoyed your wine, there is alwaysthe country itself. In spring, the hills shine an almost Irishgreen; patches of California poppies glow brilliant yellow orange.Above the hills rise high purple mountains; below, the valley'sundulating contours are outlined by the white fences of horse farmsand rows of vineyard grapes. Small towns -- Los Olivos, Ballard,Solvang, Santa Ynez -- retain a powerful, unhurried charm.

"The draw of this place is its simplicity," says Jim Fiolek,vice president of Zaca Mesa Winery, as he looks out at thelengthening shadows of the oak trees. "You get one harvest a year,and you're inexorably moved into that rhythm. There's an expansionof time here. It's just a great place to watch a day go by."

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