One of my absolute favorite spots in California is the Santa Ynez Valley. With rolling hills, fields of agriculture and quaint towns it’s the perfect place to spend the weekend. Nestled in the adjoining Santa Rita Hills is the town of Lompoc. Even thought it’s a mere 20 minute drive to Solvang, Los Alamos and the like I somehow never made the short trek to visit it. That all changed this past weekend when I received a last minute opportunity to join the International Food, Wine & Travel Writer Association in covering one of the premier events of the area – Wine & Fire.
The Santa Rita Hills have been home to vineyards since the early 1970’s but in recent years the production has significantly increased. Many of the area wineries belong to the Sta. Rita Hills Winegrowers Alliance and are eager for the world to discover the various wines they produce. Out of this alliance grew Wine & Fire – a weekend spent celebrating the fruits of the region.
The festivities began on Friday evening with a Barn Party at Hilliard Bruce Vineyards and Winery. The winery is located in the heart of the Santa Rita Hills and offered a beautiful setting for the opening celebration.
Over 20 wineries were on hand providing exclusive tastings of their offerings. In the cool evening I strolled around sampling various reds from such local spots as Babcock Winery & Vineyards and Flying Goat Cellars. Bello Forno Catering was also on hand offering wood-fired pizza. Made with such ingredients as prosciutto, caramelized onions and tart cherries they were a tasty accompaniment to the wine.
The next morning I headed back to Hilliard Bruce for a seminar and luncheon.
The seminar highlighted Chardonnay and Pinot Noir offered from wineries located along Highway 246 (the main road connecting the Santa Rita and Santa Ynez Valleys). It was a detailed 2 hour session offering insight from the winemakers themselves. Plenty of tastings were available and I particularly enjoyed the Chardonnay from the host winery, Hilliard Bruce.
After the seminar we were treated to a luncheon catered by the Hitching Post II – made famous in the film, Sideways. I enjoyed a sampling of items including a chicken tamale, grilled pork chop and quinoa salad. The food was fresh and flavorful and the tender and juicy pork chop was a true standout.
The weekend culminated in the Grand Tasting at La Purisima Mission. Set in an idyllic grove on the historic mission grounds it was a delightful event. Over 4o wineries were on hand offering several tastings apiece and there were various local eateries supplying flavorful bites.
I made sure to visit every restaurant to sample their offerings and a true highlight of the night was the sopa offered by Scratch Kitchen in Lompoc. Topped with freshly grilled shrimp it was a delicious, spicy bite. I definitely plan on visiting the restaurant on my next visit to the area.
As for the wine, I was in a Pinot Noir mood and spent the evening trying various offerings. My absolute favorite was the 2013 Buena Aventura from Sant Wines, a small winery out of Camarillo.
Full bodied with hints of cherry and spice it was fantastic and was the only wine I returned to for a second taste.
Wine & Fire was a wonderful event highlighting the vineyards of the Santa Rita Hills. Nestled in one of the most beautiful corners of the state it’s a region that is worth visiting time and again. I already can’t wait to return.