For visitors to Southern California, there is such a plethora of great activities and places to see that it can be difficult to choose where to go when you have limited time available. It helps to narrow down your focus. If you love to travel and experience new things, and you happen to also be a wine aficionado who loves luxury too, well now you’re talking. And I know of a terrific place that will check all of your boxes. The Fess Parker Winery and Vineyard would be a great place to start.
Located in beautiful Santa Barbara County, the Fess Parker Winery and Vineyards showcases some of the best food and wine and hospitality Santa Barbara has to offer. Founded by the late Fess Parker, a Hollywood idol from the 50’s and 60’s best known for playing Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone in much beloved TV series, Mr. Parker in his later life built his real estate development business into a thriving hospitality and winery enterprise, which now encompasses several properties, including the Fess Parker Resort Hotel in Santa Barbara, the Winery in Santa Ynez and also the Fess Parker Wine Country Inn and Spa in Los Olivos.
The advantage of this to the travel and wine enthusiast is that Fess Parker properties are kind of a one-stop shop where one can enjoy a wine tasting, tour the winery and see the winemaking process in action, have a gourmet meal in one his restaurants, go horseback riding, have an overnight stay in the rustic Wine Country Inn and even indulge in a spa treatment at the Inn and Spa, all in one day.
In fact, a visit to the Fess Parker Winery would be an ideal and very manageable day trip for tourists based in Los Angeles, or if you wish to spend more time in Santa Barbara, one could use the Wine Country Inn as a base for a more thorough, multi-day exploration of the Santa Ynez wine country and ranching scene. Or one could choose to do a little bit of wine country and the beach by staying at the Fess Parker Resort in Santa Barbara by the ocean, and take a short trip to Santa Ynez valley to check out the winery.
First a little bit about the wines. The Fess Parker Winery has over 600 acres of vineyards on four different sites. Under the leadership of son Eli Parker, and their current head winemaker, Santa Barbara native Blair Fox, they have produced many distinguished wines, including many award winners as well. A great example of the sophistication of wines they are making would be their 1993 Santa Barbara County Syrah, which the Boston Globe named “one the best Syrah’s in the world.” Fess Parker has also distinguished itself in the Burgundian varietals, including their 1996 American Tradition Reserve, Marcella’s Vineyard Chardonnay, which was scored 90 points the Wine Spectator, and also their 1997 Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir which also scored 90 points from the Wine Enthusiast. Like many other Santa Barbara wineries, their Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs are well regarded year after year. Other award winning varieties have included their 2012 Rodney’s Vineyard Dry Riesling (91 points from the Wine Enthusiast) and their 2011 Rodney’s Vineyard Viognier (90 points from the Wine Advocate).
The Fess Parker Winery also has several great tasting rooms, including a newly renovated, elegant VIP tasting room where discerning guests can get away from the weekend crowd, and where members of their Wine Club have exclusive use of the VIP lounge where they can personally interact with staff from the winemaking team. They also offer several different levels of tours of the facility and wine making process, including groups tours and tasting experiences, as well as private tours and a reserve tasting experience where guests can sample some of their more exclusive varieties.
For my money though, I would go with the Private Food and Wine Exploration option, where after a full tour of the winery, you get to experience a detailed private tasting of their current offerings in the barrel room hosted by one of their Tasting Room Consultants where the history and story of the Fess Parker Winery is shared. The in house Chef, Barrett Crandall, then prepares a 5 course food pairing option to showcase and explore how food and wine work harmoniously together. This option requires a two week advance reservation.
Another great aspect of the Fess Parker winery is their outreach. Even if you can’t make it to their winery in Santa Barbara personally, they host nationwide events to bring their craft to you. On January 18, 2014, Fess Parker will be participating with 35 other boutique producers in the Pinot Days in New York City at City Winery in Manhattan. It’s a celebration of all things Pinot Noir where people can experience over a 100 different domestically produced Pinots. Then on January 23rd, they will also be participating at the Stars of Santa Barbara event at the 5-star Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills. This is a wine tasting and charity auction benefiting the TJ Martell Foundation. Well worth a look if you’re in the area.
Another great option to consider when visiting the Fess Parker Winery in Santa Ynez is to spend the weekend relaxing at their Wine Country Inn & Spa in the quaint nearby town of Los Olivos. This luxurious hotel and resort which looks a bit like a Victorian era inn, is a first class treat! The Inn features plush and elegantly decorated guest rooms and boasts an excellent hotel restaurant named Petros, featuring Greek themed cuisine by master chef Petros Benekos. Not to be missed either are the spa treatments at the hotel spa, near the pool side of the property. There you can enjoy a hot stone massage, or perhaps the Vino Therapy Massage, or a purifying facial.
Of course while enjoying a luxurious and relaxing weekend at the Fess Parker Wine Country Inn, you would probably want to sample more than just one winery. And there are a lot great little wineries in the area to explore, including among other notables, Alma Rosa, Sunstone, Beckman and Carhartt Vineyards.
The Santa Ynez Valley is a region with tons to explore. In addition to the numerous wine tasting rooms which could keep you busy for days, you could visit the quaint little Danish colony town of Solvang, which abounds with great restaurants, bakeries, art galleries and museums. There are also many other gourmet dining options in the small towns of Santa Ynez, Los Olivos and Buellton. There is also Lake Cachuma where boating and fishing options could tempt the outdoorsman, wonderful hiking trails in the nearby mountains, no less than 4 excellent golf courses close by and plenty of bike riding and horseback riding options. There are several private ranches which offer rides, including Rancho Oso and Quicksilver and even the Return to Freedom Wild Horse Sanctuary for the animal lovers out there. Both the cities of Solvang and close by Santa Maria host nationally renowned theater festivals in the summer, the outdoor Solvang Theaterfest and the PCPA Theaterfest.
In summary, there is an embarrassment of riches to enjoy the small but scenic Santa Ynez Valley. Certainly far more than anyone could see in just a weekend.
One of the final considerations to be made before booking your next vacation or weekend in Santa Barbara County is ground transportation. After all, if you’re going to plan a luxury weekend, and particularly if you plan on doing a lot of wine tasting, why not double your pleasure and negate any risks of driving yourself by hiring a limousine service, or booking a private chauffeured luxury van, especially if traveling with a small group.
There are couple good local limousine and tours services which can be recommended, including EOS Santa Barbara, also A and J Limousine. If you are coming from Los Angeles or LAX for your visit, I highly recommend Brilliant Transportation of Culver City, which specializes in luxury transportation featuring custom Mercedes Benz Sprinter vans. It’s a great option for small groups and they provide transfers from L.A. to Santa Barbara/Santa Ynez, as well as custom touring packages upon request.
Happy Trails and Bottom’s Up!