The day after New Year’s Day provided the perfect opportunity for a spontaneous day trip to Lompoc. For those of you who don't know where Lompoc is, it's about an hour north of Santa Barbara and an hour and a half south of Paso Robles. Vandenberg Air Force Base is a notable landmark in Lompoc, outside of the wonderful wineries and tasting rooms they have to offer. In this post I'll cover where we stayed, where we ate, how we got around and, of course, where we did our wine tasting.
We decided to drive up early in the morning from Orange County (on the road at 5:30 a.m. to be exact) and made it to our hotel in three hours flat. Thank you holiday-light traffic! I loved the last 25 minutes of the drive, when we hit the 1 from the 101 Highway. This was a new part of the drive north for me. We pretty much had the road to ourselves as we cruised along and enjoyed the scenery of rolling hills, greenery, and cows grazing in the pasture. Upon arrival, I fell in love with Lompoc’s quiet, small-town vibe. The streets were wide and open, and there were very few cars on the road. Being that we arrived a little ahead of schedule, we opted to enjoy a second breakfast at the hotel we were staying at – the Hilton Garden Inn. After breakfast we hopped in our Uber and made the 25-minute drive to our first stop of the day, Sanford Winery. One word of advice that was relevant our whole day: allow plenty of time to request an Uber. That morning, there were only two on the road that were visible on the map, but more appeared later in the day. The average wait time in town was about 10 minutes, and out at the wineries it was closer to 20 minutes.
Sanford had its beginning in the late 1960s when Richard Sanford met Michael Benedict at the Santa Barbara Sailing Center. Benedict was a botanist who spent his time studying climate and how climate influenced the distribution of plants in the world. After building a friendship, and having a shared interest in wine, Sanford and Benedict decided to partner up and start their search for the perfect place to start their vineyard. They drove up and down the coast with a thermometer outside the car window in pursuit of the perfect spot for climate, soil and terrain. Their search paid off when they found a plot of land for sale that checked all those boxes. Story goes, the land owner had purchased a house on a piece of property along with the surrounding land. He had a hunch it would one day be lakefront property, predicting the Santa Barbara watershed would be building a dam to the west of his property. Unfortunately, his hunch was wrong and the dam was built to the east. Realizing his land wasn’t going to have the value he hoped for, he put it up for sale. Sanford and Benedict founded the Sanford & Benedict Vineyard in 1971, with their first vines being planted in 1972. It is considered the oldest vineyard in the Santa Rita Hills and was the first to plant Pinot Noir. In 2001, Sanford helped establish the Santa Rita Hills AVA. To this day they have 260 acres under vine, produce approximately 20,000 cases per year, and take pride in being a 100% sustainable vineyard.
As the first appointment of the day, Daniel kindly greeted us as he opened Sanford’s doors for business. Over the next hour, Daniel led us through the “Vista” Tour & Tasting, where we got to enjoy some of their estate wines and tour the vineyards, production facility, and one of the barrel rooms. The winemaker's dog, Huxley, graciously accompanied us for most of our tour. Over the course of the tour, Daniel poured for us their Sanford & Benedict Viognier, Sanford & Benedict Chardonnay, Sanford & Benedict Pinot Noir, La Rinconada Pinot Noir, Founders Vines’ Pinot Noir, and a bonus pour of the Brut Cuvée. All of them were delicious, and, frankly, I had a hard time picking a favorite off our tasting. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are not my typical go-to varietals, but boy did this tasting change my mind! I loved each wine for different reasons, and especially appreciated the differences you could smell and taste between the Pinots. Other private experiences Sanford offers are the All-Terrain Vineyard (ATV) Experience, Walk the Block, “Savor the Santa Rita Hills” Vineyard Picnic Lunch and Wine Tasting, and Vintage Reflection: Seated Vertical Tasting. All of these experiences are by appointment only for an additional fee, and some are weather permitting. Should you not opt to do their Picnic Lunch and Wine Tasting Experience, you are able to bring your own sack lunch to eat on their patio area. If you want to try their standard flights, they offer an Estate and Sparkling tasting, for $30 and $20, respectively. Reservations are not required for these tastings, unless you have 8 or more guests. One word of advice before leaving Sanford: be sure to log-in to their Wi-Fi to request your Uber/Lyft and have the directions ready to your next location. With cell service being sporadic, this will be very helpful to your driver getting you to your next destination, especially if they aren’t familiar with the area and lose cell service on your drive out. It took about 20 minutes for our Uber to arrive to the winery, so budget your time accordingly!
Tasting room hours are Wednesday-Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., and Monday and Tuesday are by appointment only. They are closed Easter Sunday, Memorial Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. If Santa Barbara is more convenient for you, you’re in luck, Sanford also has a tasting room in downtown Santa Barbara. Tasting options, hours, and reservation requirements at this location are slightly different than Lompoc’s.
About 25 minutes away from Sanford is Melville Winery. We hopped in an Uber and headed there, enjoying more farmland, vineyard and rolling hills scenery. Before I jump into what all we tasted, let me first share with you a little history on Melville. Ron Melville, originally rooted in Sonoma County’s Knights Valley, was known for growing high-quality grapes, which were also highly sought-after. In 1989, he founded Melville Winery, which over 30 years later is still family-owned and operated. With a passion to grow cooler-climate grapes like Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah, Melville took footing in the Santa Rita Hills. It was here, in 1996, that they planted Syrah, and were the first winery in the area to do so. In 2001, they partnered with other vineyards to help establish the Santa Rita Hills AVA. To date, with 120 acres under vine, Melville focuses on organic farming and does everything by hand. In an effort to preserve the natural flavors, they don’t pump their juice after it’s pressed; instead, they use gravity flow. Their goal is to make the best-possible product while keeping their prices low. A recent accolade is their ranking amongst the top 100 wineries in the world in 2019.
Mike served us and took us through his favorite wines between the two tastings they offer. Normally you would choose between their Estate tasting or their Small Lot tasting, but this day we were privileged and able to taste some from both. We had the Sandy’s Block Pinot Noir, Anna’s Block Pinot Noir, Donna’s Block Syrah, High Density Syrah, Blanc de Blancs, and Blanc de Noir. I really enjoyed doing the side-by-side tastings of each, the similarities and differences between the wines was very notable. My personal favorite of the tasting was the High Density Syrah. Melville’s wines proved to be a good reminder of how influential the soil and sunshine are to the final product.
Melville also offers a Winegrowing 101 Exclusive Tour & Tasting, a VIP tour and tasting with owner Chad Melville, and a VIP tour and tasting with GM Kurt Ammann, all of which require advance reservation and an additional fee. If you’re looking to enjoy a bottle of their estate wine with a picnic of artisan cheese, meats, crackers and olives, along with two wine glasses to take home, you can request their Perfect Picnic Package. For general sale they do have cheese and charcuterie, or you can bring your own sack lunch to enjoy. Other key notes to Melville are children are welcome and so are dogs, provided your dog is friendly and on a leash. They have an outside picnic area for you to sit and enjoy your wine and food. Their tasting fee is $15 or $20, depending on which flight you choose. Reservations are not required for a tasting flight, unless your group is six or more people. They are open Sunday-Thursday from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. If a little farther south of Lompoc is more convenient for you, they also have a tasting room in Santa Barbara. Be sure to check their hours as they are different from Lompoc’s.
Lunch - Central Coast Specialty
Between Melville and Turiya we needed a lunch break. We had heard great things from multiple people about Central Coast Specialty, so we ordered another Uber and stopped there to grab a bite to eat. The people were right, Central Coast Specialty didn’t disappoint! Their menu offers a wide array of sandwiches and salads, including some breakfast items. They also operate as a deli, so you can purchase meats and cheeses to take home, as well as local beers and wines. Everyone ordered their own sandwich and we ate inside the shop. Here’s what we had: Specialty tri-tip sandwich, Traditional tri-tip sandwich, and Farmer’s Daughter chicken sandwich. All of us loved our sandwiches and felt quite satisfied after our meal, especially for about $10 a piece. They are open Monday-Wednesday from 10:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m., Thursday-Saturday from 10:00 a.m.-7:00 p.m., and Sunday from 10:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m. (Photo courtesy of Central Coast Specialty Foods)
About a 2-minute drive, or 12-minute walk, from Central Coast Specialty is Turiya. This was our last stop of the day and we were looking forward to trying more of Angela’s wines. We had met her at a wine festival last year in Seal Beach (a city bordering Los Angeles and Orange counties) and said one day we’d visit her tasting room. A year later, here we are! Angela took us through her history, her barrel room, and some of her current wines. She had an unconventional start to her passion for wine and winemaking. Suffice it to say, a personal breakup and a bottle of Sangiovese is credited for re-introducing wine into Angela’s life. As a newly single mom, she got involved in marketing and writing about wine and wineries, and later was ready for a new challenge, becoming a winemaker. Fed up with wasting money on wine she bought at the store that she didn’t like, she was inspired to make wine she knew she would love. In 2008, her wine journey began. Some of her first wines were made at Central Coast Wine Services in Santa Maria. She loved her time there and learned a lot being surrounded by other more-experienced winemakers. She knew she wanted to work with more Bordeaux and obscure varietals, and she wanted to get away from the fruit-bomb, high-octane wines she had been tasting. All of her wines are unfiltered and made in a very natural process with no sulfur or protein added. She is a one-woman show and is rocking it!
In her tasting room in the Lompoc Wine Factory, we had the whole place to ourselves. She shares the space with a couple other winemakers and it has a nice open and inviting setting. During our tasting we got to try her Dark and Dreamy, Divine Force, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Truth Seeker. Most of her wines are red blends, and she is tasting a wide range of vintages. We even got to try one of her bottles from 2012. My favorite from the visit was the Divine Force, which is 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Sangiovese and 20% Petit Verdot. After our tasting at the wine bar, she took us back to where her barrels are stored. In the barrel room, she showed us her hand-stamped barrels and we got to taste some of her Merlot straight out of the barrel. Here are some fun extras they have: In the tasting room there’s an area with musical instruments that you can pick up and play at any time during your visit. In the barrel room, there’s a stage which can be used for performances, or the room can be rented out for special events, like holiday parties. Cheese platters are available, if ordered in advance, and outside food is allowed in the tasting room. They are kid and dog friendly. She offers a variety of private tastings such as a Private Barrel Tasting with the Winemaker, Winemaker for a Day, and Library Tasting Flight, all of which require advance reservation and are for an additional fee. If you want to do a General Tasting, it’s $25 and requires an appointment. Angela doesn’t have set hours and is there by appointment only. Be sure to call in advance when you want to visit Turiya.
After a day wine tasting, we opted to do dinner at our hotel and shared some entrees and a salad. We were tired after being up early and having a fun-filled day being first-timers exploring the area. Lompoc, you treated us well! Let’s just say I’ll be on the lookout for more wines from the Santa Rita Hill AVA next time I’m wine shopping at the store. I look forward to coming back and doing another day trip or weekend adventure exploring more wineries. When I do, you can count on me to share my experience with you. And vice versa, when you head to Lompoc for your own wine adventure, be sure to let me know where all you visit and about your experience. Cheers wine lovers!