This is a guest blog post by Andrew Murray, winemaker and owner of Andrew Murray Vineyards in the Santa Ynez Valley in Santa Barbara County. I have tasted several of the Andrew Murray wines and have enjoyed them very much over the years. I recently ran into Andrew Murray at a wine tasting in San Francisco. He mentioned that he would love to be a guest blogger and post a description of the wine country where he lives and makes his wines. What a great idea I thought, because it has been a few years since we have been to the Santa Barbara wine country and I need to be reminded of the wonder of this great wine region.
From Andrew: Nestled between the San Rafael and Santa Ynez mountains, the Santa Ynez Valley is just a short 40 minutes above picturesque Santa Barbara, California. Reminiscent of the French Riviera, Santa Barbara has long been famous as a Hollywood retreat and a second home for scions of industry. John F. Kennedy honeymooned with Jackie at the San Ysidro Ranch, and the famous photos of Albert Einstein on a bicycle were taken in sunny Santa Barbara.
Though the quiet Santa Ynez Valley is a bit more modest than its flossy Santa Barbara cousin, it too has seen its share of stardom. Michael Jackson’s infamous ‘Neverland’ Ranch is located out Figueroa Mountain Road, and stars such as Bo Derek, John Corbett, David Crosby, and Cheryl Ladd are frequently seen going about their daily lives at the market or gym.
But the Santa Ynez Valley’s growing popularity is more closely associated with the wine industry, and its increasing reputation as a cycling destination. The valley’s undulating hills and varied micro-climates make it an ideal location for vineyards. The unusual geography of Santa Barbara’s coastline (which yields a south-facing beach), produces cool, foggy regions, while just a few miles away the varied topography drenches grapes in sunshine on steep hillside slopes.
The result: World-renowned Syrah, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Viognier. One can find plenty of other varieties as well: Grenache Blanc, Mourvedre, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Riesling, and Gewurztraminer among them. The county’s first winery, Santa Barbara Winery, was established in 1962, while the first estate winery, Firestone Vineyard, was established in 1972. Since then, our little industry has grown to a multi-million-dollar global business. We founded Andrew Murray Vineyards in 1990 as one of the few vineyards dedicated exclusively to Rhône varieties. Our Los Olivos tasting room was one of only 8 or 10 when we opened it in 1998. Today, we are surrounded by 20+ tasting rooms, and the number is growing. Yet, throughout this extraordinary growth, the valley has retained its small-town charm and rustic appeal.
Where there is great wine, one can typically find great food as well. Famed chef, Bradley Ogden, recently opened Root 246 in Solvang, and The Ballard Inn’s Chef Budi Kazali, formerly of Blue Ginger, has become a fixture in the California culinary scene. Up the street at Brothers, the dynamic duo of Jeff and Matt Nichols serve up gourmet burgers, tuna tartar appetizers, and perfectly prepared steak and seafood entrees. Locals and visitors alike reap the benefit of their training at Spago’s and Ocean Avenue. These are just a few of the exceptional dining options available after a day of wine tasting in Los Olivos or amongst the vineyards.
With its unusually temperate climate, California is an active state, and Santa Barbara Wine Country is no exception. Most recently, the Santa Ynez Valley has become home to world-class cycling. Amgen’s Tour of California has repeatedly come to the valley for its spring time trial. The likes of Lance Armstrong, Levi Leipheimer, and Andy Schleck have trained and raced on our rural roads. Former Olympian Chris Carmichael has set up shop in Santa Ynez with his Carmichael Training System (CTS). Participants shuttle between the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Ynez hills for training. For the more casual cyclist or off-road enthusiasts, rental bicycles and tours are available from a number of local proprietors.
I fall into the latter category, but I must admit I’ve caught the fever. Encouraged by friends, I dipped my toes into the cycling waters myself. I’ve ridden the March Solvang Century three times now, and even participated in a couple of triathlons. After a long day wrestling with the bottling line, there are few things more refreshing than a vigorous ride on the hills surrounding our winery.
Whether one prefers exercising only the arm muscles required to lift a wine glass, or an active respite from city life, Santa Barbara Wine Country is a welcoming and satisfying destination. Its unique location offers a broad spectrum of activities from beach to bikes, from hiking to art gallery strolling, and from sipping to savoring. While I’ll not be winning the Tour de France anytime soon, it’s difficult not to smile each night as I crawl into bed knowing how blessed I am to live in such a place.