Did you know that in the heart of Santa Barbara County's wine country, 13 fantastic wineries line a 30-mile stretch of road between Santa Maria and Los Olivos? Known as the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail, this area is perfect for a day trip or weekend escape to enjoy exceptional wine and beautiful views.

Since Rancho Sisquoc Winery first opened its doors in the early 1970s near the historic, and still functioning, San Ramon Chapel, the area became a popular destination for travelers and locals looking for peacefully meandering roads with horses trotting in the hills, cattle grazing in fields of wildflowers, old barns and live oak trees loaded with sphagnum moss and mistletoe. Each winery has its own personality and character, making each a unique adventure to experience.

Foxen Canyon Wine Trail isn’t just about pretty landscapes, though. From these historic barns and palatial estates, winemakers are crafting wines that consistently rate 90+ scores from respected wine journals. FOXEN recently received two 96, one 95, and two 94 point ratings from Wine Enthusiast. Many wineries are open daily, so anytime is a great time to hit the trail and sample these world-class, award winning wines.

On the northernmost edge of the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail in Santa Maria is Cottonwood Canyon Winery. This inviting tasting room overlooks 76 acres of rolling hills and vineyards. They are known for distinctively different, age-worthy wines and offer tours of their wine caves.

Riverbench Vineyard Tasting Room is one of my favorites because of the setting and their excellent sparkling wines.

If you like stainless steel Chardonnay that’s layered and lively, head to Cambria Winery for the Fog Tide Chardonnay. It’s also one of my favorites. Their 2016 Rosé of Pinot Noir is an excellent dry, easy sipping wine.

Along with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, Kenneth Volk Vineyards also offers some unique varietals like Blaufränkisch and Malvasia Bianca.

All wineries encourage bringing a picnic or snacks to enjoy with your wine and Martian Ranch & Vineyard, Zaca Mesa Winery, and Fess Parker Winery all have beautiful picnicking spots. If you’d like to meet some emus while sampling Grenache, head over to Koehler Winery.

If you’re looking for an excuse to visit this area, then mark your calendars on Dec. 9-10 for Foxen Canyon Wine Trail’s 3rd Annual Christmas on the Trail passport event. If you’ve gone before, you know it’s festive, fun and the wineries exude Christmas cheer, offer exclusive wine deals to passport holders, and they deck their halls with boughs of holly.

Once you buy your $45 passport, you get 20, one-ounce pours you can redeem at any of the participating wineries on the trail. Try the Petit Verdot from Firestone Vineyard, Andrew Murray’s Syrah, Koehler Winery’s Sangiovese before heading to Tres Hermanas for their Grenache Blanc and Viognier. Twenty ounces is roughly four glasses, so you can share your passport with a friend and attend both days of the event. Also included with your passport is a logo wine glass and a special stocking stuffer for you.

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On Saturday, each winery will offer small treats like cheese and charcuterie, local chocolates, Christmas cookies and other delectable bites to enjoy with your wine. On Sunday, the wineries will host experiences like live music, olive oil tastings, wine cave viewings, barrel tastings and more.

If you start on the north end of the trail, consider staying at the Chumash Casino Resort and Spa in Santa Ynez; especially if a massage or Sunday brunch sounds good.

If you begin your adventure on the south end of the trail in Santa Maria, I recommend staying at the Radisson or the Santa Maria Inn, which was recently remodeled to celebrate it's 100th anniversary.

Head out to wine country and have some fun! Jingle all the way down (or up) the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail. Christmas on the Trail Passports are good for both Saturday and Sunday and can be purchased on Eventbrite at https://christmasonthetrail2017.eventbrite.com. You can contact Elizabeth at foxentrail@gmail.com with any questions.

Donna Polizzi is a regional travel expert and founder of Keys2TheCoast.com. Keys 2 The Coast is a travel resource for Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Monterey counties, offering recommendations on “local choices” for the best places to wine, dine and explore. Visit keys2thecoast.com or Keys2TheCoast on Facebook.

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