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Not more wine festivals, you may well say, but judging by the eager crowds they draw, locals love any excuse to head out to our excellent wine country trails.

To make the coverage of wine events more valuable to our readers, I focus mainly on those that benefit great local charities and/or provide wine lovers with an educational experience they won’t forget. You’ll find that the events hosted by the wine associations (representing their wine regions or appellations as we wine geeks like to say) in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties always create long weekend events. It’s the best way to include all of their winery members, even those that don’t operate tasting rooms of their own. Plus, the vintners associations always make the prices affordable for everyone.

Today I’m featuring one of the best Central Coast festivals, the Santa Barbara Vintners Spring Weekend, a favorite of mine since 1991. Here’s my tip: It typically sells out early.

I have a note about another worthwhile event -- the Vintage Paso Zinfandel Weekend.

And a fundraiser that benefits immigrant farmworkers and their families.

You’re supporting a noble cause just by buying a wine tasting ticket. Who doesn’t feel good about that?

Santa Barbara Vintners Spring Weekend (April 20 to 23)

There are many great events during their four-day weekend and they all sell out fast. Do yourself a favor by reading over the list now at to make sure you can still buy tickets.

Its popularity is hardly surprising with this spring wine fest celebrating its 35th year. They describe the Festival Grand Tasting at the River View Park in Buellton on April 22 as the weekend highlight. Pay for the early entry and you get in at noon, an hour earlier. It’s worth it if you want to get there ahead of the crowd, but you’ll pay $120 per person. The general public gets in at 1 p.m. and it goes on until 4 p.m. for only $85 per person. In addition to the newly released wines from the many vintners, there are food samples from 20 plus purveyors, wine and food demonstrations, a silent auction where you can score great buys on aged wines and parking is included in your ticket price.

I highly recommend the Santa Barbara Wine Seminar before the grand tasting, which takes place at the Santa Ynez Valley Marriott from 9:30 to 11 a.m. for an educational tasting with the winemakers. Only a few miles from the grand tasting, they offer an optional lunch, recommended before attending the grand tasting. The seminar will be moderated by wine writer Elaine Brown, who contributes her stories to, a Master Sommelier and wine writer based in England.

If you’re here for a long weekend, visit and plan to attend the many events at the winery tasting rooms. Your best bet is the Vintners Visa Wine Country Tasting Pass, which provides you access to 12 participating wineries of your choice from 25 to 40 different wineries for their unique, complimentary offerings going on all four days.

Although the first event is still more than a month off, here are two March events that you can buy tickets for.

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Vintage Paso Zinfandel Weekend (Friday through March 19)

Zinfandel. Mention the name of this classic wine variety and my thoughts leap to the prolific Paso Robles wine appellation (wine growing region). I don’t know of any other region that has as many zinfandel producers as does this north San Luis Obispo County hot spot. I know, the vintners love to boast about their cabernet sauvignons, and/or Rhone varieties and blends as the reason for their fame. But zinfandel ranks among those top wines on my list. That’s why you don’t want to miss the upcoming Vintage Paso Zinfandel Weekend. It’s all about their fragrant zins during this event, and you’ll find all of the Paso Robles pioneers there, as well as a wealth of newcomers. Tickets to the Zinfandel Seminar and Z After Party are $40 each, but you can save $10 by buying both tickets for $70.

Events conducted by the Paso Robles Wine Alliance are focused on Friday, and you can get the details and/or order tickets at And do check out their webpage for open house events going on at the wineries on their many wine trails. Did you know that Paso Robles is the largest appellation in California?

Talley Vineyards Spring Fling (April 26)

The Talley Family is celebrating spring by combining their annual Mano Tinto wine label design competition with the new release of Talley Vineyards and Farm President Brian Talley’s cookbook, “Our California Table.” Both of these projects benefit the Fund for Vineyard and Farm Workers by providing their guest with great wine, tasty foods and live music. You can buy the new cookbook that Brian Talley will autograph during the event. I wrote about “Our California Table” in my last column (Feb. 26).

Tickets are $50 per person or $40 for wine club members (being a member at most wineries pays off in year-round discounts for winemaker dinners and special events). They do ask that your purchase your event ticket in advance online at, where you can learn more about their annual fundraiser for farm workers, and more about Talley Vineyards.

Should you spot me at any of these events, please don’t hesitate to clink glasses and share cheers!

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You can reach wine writer Kathy Marcks Hardesty at