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It’s easy to stay in your own backyard, such as our awesome Santa Maria Valley, for wine tasting. But most wine geeks like me know, there’s a lot to be gained from visiting other wine regions in Santa Barbara County where they also make excellent wines. What better way to discover new favorite wines than by attending other wine events merely 30 minutes away from Santa Maria. It’s only another 10 or 15 minutes farther for south San Luis Obispo County residents. You’ll taste many great wines and get to know the exceptional wine focused restaurants in nearby towns. Not only that, you will certainly discover wine tasting rooms and restaurants well worth making the short drive to visit again and again. I know I always do.

The upcoming Wine & Fire 2019 event in the Sta. Rita Hills wine region, happening August 16 through 18, will help you discover the best tasting rooms (suited to your taste), both from old or new brands. It’s great for helping you become familiar with the wineries in the Sta. Rita Hills and you can easily choose from one or all three of the great events taking place that weekend. Not only can they recommend good choices in hotels, and provide information on taking shuttles from the hotels to the event and back on their webpage. The event is a great excuse for a staycation with far less hassle from traveling a great distance.

Sta. Rita Hills appellation chardonnays and pinot noirs are the focus of this festival, but you can be sure they will also pour other varieties of wines they specialize in, which means many choices in Rhone white and red varieties and blends. The fun begins early evening on Friday at Foley Estates Vineyard in Lompoc where 30 winemakers will be pouring their wines. Not only that, they have local favorites like The T-Bone Ramblers performing, and Santa Ynez born chef Anthony Endy grilling up some mouth-watering Santa Maria Style BBQ. Although Endy moved to the LA area, he’s returned home again, as chef at the Alisal Guest Ranch and Resort. To explain his style he noted: “The essential elements, seasonal ingredients, classic ranch recipes, BBQ, are all there, now with a bit more technique and flare.”

Bright and early on Saturday, August 17th, at 9:30 a.m. you can join a speed tasting and lunch with eight winemakers at Peake Ranch Winery on the eastern edge of the Sta. Rita Hills appellation. The talent includes Steve Arrowood from Montemar Wines, Bryan Babcock from Babcock Winery, Dan Kessler from Kessler-Haak Vineyard, Lorna Kreutz from Foley Family Wines, Rick Longoria from Longoria Wines, Bruce McGuire from Lafond Winery, Brandon Sparks-Gillis from Dragonette Cellars, James Sparks from Liquid Farm, and Norm Yost from Flying Goat Cellars.

Now here’s where it gets fun, like speed dating, the winemakers will take turns sitting at your table. They will pour their wine and talk with everyone about it, but they’ve only got 10 minutes to sit, then another winemaker sits down with your group. Each table will have a “personal sommelier” to continue the educational aspect of the tasting. A wood-fired lunch will be provided by caterer Bello Forno serving pizza and upscale salads.

Wine & Fire ends on Sunday with a grand tasting at La Purisima Mission in Lompoc from 5 until 8 p.m. I have attended this event there many times, and it’s a lovely grove with plenty of shady trees. This time there will be over 40 wineries and several local chefs and farmers providing slat some excellent cold and grilled foods to satisfy your appetite during the wine tasting. That’s a lot of wine to taste since nearly every winery will have several samples to sample, so pace yourself. Do as I do and do visit your favorites, but make time to try brands that are new to you—you’ll surely find some new wineries to love.

The pricing is best before July 31st to get early bird rates. For instance the Foley party is $75 per person, but $85 from Aug. 1st on. If you plan to go to all three events, the early bird price is $265, but after Aug.1st it’s $290. Do investigate the details at www. Staritahills .com. Not only for reservations, they also make recommendations for hotels, restaurants, and other entertainment.

The small towns in Santa Barbara County continue to grow with more great tasting rooms and restaurants opening. Aren’t we fortunate. So I advise finding a hotel if you’re attending a late tasting. That way you can spend your day checking out some of the great tasting rooms in and around Los Olivos or Lompoc. Another good thought is heading out early the next morning too Los Alamos for breakfast at Bob’s Well Bread in Los Alamos, and then investigating a couple of the excellent tasting rooms there. That’s a good way to make the best of your visit, and make the entire event unforgettable.

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Reach Kathy Marcks Hardesty at Kathymhardesty @ gmail.com

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