Hello, Harvest!

By Don Sonderling

Find your new favorite sips at these Central Coast wine festivals

The Central Coast isn’t necessarily known for its fall colors — but head to wine country, and you’ll find it in spades. From Santa Barbara to San Luis Obispo and Paso Robles, vineyards transform the rolling hills from deep green to vibrant golds, reds, and yellows.

Folks in the region are celebrating the colors — and, more importantly, the harvest! — with several fall wine festivals. What better way to taste these AVAs?

Santa Barbara Vintners Festival Weekend

October 14

Kick off the season with the 39th annual Santa Barbara’s Vintners Festival Weekend. This is one you won’t want to miss! The main event is slated for Oct. 14, with more than 60 of the area’s premier wineries pouring their liquid art at Vega Vineyard and Farm in Buellton. Some of the wineries include Coquelicot Organic Estate Wines, Gainey Vineyard, Ken Brown Wines, Margerum Wine Company, and Alma Rosa Winery.

Celebrate good times with bubbles in the Bank of Marin Bubble Lounge. They’ll be serving up sparkling wines from wineries such as Carhartt Family Wines, Presqu’ile Winery, Riverbench Vineyard & Winery, and others. Bubbles signify celebration — and the season calls for celebration!

More than two dozen food purveyors will also be on-site. Many of Santa Barbara’s most renowned food artisans will be serving up their creative specialties. Enjoy a variety of flavors and tasty treats to complement the wines you’re tasting.

Live music will be provided by The Coals. Described by KPCC Radio as “Inventive, catchy, genuine, and moving,” they’re sure to get your toes tapping. So, plan the day to meet the wines, winemakers, winery owners, chefs, restauranteurs, and like-minded people who love the wine life.

For a list of the wineries and restaurants, tickets and more, visit sbvintnersweekend.com. And, for individual winery events during fall and throughout the year, check Santa Barbara Wine Country’s events calendar at sbcountywines.com

Harvest on the Coast

November 4

The San Luis Obispo Coast AVA, stretching from the Santa Maria Valley to San Simeon, is an exciting area to explore for wine. This cooler coastal region produces more than 20 varietals, including elegant Pinot Noir and Chardonnay as well as Riesling, Pinot Gris, Grüner Veltliner, Gewürztraminer, and Viognier, plus cool climate reds such as Grenache and Syrah. And don’t forget the bubbles!

Come taste and explore the wonders of this area at Harvest on the Coast. This year’s event will take place at Chamisal Vineyards in the beautiful Edna Valley. As described by Travel & Leisure Magazine, Chamisal is “the stuff California dreams are made of: incomparably beautiful surroundings, temperate climates, and nature’s incredible, edible gifts.” Chamisal was the first planted vineyard in the Edna Valley, and it’s celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. What better place to celebrate this year’s harvest?

Taste and explore wines from 30 wineries at this year’s event. Visit with winemakers during the Grand Tasting (2 – 5 pm), and for an extra special event, attend the Rare and Reserve Tasting (1 – 2 pm), where you can sample small lot and library wines in a limited, intimate setting.

And of course, don’t forget the food and entertainment! A full-blown Santa Maria-style barbecue will be on the grill, prepared by Goldland BBQ. Enjoy live music performed by the Honey Boys — Cal-Poly San Luis Obispo alumni.

For tickets, participating wineries and more, slocoastwine.com/events/harvest-on-the-coast

Garagiste Festival

November 10-11

Mid-November brings one of the most exciting fall events to Paso Robles, the 12th-anniversary Garagiste Festival. It’s described by the Los Angeles Times as “One of the premier wine events of the year, this is one not to miss.”

This year’s festival features about 60 small, boutique producers. The Garagiste focuses on winemakers producing 1,500 cases or less. Although some have tasting rooms open by appointment, the vast majority of Garagiste winemakers pour only at this event. Don’t miss the opportunity to try a variety of exceptional wines and meet the winemakers of these artisanal micro-producers — only at the Garagiste Festival.

This year features several first-time exhibitors, which include Red Door Ranch Vineyards, Ella’s Vineyard, Ulloa Cellars, and 12ECVineyard. Taste and visit with winemakers and owners, and try varietals you may not find locally grown very often, such as Teroldego, Albariño, and Riesling, in addition to Rhônes, Bordeaux, plus an assortment of exciting blends.

While you’re sipping wine, don’t overlook the extensive gourmet charcuterie table, with cheeses, meats, fruits, and vegetables. Catered by Vivant Fine Cheese in Paso Robles, this is a premium accompaniment.

The evening before the grand tasting is the rare and reserve tasting event. This exclusive tasting features one-of-a-kind library wines from the exhibitors. This is an opportunity to experience and taste unique wines, varietals, and in many cases, older vintages. As you taste, enjoy a delicious buffet catered by Junction Food and Friends. Attendance is limited, and tickets sell out quickly.

Another staple of the Garagiste is the morning seminar. This year’s seminar — Coming Full Circle: The Path from Enology Student to Living the Garagiste Dream — features Cal Poly Garagiste Festival Scholarship recipients who have gone on to become winemakers.

But the fun doesn’t end after the grand tasting. Kick back and socialize at the Rockin’ After-Party with winemakers and fellow wine lovers. Food, music, and adult beverages — it’s the perfect ending to a great weekend!

For tickets and more information, see garagistefestival.com. In addition, Paso Robles has lots more going on this fall. Visit pasowine.com/events for a list of vineyard tours, grape stomps, dinners, and so much more. A little further on down the road, we’re also looking forward to the Cambria Art and Wine Festival, set for Jan. 26 to 28. cambriachamber.org/cambria-art-wine-festival

Blend Fest

Save the date: February 22 – 25

It’s not a fall event, but we can’t end this celebration of vino without mentioning one more festival: BlendFest! This is the region’s only wine festival dedicated to blending, offering a selection of exciting choices. Paso Robles’ winemakers love to blend wine, mixing different varietals to craft something unique and delicious. Throughout the event, BlendFest celebrates these creative rule-breaking, unconventional winemakers and their blends. For tickets and more, check out pasowine.com/events/blendfest-on-the-coast.

Donald Sonderling is a freelance writer covering California’s wine roads from Santa Barbara to Napa Valley. He may be reached at donsonderling@gmail.com