• Nicole Leonetti

Wine Tasting in Santa Barbara County - Social Distancing Edition

Last week, we ventured out to our favorite wine destination to test the waters of wine tasting in the time of COVID-19. While I was anxious about it (which is typical for me), I was also bursting at the seams to get out of our tiny apartment and taste delicious wine in a beautiful setting. I must say that the experience was even better than I expected – we felt safe at each location that we visited and didn’t encounter many people during our trip. We appreciated everyone who works at the wineries, restaurants, and hotels we visited for taking such precautions to stay safe and I wanted to share a few highlights.

Skyview Motel (Los Alamos): I’ve been wanting to stay at Skyview for some time now and I am so glad that we selected this hotel for the trip! It’s an old-school roadside motel that has been transformed into a luxurious boutique property. It is located on a hill and offers fantastic views of the Santa Ynez Valley. As soon as we walked up to check in, we were relieved that they were taking everything into consideration during this sensitive time. Only one party at a time was allowed access to their cool and comfortable lobby to check in. Everyone we interacted with was wearing a mask and they gave us information on how all the rooms and public areas were cleaned and sanitized. Their pool was open, however, you had to make reservations for a time to enjoy it. While we didn’t partake in the pool this trip (our focus was on the wine of course), we appreciated that they had a plan in place. Our room was fantastic - I was obsessed with the décor, and we had the most amazing private patio with fire pit and perfect outdoor furniture to relax in and enjoy the view. I wish we were able to stay more than one night – we didn’t have the opportunity to enjoy their restaurant – Norman – which I heard is lovely! I will definitely be returning again to Skyview.


Coquelicot Tasting Room (Los Olivos): Coquelicot is a perfect spot to stop to enjoy some wine in Los Olivos. A reservation was not required when we visited, but there were a few new rules in place at the time. They weren’t doing tastings, but you could order wines by the glass and it was required to purchase food with your wine. Since I love food – this was certainly not an issue! We ordered a cheese/charcuterie box and I had glass of Sauvignon Blanc. I also recommend trying their “Sixer” wine which is a Syrah with 6% Viognier – magical! They have a large outdoor patio area and tables were spaced accordingly so we didn’t come close to the other guests. I just love Los Olivos and it was lovely to enjoy wine and cheese once again in the lovely weather.

Dovecote Estate Winery (Los Alamos/Alisos Canyon): Dovecote just blew me away during this trip! This was our first time visiting and it was a glorious experience. You do need to make a reservation here and currently need to order food with your wine tasting. They typically hold tastings at their Vineyard House, but during this time they are tasting at the dock of their bass-filled pond. It was a stunning setting! We enjoyed yummy sandwiches during our tasting – and to be honest – I’m not mad about having to eat throughout a day of wine tasting…probably a smart idea moving forward, as well. The wine was delightful! While I always say I love red wine more than white wine, I so enjoyed their Viognier and Grenache Blanc. Of course, I also savored the GSM and Syrah they have as well! We were the only group tasting during our visit and we wished we could have stayed forever – it was just a great experience.

Folded Hills (Gaviota): I talk about Folded Hills winery to everyone I meet! I just love this place and their new wine tasting experiences are something very special. We needed to make reservations in advance and order food (more cheese – yay!!) and it was a real adventure! While you can do a standard tasting at Folded Hills, I wholeheartedly recommend taking advantage of one of their experiences. We did the full ranch tour and tasting, and it was an experience I will remember for a long time. We hopped in the ATV and our first stop was to feed the pigs - which was probably the most fun I’ve had since the stay at home orders started! Then we ventured deeper into the ranch and saw the Clydesdales! We were also able to feed them, though I was a little more nervous about that. I always thought the Clydesdales were so beautiful – I had no idea that I would be terrified being up close to them! We had the opportunity to meet Andy Busch (yes, that Busch) who is the proprietor of Folded Hills along with his lovely wife, Kim. He is so amazing to talk to and you can tell he just has a passion for the land and all the animals on the ranch. Then on to more animals as we had the opportunity to feed the camel – George! - while getting the side-eye from the llamas who were less interested in visiting with us. However, I had no idea how friendly camels were – this one was so sweet! Then back on the ATV to get to the main event – the wine tasting! We went to the dock on their lake and reveled in the beautiful view of the hills while trying their tasty wine. I’ve had the pleasure of tasting their wines quite a few times (I’m a big fan of their winemaker – Angela Osborne) and I am quite partial to their August White (Grenache Blanc & Roussane) and August Red (Grenache, Syrah) Wines. Everyone at Folded Hills is always so accommodating and hospitable – I assure you will have a fabulous time there whenever you do choose to visit.


Pico (Los Alamos): Of course, no trip to wine country is complete without a nice meal and we were so happy that Pico was open for dinner (reservations were required). We have been to Pico in the past, but they recently acquired a new Chef and we were excited to check it out! We were also able to walk there from our hotel. We could tell when we walked in that they have removed quite a few tables to accommodate social distancing. Also, everyone that was working there were wearing masks. We were happy to be seated at a nice table outside (did I mention the weather was perfect all weekend?). I started with a Negroni to give myself a short respite from wine and then we proceeded to order what felt like the whole menu. We enjoyed everything we had, but my favorites were the House Cured Guanciale and the Buddha Thai Fried Chicken! And the Steak Frites! All so good!

Strange Family Vineyards – Tasting Room (Malibu): While Strange Family Vineyards has a beautiful vineyard in the Santa Rita Hills AVA in Santa Barbara County, I am thrilled to report that they also have the coolest tasting room right in Malibu. The vineyard isn’t open for public tastings, but when traveling back from wine country to Los Angeles their Malibu tasting room is the best stop on your way home to get one last taste of Santa Barbara wine goodness. The tasting room is located in the Malibu Lumber Yard and they have a pretty patio where you can enjoy the wine outside. They also have a bar area and comfortable seating indoors where you can taste their delicious wine while listening to music and looking at photos of their vineyards. I am a big fan of their Brut Rosé, but they also make great Pinots and Syrahs. I’m quite partial to their Hillside Pinot Noir. Whatever you choose to drink, I know you will enjoy your time at the Strange Tasting Room.


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