Santa Barbara County has a 200-year tradition of growing grapes and making wine -- an art originally practiced by Franciscan friars at the area's missions -- but only in the past 20 to 30 years have wine grape fields begun to approach the size of other crops that do so well in these fertile inland valleys.
Geography makes the area well suited for vineyards: The Santa Ynez and San Rafael mountain ranges are transverse (east-west) ranges, which allows ocean breezes to flow through, keeping the climate temperate. Variations in temperature and humidity within the valley create many microclimates, and vintners have learned how to cultivate nearly all the classic grape varietals. But it's the chardonnay, pinot noir, and Syrah that draw the most acclaim, and you'll find more than 50 wineries in the Santa Ynez Valley area, most of which have tasting rooms -- a few offer tours as well. If you'd like to start with a winery tour to acquaint yourself with viticulture, Gainey Vineyard is a good bet . And if you'd like to sample wines without driving around, head to Los Olivos Tasting Room & Wine Shop, 2905 Grand Ave. (tel. 805/688-7406; www.thelosolivostastingroom.com), in the heart of town, which offers a wide selection of vintners, including those -- such as Au Bon Climat and Qupé -- who don't have their own tasting rooms.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.