Brian York (Byron Wines) waiting to greet you and introduce you to some fabulous Santa Barbara County wines.

Last month I provided an overview for visiting Santa Barbara’s wine country along with a few recommendations. In this article I suggest four “not to be missed” stops in the area: three tasting rooms and a restaurant.  While there is no shortage of great wineries and restaurants to visit, and understanding that personal preference is quite subjective, these four were at the top of my list for outstanding experiences.

Named after the family owned hardware store that occupied the building until the late 70s “Sides Hardware and Shoes” located in downtown Los Olivos is run by two brothers: Matt and Jeff Nichols. “Sides” offers a menu that can best be described as a combination of traditional and inventive.  The atmosphere is relaxed and prices are reasonable. My party ordered off the dinner menu including several of the daily specials. All of our meals lived up to the restaurant’s reputation. The presentation was top notch and flavors outstanding, an excellent finale to our day of wine tasting and shopping.  Don’t miss the fried Brussel sprouts appetizer. Oh, and they have a great wine list packed with local favorites (

Just down the street from “Sides” is the tasting room for Byron and Nielson by Byron.  The Nielson label is a large production wine and can be found locally.  Byron, on the other hand, is a small lot, “allocation only” wine that is purchased by restaurants and through direct to consumer sales on a limited availability basis. Focusing on site specific Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, the wines are complex, exceptionally balanced, wonderfully fragrant and flavorful. The Byron tasting room is in the back of the building and only available by advanced appointment. The intimate, relaxed experience is definitely worth the effort, as you will have an opportunity to taste several wines side-by-side out of high-end Pinot Noir wine glasses. This offers you the chance to see firsthand how different vineyard terroir and vinification processes will produce dramatically diverse results ( 805-264-6363).

Located in an agricultural area of Los Olivos, Beckmen Vineyards is a family owned winery established in 1994 that employs biodynamic farming practices.  Beckmen specializes in Rhone varietals, such as Viognier, Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. They also produce wonderful wines from Bordeaux varieties as well.  During a tour of a vineyard property located next to the winery and family home, I was struck with the care and attention afforded to each vine: the use of pesticides and herbicides are avoided, plus the family’s vineyards are hand-pruned and hand-picked. This attention to detail is carried forward in the winemaking process.  All of the wines tasted that day were very good to outstanding, with the 2014 Block 6 Syrah possessing incredible depth and complexity.  The Beckmen grounds are beautiful and meticulously maintained. I strongly recommend making reservations to tour the estate and bring a picnic lunch to enjoy in one of their gazebos (

Finally, while visiting Santa Barbara, a must visit urban winery located on E. Montecito St. is Jaffurs Wine Cellars.  Dan Green the current owner and co-winemaker purchased the winery from founder Craig Jaffurs last year.  Jaffurs is the first purpose built winery in the City.  The entire operation is occurs within the 2,700 sq. foot building, although Green admits that during grape crush the undertaking spills out into the front parking lot.  Jaffurs specializes in Rhone varietals, procuring grapes from some of the most famous vineyards in Santa Barbara County.  The tasting room is located in the midst of the winemaking operation, so be prepared to meet Dan or Matt Brady, the head winemaker, and possibly step over a hose or two.  The 2016 Viognier is light, crisp and mineral driven, perfect for hot, Tucson afternoons. Their entry level offering, the 2014 Santa Barbara County Syrah, combining fruit from five different vineyards, delivers style with substance, an exceptional, approachable wine and a solid value (

The Santa Barbara wine region has much to offer and merits several visits. The scenery along the coast is beautiful and the shopping and restaurants top-quality.  Just be sure that there is plenty of room in your car to bring back all the wine you will buy.  Make use of the Santa Barbara Vintners Association website: to plan your trip and enjoy!


Tom Oetinger holds an advanced certification in wine & spirits from the WSET in London, England and is available to answer your wine questions at