The Sta. RIta Hills from Sanford Winery & Vineyards

The Sta. RIta Hills from Sanford Winery & Vineyards

Arguably the best part of the Wine Bloggers’ Conference 2014 (WBC14) experience was the chance to get out into the countryside of the region the conference highlighted. The Santa Barbara Vintners did their best to introduce us to the wines at the hotel, but there is something intangibly beneficial in seeing where those wines come from.

Less beneficial? Trying to snap pics from a bumpy

Less beneficial? Trying to snap pics from a bumpy car ride!

So on Friday night (7/11), we scurried onto buses as they pulled up, unaware as to our final destinations. Each bus hit up a different winery or tasting room, and it wasn’t until ours was on its way that our host jumped up with impressive enthusiasm to reveal which spot our X marked.

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We were being taken deep in the Sta. Rita Hills appellation, one of Santa Barbara’s oldest, and to the winery where the first pinot noir was planted in the county at all: Sanford.

 Myself and Heather Atherton outside the grand entrance to Sanford Winery & Vineyards.

Myself and Heather Atherton outside the grand entrance to Sanford Winery & Vineyards.

Just inside those doors, Steve Fennell, Sanford’s current winemaker and manager, waited to greet us and take us on a tour. We wasted little time getting out into the vines.

Can you find the rogue blogger taking pics?

Can you find the rogue blogger taking pics?

Everywhere we looked, the view was breathtaking. And I mean everywhere. This is the view from the bathroom.

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The aging and bottling facilities weren’t too shabby, either.

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In that room, we hobnobbed and tasted at six tables’ worth of Santa Barbara County’s finest, including with the esteemed, and ever-approachable, Ken Brown.

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That 2010 Pinot Noir remains my favorite of the conference, leaving a lasting impression of well-executed complexity. But there were wines aplenty!

At the Fess Parker table.

At the Fess Parker table.

Santa Barbara Winery’s table.

Santa Barbara Winery’s table.

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Santa Barbara Winery’s 2012 Pinot Noir was also a stand-out for me.

Fiddlehead Cellars

Fiddlehead Cellars

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As was Fiddlehead Cellars’ 2013 Pinot Noir Rosé, with the dry, crisp body I love from a good rosé—the less sugar, the better for that technique as far as I’m concerned.

The folks from Blair Fox Cellars contemplating their own wares.

The folks from Blair Fox Cellars contemplating their own wares.

Lest you fear us wine bloggers get distracted from our professional duties with all that wine tasting going on, let these pics put those fears to rest.

Kelsey Morrison showing us all how it’s done.

Kelsey Morrison showing us all how it’s done.

Getting excited about holding a double magnum is part of the job.

Getting excited about holding a double magnum is part of the job.

As the sun began to set, it was time for us to enjoy dinner out behind Sanford’s aging facility. Our chef, Auggie Rodriguez, introduced the meal of tri-tip, rosemary-citrus grilled chicken, blueberry and goat cheese salad, tangy smashed potatoes, bread, and a black bean, mango, and avocado salsa to us.

Thanks, Auggie!

Thanks, Auggie!

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And then we headed back out into the glorious sunshine. The peach beauty of the hills in sunset could simply not be done justice, though I tried.

Click through 3x for the full panorama.

Click through 3x for the full panorama.

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But I did all right with the food.

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Take it from this girl raised in Santa Maria—Auggie knows what to do with tri-tip. I only wished for a tomato salsa to spread on top. Dessert was also delicious, though I wondered if the toasted almonds were too toasty. Everyone else thought they made the flan dish, so I consider my taste buds out of order on that front.

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Some of the secret wines that popped up during dinner.

Some of the secret wines that popped up during dinner.

All good things must come to an end, and so too, did our evening out at the Sanford Winery. We finished up to find our bus waiting, and I hurried to try and capture just a little more of the vineyard’s pull before piling back inside.

Click through 3x to get the full panoramic view.

Click through 3x to get the full panoramic view.

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I am very grateful to Zephyr Adventures, Steve Fennell, Sanford Winery & Vineyards, Fiddlehead Cellars, Santa Barbara Winery, Ken Brown, Fess Parker wines, Chef Auggie, and Blair Fox Cellars for hosting us. It was truly a highlight of my WBC14 experience.

Until next blog post, cheers!

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