Topanga Girls Hit the Vines

(l-r) Melanie Benszuweit, Donna Leo, Dianne Porchia, Beth Higby, Bianka Peters. Photo courtesy of Melanie Benszuweit

What do Topanga girls do when they leave the canyon? It takes a lot to lure these girls away from hiking in Topanga, but recently, they hit the vines in Santa Barbara County.

Once you discover the wine country of Santa Maria Valley, Santa Ynez Valley, Lompoc, Foxen Canyon, Ballard Canyon, Santa Rita Hills and Happy Canyon in Santa Barbara County, you’ll understand why the Central Coast of California boasts one of the world’s most beautiful wine regions.

Our field trip starts with packing picnic supplies, plenty of water for hydration, and assigning a designated driver, me, who agrees to only minimally participate in the tastings.

Then up the coast we go, driving PCH north in springtime. We marvel at the yellow mountains of mustard, the sparkling blue of the Pacific Ocean and the luscious green hills when we turn inland towards Buellton.  

The Santa Barbara County Appellation is the most diverse wine-growing region in the world with its long growing season, multitudes of micro-climates and complex soils that traverse valleys, canyons and mountain ranges that all benefit from their proximity to the Pacific Ocean. More than 50 different varietals grow in this AVA including popular large lots of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc, as well as boutique lots of unique wines like Albariño, Tocai Friulano, Mourvedre and Grenache Blanc.

Our ambitious destination was Santa Maria Valley where we hoped to visit four to five wineries, stopping for a picnic amongst the vines mid-way. Despite our intention to pace ourselves, we only made it to two wine tasting rooms on the Santa Rita Hills Wine Trail:  Sanford Vineyards and La Fond Vineyards, both on Santa Rosa Road.

At Sanford, we tasted our first flight of estate-grown Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and learned about the sustainable practices followed in both the vineyards and the winery. The winery is built from recycled barn timbers and locally cast adobe bricks that help to naturally regulate temperature, reducing the need for mechanical cooling. Water is sourced from carefully managed estate spring water. In the vineyards, cover crops and composting are used to promote microbiotic soil health and to reduce irrigation evaporation.  Mechanical tilling and cutting of weeds cuts down the use of herbicides. Owl and raptor boxes are installed and maintained around the periphery of the vineyards, creating nesting sanctuaries for indigenous predatory bird species that help control vineyard pests in a natural and eco-friendly way.

It was soon apparent that food needed to be our next stop. An off-road shortcut through some vineyards landed us at La Fond Tasting Room where we hastily downed shared flights of tastings and selected two bottles for our picnic. With La Fond Santa Rita Hills Chardonnay and La Fond Syrah in hand we strolled out to La Fond’s lovely picnic area overlooking the vines to enjoy our lunch.

By 3:30 p.m., our squiffy quintet felt it had already been a full day of wine-tasting adventures so the designated driver was charged with driving us all back home to Topanga.

Wine Trail Travel Tip: Consider booking a room in the region of your wine tasting excursion so you can take a nap after a full day of tastings then go to dinner to enjoy the food-pairing cuisine of this region.


Dianne Porchia, MA, DMBM of Porchia’s WISH, lives and works in Topanga Canyon as a holistic wellness and stress-reduction practitioner. She also writes for trade journals about wine, sustainable farming, farm-to-table cuisine and canna-wellness. Visit her YouTube Channel for videos on these subjects.


By Dianne Porchia


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