The Santa Maria Valley, just north of Santa Barbara, offers one of California’s most scenic drives along the 101, but most visitors are surprised to find that this region also turns out some of the state’s most desired wines. The transverse mountains, coupled with a cooler climate, set the wines of this region apart from the state’s more popular wine destinations.

1. Riverbench Vineyard

Situated along the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail, Riverbench is one of the region’s premier wineries, producing Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and sparkling wines under the watchful eye of winemaker Clarissa Nagy. The tasting room, located in a renovated 1920s craftsman home, is small yet quaint. The winery’s outdoor space with expansive vineyard views is the place to enjoy the wines. Sundays are BYOB – Bring Your Own Blanket – where visitors can enjoy a picnic and listen to live music. 

Riverbench Vineyards against the backdrop of the Santa Maria Valley

Riverbench Vineyards against the backdrop of the Santa Maria Valley; (c) Beth Graham.

2. Nagy Wines

Yep, you may have seen this name above. Riverbench’s winemaker, Clarissa Nagy, also produces her own wines under the Nagy Wines label. As one of the region’s top winemakers, she has the inside scoop on which vineyards are producing the highest quality grapes, and it’s these vineyards where she sources product for her own label. Her namesake label produces Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, Syrah and Viognier. 

Santa Maria Valley winemaker. FWT Magazine.

Clarissa Nagy, winemaker at Riverbench and Nagy Wines; (c) Beth Graham.

3. Presqu’ile

Despite being a small family-run winery, Presqu’ile, produces a range of wines including Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Rosé and sparkling wines. The tasting room is a destination unto itself with floor to ceiling windows that offer views of vineyards against the backdrop of the Pacific Ocean. An adjacent terrace includes a fireplace and bocce pit, but if you want to really admire the Valley, head to the rooftop terrace. 

Santa Maria Valley. FWT Magazine.

The wine tasting room at Presqu’ile; (c) Beth Graham.

4. Ca’ Del Grevino

This boutique winery produces small, but perfected, lots of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Grenache, Dolcetto, Riesling and Syrah. Ca’ Del Grevino is also building what promises to be the region’s most talked about tasting facility, a $25 million dollar, 35,000 square-foot production facility that allows visitors an in-depth view of the winemaking process. 

Santa Maria Valley winery. FWT Magazine.

The bucolic setting at Ca’ Del Grevino; (c) Beth Graham.

While this region is known for its luscious wines thanks to the terrain and climate, you’d be remiss if you didn’t save some room for its famous Santa Maria-style barbecue. In this case, barbecue refers to the process and not the sauce, as lightly seasoned tri-tip steaks are grilled over an open flame. In keeping with the cowboy tradition, barbecue is served with pinquito beans and salsa. Be sure to visit the historic Far Western Tavern, a fixture since 1958 for the region’s best Santa Maria-style barbecue.