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California Wine: Under The Oaks

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"The festival is limited to fifty wineries this year, so if you see more than that listed on the website I've cheated," says Meridith Moore, Events Manager at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. "What's important is there's no wine I wouldn't drink." That's quite an endorsement from Moore, who has been the wrangler for the museum's Santa Barbara Wine Festival the past several years. (As for how they scored the primo name, it's because they were there first, kicking the event off in 1983; yes, you could have sung "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me" to your hangover after the first one and been au courant.)

"The wines of the Central Coast have always been drinkable, and then they got good, and now, we have entered into an era of stellar wines," Moore asserts. "All the wineries in this festival represent the level attainable from our grapes. From Ken Brown, grape grower extraordinaire, of Pinot Noir fame, to the well-known like Jim Clendenen, Bryan Babcock, Fred Brander...and perhaps the lesser known but no less phenomenal wineries like Westerly, RN Estate, Feliz Noche. We are also seeing the second and third generation of winemakers like Drake from Whitcraft. Their wines compete with any in the world. We are living in the midst of a wine culture that is celebrated at the Santa Barbara Wine Festival: a rare chance to meet these winemakers, taste their wines, and enjoy a relaxing afternoon along Mission Creek at the museum."

The oak-canopied trails make for an enchanted spot for wine tasting, especially since Moore does her best to pair food vendors beside wines, so you get lovely, if sometimes unusual, pairings like Cold Heaven Viognier with Ca' Dario's Ravioli al Burro e Salvia - after all, might as well go bright instead of butter, since butter is what the pasta dish itself brings. In general this is a wine festival that far from skimps on the food, featuring tastes from Santa Barbara delectable's provided by the likes of Finch & Fork, Jessica Foster Confections, Renaud's Patisserie, and Via Maestra 42.

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Winemakers themselves rave about the event, too, so they actually show up to pour; you don't get some kindly, if ignorant volunteer, you get Richard Sanford himself pouring you Alma Rosa's wines. That's Richard Sanford, a 2012 inductee into the Vintner's Hall of Fame. Or Larry Hogan from award-winning Cabernet Sauvignon producer Sagebrush Annie's way out in the Cuyama Valley; Hogan turns 79 this year and Moore says he makes "phenomenal wines from a very obscure area."

The festival is a fundraiser that supports the Museum's exhibits and science education programs. Moore visits each winery annually before deciding on who gets in, from Ventura County to Paso Robles, and admits not everyone gets asked back. That tasting tour also left her raving, claiming, "We went to one phenomenal room after another, with the wine pourers so informative and friendly." Or one can save the trouble and visit them in one afternoon under the oaks.

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