SANTA YNEZ — "Kick off your shoes, roll up your jeans and get ready for some icky, sticky, good clean fun!" That's the invitation of Rosalie and Gene Hallock to their sixth annual Great Grape Stomp.
The grape harvest has begun in the Southland's most scenic and notable wine region, the Santa Ynez Valley, and you're welcome to join the celebrations.
Hallock and his wife will host their grape stomp at Ballard Canyon Winery on three successive Saturdays--Oct. 3, 10 and 17. Or head to Brander Vineyards next Sunday for its harvest festival.
Several of the valley's other wineries will host open houses Oct. 25. At some there will be free music, snacks and special tastings.
Tastings and Tours
Even if you can't attend these events, many of the wineries are open daily for public tastings and tours. But try to visit during fall harvest time to enjoy the extra activity and excitement as the grapes are picked, crushed and pressed.
You can get a wine-touring map at most valley wineries or write for one in advance of your trip to the Santa Barbara County Vintners' Assn., P.O. Box Wine, Los Olivos, Calif. 93441.
In the Santa Ynez Valley, 9 of the association's 22 wineries are open to the public, usually from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Here is a tour to sample some of their vintages and enjoy an autumn outing in the countryside:
Head north from Los Angeles on U.S. 101 to Buellton and exit east into the valley on California 246. After you pass through the Danish tourist town of Solvang, turn right on Refugio Road and drive about 3/4 mile to look for the grapevines that mark the area's first commercial vineyards.
A lane leads through them to the pioneer Santa Ynez Valley Winery, established 11 years ago in a former dairy. A tasting room on the hilltop hides the old barn, but you'll learn more about the winery's history and its award-winning wines during an informal tour and tasting. Visitors can picnic on the porch.
A Sunday afternoon benefit concert on Oct. 18 will feature the Royal Garden Swing Band from Cuesta College; call the Santa Ynez Valley Winery for details: (805) 688-8381.
Continue east on California 246 and turn right into the Gainey Vineyard just before the junction with California 154. Fifty-four acres of grapes surround an impressive Spanish-style winery the Gainey family opened on their large ranch three years ago.
Organized tours begin at half past the hour from 1O:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m, with tastings every 15 minutes. The winery closes at 5 p.m. Wild boar, venison, pates, cheeses, live music and an art exhibit will be Gainey's special treats during the Oct. 25 open house.
Join California 154 and head northeast toward Los Olivos. At the Roblar Avenue crossroads, drive right and then immediately left on Refugio Road. Follow the signs to Brander Vineyard. Owner and wine-maker Fred Brander will host a harvest party next Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., beginning with a blessing of the grapes by a padre from Old Mission Santa Ines.
Help in the Harvest
You can join in grape harvesting and crushing in an old press, Bavarian music and dancing, an Argentine-style barbecue, cooking demonstrations and wine tasting. Tickets are $27.50 at the door. For information, call (805) 688-2455.
On other days, Brander Vineyard welcomes visitors for informal tours and tastings from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Sunday to 4 p.m.).
Following California 154 to Los Olivos, turn left on Grand Avenue, where Austin Cellars has its tasting room in the tiny town at No. 2923 (open daily 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.). Continue south to join Alamo Pintado Road through Ballard to J. Carey Cellars.
Started by the Carey family in a rustic red barn, the small winery was sold this year to the valley's best-known vintner family, the Firestones. Kate Firestone is in charge of the 25-acre vineyard, while her husband, Brooks Firestone, continues to run his larger namesake winery a few miles north.
The former wine-maker's home has been redecorated as a tasting room, and you can picnic overlooking the grapevines. The bucolic setting will be the location of a TV series to be filmed at the Carey winery this fall.
More remote and almost hidden in the hills is a major Santa Ynez Valley wine producer, Zaca Mesa Winery. Return to California 154 and go west, then turn right on Foxen Canyon Road to join Zaca Station Road and continue north to the winery.
Zaca Mesa, which is just introducing newly designed labels on its bottles, makes 10 varietals and annually ships 50,000 cases of wine nationwide. You can sample Chardonnay and other vintages daily and join a tour on weekends on the half hour.
Formal tours and tastings are offered every day at the Firestone Vineyard, the valley's other large winery that's also on Zaca Station Road (go back south about a mile beyond the Foxen Canyon Road junction).