On our second day in Santa Barbara, we grabbed brunch and then headed up to wine country. We were amazed by how beautiful the Santa Ynez Valley and Santa Rita Hills were. Now we understand what our friends mean when they talk about how Napa “used to be.” The wine country in Santa Barbara county is a beautiful mix of horse farms, vineyards, and rolling hills, set against stunning backdrop of mountains.
Our first stop was in Buellton, at Crawford Family wines. Our strategy for finding great wine is simple. We ask someone who makes amazing wine for referrals to other people who make amazing wine. It’s always worked out for us, and in this case, our friends at Liquid Farm told us that a stop at Crawford Family Wines was a must.
Mark and Wendy Horvath have extensive experience in the food and wine industry. They are from San Francisco, and met while working at the Ritz Carlton on Nob Hill. Wendy later worked at The French Laundry while Mark worked at wineries in Sonoma County.
Mark and Wendy started Crawford Family Wines in 2011 with just three barrels of wine. The initial production was Pinot Noir, and they have steadily expanded to include Chardonnay, a rose, and now Rhone varietals. They also recently added Albariño to the mix. Wendy explained that they wanted to add a second white varietal to their portfolio, and everyone was doing Rhone whites like Viognier and Rousanne. They wanted something different, so they chose Albarino, a grape native to northwest Spain and Portugal.
All of the fruit is sourced from cool-climate vineyards in the Santa Rita Hills and Ballard Canyon AVAs. We learned a little about the geography and climate of the region from driving around, but Wendy informed us that the Santa Rita Hills AVA is on average 20 degrees cooler than Santa Ynez Valley AVA. This results in wines that are complex and retain enough acidity to be food friendly and cellar-worthy. Mark and Wendy source the fruit from vineyards that are sandy at lower elevations and composed of diatomaceous earth and rock at the upper elevations. It’s also very windy, so the grapes have to fight the elements to ripen, resulting in really intense berries.
As we mentioned, these are complex, cool-climate wines, and you’ll get the most out of them with proper glassware. For the stunning Pinot Noir, we’d choose this, this, or this. Definitely decant this one. For the whites we would go with this, these, or these. We are also big fans of these that you can use for most red and white varietals, even though it sounds too good to be true.
All of the Crawford Family’s wines are seriously delicious and food friendly. We would pair the Albarino with Thai food or paella (recipe here). We loved the Tin Shack Chardonnay. We talked through potential pairings with Wendy and together came up with this grilled stone fruit salad. If you don’t have a grill, you can use a cast iron pan or a gill pan. It would also be great with fish (recipes here, here, and here).
If you’re headed to the Santa Ynez Valley, Crawford Family Wines is not to be missed. You can also join their wine club here.
GET RECIPE: Grilled Stone fruit Salad