Santa Barbara's Funk Zone: 16 Wineries in 6 Blocks

Obi Wine Kenobi. That is what some have called my new friend, Randy, the tasting manager at Cottonwood Canyon. He knows a lot about wine. He has probably forgotten more than I will ever know. But he doesn’t wield that knowledge with malicious intent, like an intimidating light saber of condescension. No, he is just as excited to share Cottonwood Canyon’s wines as we are to taste them. He explains the nuances of the varietals as we discuss the intimate pairings of succulent dishes that should accompany each.

Being a Foodie, I am in Heaven. For Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone is a perfect mecca for wine lovers, Foodies, and Funksters to taste, eat, and play, all a short trip from the major metropolis of L.A.

Where else will you find 15 world class wineries’ tasting rooms, plus 2 unaffiliated tasting rooms, a brewery, and one liquor distillery in a 6 block radius?

Starting your tasting tour at the tiny, unassuming Cottonwood is commencing your trip at the top of the Zone and working your way down toward the ocean. This is my recommendation. You can zig zag, go straight block by block, or just let the wine call to you. This is your weekend, discover as you will.

Note: Cottonwood is on the Urban Wine Trail maps, but not the Funk Zone maps. Same with Kalyra, and Deep Sea. Guessinger is on no map, and LaFonda is brand spanking new.

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Straight south on Anacapa St., your next stop will be at the 2 most popular wineries, directly across from one another. Oreana (voted best tasting room in 2012 by the Santa Barbara News Press) can tend to be a bit rowdy as was the case when we were there. They were one of the pioneers of the Funk Zone, repurposing an old tire factory into a laid back winery, where they even have movie nights!

Santa Barbara Winery is a bit more relaxed, and it has reason to be. SB Winery began in 1962, the first winery in Santa Barbara since prohibition, making it the Granddaddy of the Funk Zone, so be sure to swing by and pay homage. They have a lovely wooded seating area for relaxing, if you can find a seat, that is.

Next stop, 4 in a row on Yaconali St. You can literally throw a rock and hit them all.

Starting from East to west, we check out, Riverbench first. Where our lovely host, Cassie, shares all the best vines with us. Riverbench touches all the heartstrings, in that it is a Sustainable In Practice (SIP) certified winery, meaning that it builds community between the vineyards, the workers, and the land. They also donate a portion of their Pinot Noir Rosé to charity. The wine is wonderful and you can feel good about yourself while sipping it!

Area 5.1 puts the fun in Funk Zone. A great riff on the “secret” Nevada military site, 5.1 is called that because of the 2 owners, Martin and Mike Brown. Australian born brothers, with a love for good wine, decided to make their wine as the “Aliens” they were. Thus Area 5.1 (as well as Kalyra) was born. Along with the fact that they deal with 5 vineyards, 5 winemakers, 5 wines on the tasting menu, and Martin’s birthday is 5/1. Seeing a pattern? Their wines are solid, smooth, and I took home a bottle of their amazing Port for later testing.

AVA (American Viticultural Areas) Winery is a nice wide open, very modern tasting room. They make “wines of distinction from the five AVA’s of Santa Barbara.” With the help of a giant wall map, you can taste your way specifically through the terroir of the local region, mile by mile.

Directly across a small breezeway finds you at Pali Wines. An equally modern room, but with hints of the mountains with their woody accents. Two of their Pinot Noirs were recently given “Top Values” recommendations by Wine Spectator’s James Laube. This is also one of the few wineries that features wine on tap, something that is becoming more popular in the US.

Directly across the street you will see the latest newcomer to the scene, La Fond, having just opened in May of 2014. Pierre LaFond, an architect by trade, is also the owner of the Santa Barbara winery, which, again, you can hit with a rock from here. LaFond is a bit more refined than SB and there were two standouts here for me. Their Pinots were very smooth and did not have what I have dubbed the “Pinot Funk” on the nose, and you get to take the tasting glass with you! A great souvenir and smart marketing all in one.

One block and several art installments later, will find you around the corner at the Fox tasting room located inside the Santa barbara Art foundry. You can grab a glass and wonder around the fun and funky exhibits, many wine themed, throughout the warehouse.

Now you have a decision to make. This is where you can call it a day and save the rest for tomorrow or press on like a blurry eyed wine fanatic.

I recommend the prior. Get some rest, and start fresh tomorrow.

On day 2, I would start with a double header tasting at Kalyra and then walk directly across, literally 10 feet away, to Giessinger. I guess you could switch them if you are feeling adventurous.

Remember the 2 Aussie gents who started Area 5.1? Well, here they fully embrace their roots in the land of OZ. The room is a vibrant fun loving homage to the land done undah! Surfboards and Aboriginal art abound, and even show up on some of their labels. If you want to taste Santa Barbara with an Australian flair, this is definitely the place.

Giessinger takes a more French forward approach with their wines and their room. Lovely art adorns the room, and their wines bring the art of French wine making to the California coast. They also have the distinction of winning the “Best Wine Tasting Room in Santa Barbara for 2013,” given to them by the US Commerce Association.

Now it is time to head past yesterday’s quarry on Yanonali, turning right on Anacapa, heading toward the water. En route, you will find a gaggle of tasting rooms huddled up closely to one another for warmth, or I guess you could say, winth. Yes, I just made that up.

The first stop will be Corks n’ Crowns. This is one of the top places to go in the Zone. Their claim to fame is that they are not a winery. They actually serve as a representative tasting room for many wineries that are too small to have their own rooms. So, in one place, you get to taste many wines that you will not find anywhere else. You get a huge variety to sip and it’s a very fun place to hang out and just relax.

Snuggled in right behind C n’ C, is Chatter + Drake, the winery run by the husband and wife team of Mark and Andi Cummins. Both are artists who also craft lovely wines. Interestingly, they produce wines by “blocks” in a very small region, the Lawrence Winery in the Edna Valley, highlighting the subtle differences row by row. The tastywines are mainly Pinots, and they have a small private room to rent for parties.

A nice long walk of about 30 seconds brings you to the doorstep of Kunin Wines. A family owned winery, Kunin’s wines all come from the Central Coast AVA. Kunin is one of the elder statesmen of the Zone, having been there for over 5 years, since Seth Kunin had a vision to bring high quality boutique wines to the area. Much recognition and several awards later, Kunin Wines is a firm anchor to the Santa Barbara wine scene.

Just next door is Municipal Wines, where Dave Potter has made a place that is like going to a friend’s clubhouse made from things he found in his mom’s basement and at the local flea market. Having trained in Australia and France, the homey feel does not belie the world class wines he makes. This is not a snooty wine haven. They have a stuffed bear for cryin out loud! Municipal is a great place to wind down the day. But we are not quite done.

There is one more place to hit, that is not exactly in the Funk Zone, but I recommend it because it is the best place to sit, sip, and sunset. You need to head around the corner and out onto the boardwalk to Deep Sea Winery, the only tasting room with an amazing view of the Santa Barbara Coastline. This vineyard, run by the Conway family, gets it’s name from the ancient sea beds of Arroyo Grande where their vines reside. This is the ideal way to end a tasting day, on the sea watching the sun set, sipping one of Deep Sea’s lush, rich, smooth wines and reminisce about your adventure.

“Best…Weekend…Ever!”

It's a fleeting term at best, as it will be replaced on and off throughout one’s life, but I can say without equivocation a visit to Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone has elicited this statement often and will continue to do so even more, as plans for expansion are being put into play in the Zone for more amazing wineries, fabulous eateries, and general funkiness. If you love wine, food, art, fun, luxuriating in the sun, and a nice walk on the beach, get thee to the Funk Zone. And tell ‘em Spike sent ya.

Keep Spicin It Up!

Reprint from 2014

Revisiting one of my favorite places- Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone. This article got lost in the mix somewhere along the way. I figured now is a good time to get it out in the internet ether. A few things may have changed but not much. So get out to SB and have a drink for me!