The soundtrack to the movie Sideways may come to mind as you turn off the Pacific Coast Highway and meander towards Santa Ynez valley. You may not be on a male bonding trip or a wine tasting outing but you will inevitably fall in love with this central coast region of California.
This region of California, just 30 miles north of Santa Barbara, yields some of the finest wines in the country. It is the gentle balance of shifting winds in an opposing flow of warm and cool air that prevent the grapes from ripening too quickly—paving the way for a longer growing season which enhances the grapes with a crisp balance between acid and wine. Add to that the natural drift of fog from the pacific that travels along the east-west Santa Ynez mountain range and you have ideal conditions for producing a variety of award winning wines.
Santa Ynez was not originally recognized for its ideal grape growing conditions. The ranchers were first to settle here--appreciating the unique character and rustic appeal of the valley. It was a more recent discovery that the valley offered optimal growing conditions for wine makers. Today there exists a comfortable balance of horse farms and ranches and preeminent vineyards.
The ranchers and winemakers share the sentiment that protecting the authentic casual atmosphere and minimizing development of Santa Ynez is essential. There is a nostalgic feel here, similar, the locals say, to what Sonoma and Napa Valley felt like 20-30 years ago. They wish to preserve the appealing character of classic gentleman ranchers sharing the land with emerging winemakers.
There is no better place to witness this blending of wine and horse than at Bridlewood Winery. Once an Arabian horse farm and equestrian rehabilitation center, it now stands as a state-of-the art award-winning winery. The Spanish Mission architecture with white stucco walls and adobe tile roofs sits beautifully at the end of a tree-lined drive, surrounded by vine-covered hillsides. A Spanish-style bell tower and wrap-around verandas contribute to the welcoming atmosphere of this intimate winery.
The Gallo family purchased Bridlewood in 2004—appreciating the wine David Hopkins, the winemaker, was producing and the sheer beauty of the property. The family shares a passion for wine and horses—several family members are accomplished equestrians and at least a dozen of senior management own horses and love to ride. The family keeps some of their horses here where they can enjoy relaxed rides through 100 acres of Bridlewood and the neighboring farms and vineyards beyond.
The exquisite remodel and preservation of the original equestrian center also held special appeal to the Gallos. Only minor architectural changes were made to the main structure. Stalls were removed and floors were concreted making way for modern, innovative wine making equipment. Original doors, hardware, and bathing stalls are still in place. David Hopkins enjoys the fact that his office was once the sophisticated equine surgical suite.
The property still boasts a race track, originally used for rehabilitation, paddocks, two lakes and a waterfall. Retired horses bask in the bucolic setting, enjoying the California sunshine and grazing in the shaded paddocks. In keeping with the equestrian flavor of this winery, horse and carriage tours are offered on the weekends. What better way for visitors to enjoy the history of the facility, experience the beauty of the property, and sample some of Bridlewood’s award-winning varietals.
Bridlewood firmly believes that horses and wine go together. David Hopkins states there is something so enjoyable about taking an evening ride and returning to a perfect glass of wine. He fully embraces the concept that life is a celebration.
Article courtesy Equestrian Quarterly magazine.