Column by Outdoor Editor John McKinney, aka The Trailmaster, (site and store here)
Hike the Santa Ynez Valley Wine Country and enjoy a couple of short trails that lead from tasting room to tasting room. Located near the little town of Los Olivos, the “Foxen Canyon Wine Trail” offers a tour from winery to winery along Foxen Canyon Road. The tour is for motorists (and some cyclists) but I’m happy to report there’s also a hiking trail to take in Foxen Canyon.
Perched atop a commanding mesa overlooking Zaca Canyon, the Santa Ynez Valley and the wilderness beyond, Firestone Vineyard is the oldest (established in 1972) estate winery in Santa Barbara County. The large (by valley standards) winery produces acclaimed Merlots, Chardonnays and Rieslings. And it boasts the first and only hiking trail, too,
During the 1990s, winery founder Brooks Firestone represented the county in the State Assembly for a few terms, before returning to expand the family business. From the earliest days of wine touring in the Santa Ynez Valley, Firestone Vineyard has been a major player and must-stop.
Hikers were pleased when Firestone constructed “Brooks’ Trail” around the vineyard. The pleasant pathway connects Firestone Vineyard with the former Curtis Winery tasting room, recently taken over by Andrew Murray Vineyards.
Andrew Murray wines are much admired, particularly for fine Rhône varieties, and it’s probably a safe bet that The Trailmaster is the one and only person who associates Andrew Murray wines with hiking. Let me explain:
A decade ago, when I was leading hiking tours of Santa Barbara for an upscale walking vacation company, Andrew Murray Vineyards was quite hospitable to our hiking groups. Andrew’s Mom (Fran Murray) was active with a wonderful group, the Santa Ynez Valley Women Hikers, and she and Andrew gave us permission to walk their property and then arranged a post-hike wine tasting. A couple times, Andrew himself did the pour and proudly explained where he wanted to go with the family business. For some of the hikers on my tour, it was the highlight of the week!
So here’s a toast to the Murrays, winemakers and hikers.
If you have a designated driver (always a good idea if you’re on a tasting tour), you can make this an even easier 1.2 mile one-way hike (mostly downhill) from Firestone to Curtis.
Plan your hike for a time when Firestone Vineyard’s tasting room is open, usually 10 A.M. to 5 P.M. daily. The main gain is open a little before and after these hours.
For a little more wine country hiking, pay a visit to Zaca Mesa Winery, which occupies a scenic plateau overlooking Foxen Canyon. The winery offers tastings and two short trails, which look a bit neglected these days. Windmill Trail (0.25 mile) climbs to a picnic area then up to a little overlook. Z Trail (0.25 mile) also climbs to an overlook (a popular promontory for exchanging wedding vows). The path winds among the region’s two kinds of oaks—coastal live and valley—helpfully identified by signs en route.
If you’re fantasizing about hiking across the valley from winery to winery and stopping at each tasting room along the trail, you’re going to be disappointed. Sauntering through vineyards in the valley is just not possible or encouraged like it is in Provence and Tuscany. We hikers are grateful to Firestone and Andrew Murray for this small sampling of Santa Ynez Valley wine-country trails, but the valley is so beautiful and enticing, we’re left thirsting for more.
The signed path begins by the picnic area, located just below the Firestone tasting room. Valley vistas are superb from the start of the trail. The trail descends to the vineyard, skirts rows and rows of grapes, and soon crosses the vineyard’s paved entry road.
Brooks Trail climbs a bit, then contours along oak-dotted slopes. Enjoy grand views of Foxen Canyon and the greater wine country. The sights and sounds of cars traveling Foxen Canyon and the rise and dip of active oil rigs amidst the rows of grape are also part of the valley scene. The path descends to Andrew Murray Winery and Visitor Center, where there are grassy picnic grounds under the shade of ancient oaks.
Directions: From Highway 101, some 45 miles north of Santa Barbara, exit on State Highway 154 (San Marcos Pass Rd.) and head east 2.5 miles to Foxen Canyon Road. Turn left and follow the winding road 4.4 miles to a junction with Zaca Station Road. Firestone Vineyard is located 0.7 mile south on Zaca Station Road. Curtis Winery is just west on the continuation of Foxen Canyon Road.
The most direct route to Firestone Vineyard is to exit Highway 101 on Zaca Station Road and proceed 2.5 miles northeast.