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Where can one find tastings from over 100 wineries, chefs serving farm-to-table fare and local live music — all in a concentrated area? The Santa Barbara Vintners Festival, of course.

Held at Lompoc's River Park on Saturday, the Buellton-based Santa Barbara Vintners Foundation raised close to $10,000 through a silent auction to benefit the Hancock College viticulture and enology program. Approximately 1,500 tickets were sold to both out-of-towners and Santa Barbara County residents, according to organizers.

For a $30 round-trip ticket, scores of South County attendees — and those from neighboring cities — opted to travel by bus from Santa Barbara’s Fess Parker Doubletree Resort to the event and back. 

“Today was excellent! We’ll definitely attend next year,” said a guest from Orcutt, who brought her family members visiting from Sacramento and the state of Washington to the 36th annual event.

Beyond the bubbly and bread-breaking festivities, the purpose behind the festival reaches back to 1983 when, to support and promote Santa Barbara County in its endeavors to become a world-class wine region, the nonprofit Vintners Foundation was formed.

Through organizing special events such as seminars, tastings and festivals including the upcoming "Celebration of Harvest Weekend," the foundation continues to educate and strengthen its wine and grape industry consumer-advocate base.

In addition to Hancock, this year's fundraising efforts benefit the Santa Ynez Valley's People Helping People, the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County, Santa Barbara International Film Festival and the Santa Barbara Vintners Foundation Scholarship program.

"We are very supportive of our local community and want to contribute to whomever we can," said Sherill O'Neill, a seven-year Vintners’ Foundation member and public relations contact. "The silent auctions are important for supporting various organizations."

Among the one-of-a-kind wine collections up for bid at the silent auction were a double magnum of Brewer Clifton Pinot Noir; Sta. Rita Hills and a 5-liter bottle of Qupe 2013 Syrah; and a six-bottle sampler displayed in an engraved wooden box from Kenneth Volk Vineyards. Specialty event packages that included a private vineyard tour and tastings for four at Martian Ranch & Vineyard and Presqu’ile Winery were up for bid as well.

“Taking home one of these items is a great way to get to know more about local wine as a well as support the community,” said Santa Barbara Vintners Foundation President Elaina Kroll.

In a large silo booth located at the entryway, Dr. Alfredo Koch, Hancock's life/physical sciences instructor and head of agribusiness, and a small group of his students, shared their winemaking and wine business programs available at the school. 

“I was thinking [of attending] UC Davis,” said three-year student Penelope Semrau. But when she realized Hancock's program was tailored to fit this particular wine region, she decided, “This [AHC] is where I want to be!”

The students also poured their Captain's Reserve Pinot Noir, pinot rose and chardonnay selections, alongside fellow vintners.

The Foodbank of Santa Barbara County has used the annual donations from the foundation to fund the county's K-12 nutritional education program, which teaches children how to choose and prepare healthy foods.

The initiative is centered on play for preschoolers and graduates to a kids' farmers market for kindergarten through sixth grade. The program features a new "produce of the month."

Since teens love cooking, the older grades learn how to properly prepare and cook nutritious food with heat; and eventually hold dinner celebrations where they invite their families to enjoy the food they've prepared.

This year, the program grew from serving 12 to 22 locations. 

Donations from the Vintners Foundation also went to assist the community during recent fires.

“We want to specifically thank the foundation for its support after the Thomas fire. The contributions we received helped us to provide 50,000 meals through our varying 110 emergency distribution locations," said Foodbank spokesperson Judith Smith-Meyer. "Their donations go a long way; $1 equals eight meals." 

Shoulder to shoulder, food and wine vendors set up their own tables inside of large white tents on Saturday and served, poured and laughed with visiting tasters. 

Solvang-based Leonardo's Cucina Italiana served large meatballs with homemade sauce. The chef and owner, Leonardo, before serving asked each taster for his/her best Italian word. For many, the word "pizza" or "grazie" was their ticket to taste.

Kevin Gleason, Santa Ynez-based proprietor of the 415-acre Refugio Ranch Vineyards, said "I'm here to support my daughter and son with pouring, and to make people like you happy."

Boutique wineries were also present to show their community support — and introduce their wines to new consumers.

"We're a small winery; we don't have a website. It's all word of mouth," said Steve Arrowood, owner of Montemar Wines, a small chardonnay- and pinot noir-producing winery located in Lompoc's Wine Ghetto. 

On the way out of the wine and food event, Hancock representatives invited attendees to take a cool- or warm-weather grapevine as a memento — and to encourage new generations of wine makers and growers. 

Nancy Faust, of Lompoc, with her pinot vine in hand, announced to fellow attendees, “Come back in a year and I’ll have pinot for everyone!” 

For more information about the Santa Barbara Vintners Foundation, visit sbvf.org.

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Lisa André is the Lifestyle Editor for the Santa Ynez Valley News. You can follow her on twitter @LAndreSYVNews

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