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Richard Samford, founder of Samford wines.

Richard Samford, founder of Samford wines.

 BUELLTON, Ca. – I may have visited the happiest place on Earth Friday night and no, I didn’t go to Disneyland!

Though a tad corny it probably describes the highlight of my first day at the 2014 Wine Blogger’s Conference. The day was a full one but capped with one of the conference’s signature events – the winery-hosted evening dinner. Organizers put nearly 300 bloggers on about 10 buses and we head out to winery for dinner. We scribes don’t know where we’re going until on the bus.

Our group of about 20 were delighted to visit the far east end of St. Ynez Valley — Happy Canyon. Six small wineries poured for us at the Grassini Winery. The fun thing was these were all tiny – by California standards and even Santa Barbara standards – wineries. These true boutique wineries produce as few as 700 cases of wine up to just a couple thousand.

The east end of the valley gets less of the cool ocean air in the east-west valleys off the Pacific. Therefore, Happy Canyon can grow the Bordeaux varietals that the west end cannot. Conversely, you won’t find any of the area’s signature Pinot Noir either.

And I wouldn’t be doing the canyon justice without mentioning its beauty, hillside vineyards, beautiful evening sun lighting the mountain sides and vineyards, and we were treated to a huge full moon coming up over the mountains as we headed back to Buellton.

All six wineries had a Sauvignon Blanc, a few with a bit of Semilion, and all were good – not outstanding. But the really big hit was the wonderful Bordeaux style blends. Even the Cabernet driven blends were wonderful – softer and rounder fruit with a smooth finish. Most had the reds at a hefty $50-$70 price but that’s not out of line for small hand-crafted production.

The gist of this is you’ll never find the wines if you’re not in the area but when visiting wine regions seek out these kind of producers for something exciting and different.

The conference kicked off with two sessions I enjoyed. Corbett Barr, Fizzle, a bit of a blogging guru who isn’t a wine blogger gave some great advice about driving a blog’s reach to more people regardless of the topic. That’s a separate post.

The second session, and I will definitely be writing about this one, featured four Santa Barbara pioneers who’ve made wine in the region since the 1970s and 1980s. It was one of the day’s big highlights.

Samford, Qupe, Longoria, and Ken Brown are names real wine folks will know.

The fun event is one of WBC’s signatures. We live blogged and tweeted speed dating/speed tasting wine. Ha! We tasted 10 wines in 50 minutes. See previous post.

More great sessions today and another late afternoon round of live Tweeting – this time wioth red wines. Follow my Tweets at: @howardhewitt

 The conference wraps up Sunday morning followed by one afternoon excursion. After that, I’m driving up to Paso Robles for a day-long stay then to Sonoma/Napa Tuesday.