Elevated Experiences: Fess Parker Ramps Up Wine-Inspired Offerings

By Gabe Saglie   |   August 22, 2023
The new Fess Parker Ranch Horseback Adventure offering takes guests on private or group guided rides across the estate (courtesy photo)

The Parkers have been busy. 

The multi-generational enterprise behind a slew of visitor options across the Santa Ynez Valley is repositioning itself as a local leader in the arenas of wine and hospitality. “People these days who are investing to come visit our area – they do have higher expectations today than they used to,” says Ashley Parker Snider, daughter of Fess Parker, who leveraged his resumé as iconic actor and real estate investor to launch his eponymous wine country brand in the late 1980s. His heirs’ answer to demand from a new era of savvy travelers ranges from revamped wine-inspired experiences to reimagined destination locales. 

Here’s a roundup!

Wine Tasting Upgrades

My kids still talk about the horseback riding experience we were treated to, a few years ago, across the Fess Parker Ranch. Katie Parker McDonald, Fess’ granddaughter, matched us with horses, outfitted us with gear and led us through a leisurely ride across the ranch’s 714-acre expanse – vines, oaks, rolling hills, and lounging cattle as far as the eye could see. Wide open nature at her finest.

Today, that experience is open to everyone. The new Fess Parker Ranch Horseback Adventure offers 75-minute group ($195/pp) and private ($225/pp) horseback rides through the scenic estate. The 360-degree views of the valley – including access to the estate vineyards that produce many of the Fess Parker brand’s top tier wines – are truly special, and otherwise inaccessible by the public. The guides share stories of the Parker family’s history in Santa Barbara wine country, and the rides conclude with a seated wine tasting experience. For bookings and more info, check out fessparkerhorsebackrides.com.

The new library tastings at Fess Parker Winery offer guests access to wines from the last two decades, all curated by winemaker Blair Fox (courtesy photo)

For a more focused dive into premium, tough-to-find Fess Parker wines, there’s the new Private Library Tasting ($75 per person, $60 for wine club members). It takes place in the air-conditioned private library inside the sleek, elegant, newly designed visitor center along Foxen Canyon Road. And it’s fully customizable, with guests choosing four library wines from a list of stand-out vintages and varietals curated by winemaker Blair Fox. There are multiple library rooms, which can host groups of four to eight. Reservations are made by emailing Fess Parker’s hospitality director at sauro@fessparker.com.

Renovations Debut

The hotel scene in downtown Los Olivos has gone through a legit upgrade, in part thanks to the debut of the reimagined Mattei’s Tavern, now a deluxe Auberge property. The Parkers offer their own version of an elevated stay with the Fess Parker Wine Country Inn, located right along the town’s main drag of Grand Avenue. I remember visiting the property often in the years following its launch by Fess Parker and his wife, Marcella, in 1998 – it was the ultimate locals’ hangout, with live music and fine drinks flowing freely most nights. Our family also stayed soon after its first renovation in 2012, and we loved its stylish charm back then.

The AAA 4-Diamond property has just finished a fresh re-do, which includes all its 19 rooms and suites. “We really focused on a little more of that elegant wine country feel,” says Ashley. “We wanted it to be relaxing and comfortable and homey, so that after a day of walking around the town, you really want to come back to your room.”

The Fess Parker Wine Country Inn in Los Olivos has just undergone its first renovation since 2012, with upgrades to all 19 rooms and suites (courtesy photo)
The rolling lawn at Fess Parker Winery has played host to the inaugural WineStock concert series, with two more events on August 19 and September 10 (courtesy photo)

Designed by Olivia Villaluz, improvements include new hardwood floors, shiplap in every bathroom, wrought iron four-poster beds and fireplaces in every room. Contemporary finishes and natural elements combine for a rustic yet refined aesthetic. Enhanced guest experiences include a sparkling wine welcome, a new car service on the weekends to whisk them around town and text communications before arrival to help curate their stay, updates to the pool deck, including new furnishings, are up next.

“The transformative journey to rejuvenate our property… has created a sanctuary where luxury, comfort, and the beauty of wine country converge,” says Amanda Parker White, also Fess’ granddaughter, and Ashley’s niece. 

Onsite dining takes place at Nella Kitchen & Bar, sister restaurant to the popular SY Kitchen nearby, and one of the valley’s most popular spots to eat and be seen.

Wine lovers, rejoice – there are dozens of tasting rooms within walking distance of the Inn. If you haven’t visited in a while, some of the area’s top sipping spots are located here, including Brewer-Clifton, DaFoe, Tercero, Andrew Murray, and Liquid Farm. Among them is Epiphany, part of the Fess Parker portfolio, launched by Fess’ son and Ashley’s brother, Eli, and home to some of the county’s very best Rhône wines. This locale, also along Grand Avenue, just down from the Inn on the other side of the iconic flagpole at the epicenter of town, has also just completed a refresh. It elevates the plein-air tasting experience in the lovely outdoor garden, with new pavers, more shade, new permitter bench seating and new lounge furniture. Most important, says Ashley, “is the outdoor service bar, which means guests no longer have to go indoors for more wine, so better personalizing their visit.”

The lovely patio is shared by The Bubble Shack, which pours the complete line of Fess Parker sparkling wines.

The Epiphany Tasting Garden re-do was designed by Josh White, Ashley’s nephew, and Amanda’s husband. Those Parker family touches really are everywhere.

Listen to the Music

The Epiphany Tasting Garden in Los Olivos has been revamped to include a new wine service bar outdoors (courtesy photo)

There’s still time to enjoy WineStock ($20/$15), a rocking new summer concert series at Fess Parker Winery. Two concerts remain, including the Bryan Titus Trio this coming Saturday, August 19. This particular show coincides with the annual SummerFess celebration, which will also include Movie Night on the lawn and a special retrospective tasting ($80/$60) of 10 library pinot noirs and syrahs, with vintages ranging from 2003 to 2018, all to celebrate winemaker Blair Fox’s 20th anniversary with Fess Parker. A super special event.

The final WineStock concert, set for September 10, will feature the Harmony All Stars. Food trucks will be on hand, and guests are welcome to bring their own lawn chairs and blankets to secure their perfect spot on the winery lawn.

For more information on all these upgrades and happenings, check out fessparker.com.

And kudos to the Parker family for offering, and investing in, such a diverse array of experiences. They help elevate, thoughtfully and creatively, the allure and prestige of the Santa Barbara wine country experience for both locals and global visitors alike. Cheers!  


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