LOMPOC, Calif. - A world-class wine destination can be found in the most unlikeliest of places. Situated in an unassuming industrial complex in the southeastern corner of Lompoc is a place called the "Wine Ghetto."
"It's something different, it's unique," said Palmina Wines tasting room manager Alicia Valenzuela. "It's a collection of amazing producers in a small area. There's nothing quite like it."
Visitors shouldn't be fooled by the Wine Ghetto's outside appearance. While the tasting rooms may be located in ordinary, run-of-the-mill metal industrial buildings, what really matters is what's served inside.
"There are producers here that are getting rated as the top wines in the whole world by the top magazines," said Montemar winemaker Steve Arrowood.
With a growing reputation, this small collection of tasting rooms is attracting wine enthusiasts from far beyond the the ghetto's location in northern Santa Barbara County.
"We've been Napa, we've been to Sonoma and Paso Robles, but nothing's compared to this area as far as the concentration of high end wine tasting," said Nykohlette Nguyen, while visiting from Orange County.
Many times visitors will get to have direct, face-to-face interaction with the winemakers themselves. It's one of the Wine Ghetto's most popular draws.
"You get a little more hands-on perspective of actually what they've done with the wine, where they've got it, which aisles they got it from which vineyard," said Pali Wine Co. assistant tasting room manager Allie Smith. "You get a little more perspective as far as what happens, how they go through it, how they make it and the whole procedure of making the wine, why they picked the grapes that they picked, why they named it what they named it. There's always a back story to something."
The first winery to open in the Sobhani Industrial Park was in 1998. Several years later, Palmina opened a tasting room in 2005. Quickly after that, several more opened, creating was is now a "one-stop shop" for wine drinkers.
"(It's) in a small pocket of an area, so you get a lot more bang for your bucket," said Nguyen. "It's very convenient too, because you don't have to drive anywhere."
For winemakers, the Wine Ghetto is not only an excellent way to showcase their product, there's also a practical element to doing business in such an unorthodox location.
"We're able to rent very affordable warehouse space to make our wines," said Arrowood. "It has the cost of wine entry into the business lowered a lot."
Featuring more than 20 tasting rooms, the ghetto offers connoisseurs an opportunity to enjoy a sip of a wide variety of wine options.
"You can find Pinot Noirs, Chardonnays, Sangioveses, Italian varietals, Rhone, Bordeaux, anything you can think of, you can find in the Wine Ghetto," said Smith.
Smith notes most, if not all of the wine, comes from grapes grown within a 30-mile radius.
"A lot of them come from Santa Rita Hills here, which is amazing, and produces great Pinot Noir and Chardonnay," said Smith.
With it's emerging wine industry starting to draw worldwide attention, a new identity is being created for the Lompoc area, making it a travel destination, while also boosting the local economy
"It's great for revenue and it really helps everyone, from tasting rooms to hotels, to local restaurants," said Valenzuela. "We all embrace each other, we are a sense of community."
With it's low key, casual charm, the Lompoc Wine Ghetto has become a popular place to be. Particularly for the who wish to enjoy a vintage wine experience.
"It's a just a hidden gem," said Nguyen. "You just come in with a hearty taste bud and good open mind, and maybe you'll come home with a case of wine and good memories!"
Most tasting rooms are open Thursday-Sunday, with operating hours between 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
For more information, visit www.lompocwine.net