by Dick Saunders
Santa Barbara County is home to over 100 wineries located within a patchwork of microclimates, terrains, small villages, and rolling rural hills, wtih a handful just a few blocks from the beach. The modern era of grape and wine production started here in the 1960’s and grew dramatically over the last decade. Beautiful resort style wineries can be discovered adjacent to small boutique operations.
Due to the success of the movie Sideways the area has been “discovered” with more visitors exploring the region’s laid back wine country. Most of the wineries are small businesses run by families or individuals which allow for a more personalized wine touring experience. Nearly all wineries now charge a tasting fee, and most will let you keep the tasting glass.
Santa Barbara County has a range of climates within its three American Viticulture Areas (AVAs). Soils in the vast region include ancient beach and diatomaceous earth to chirt and limestone.
Santa Ynez Valley Vineyard looking north
Santa Ynez Valley is the area’s largest AVA region and has the highest concentration of wineries. Santa Ynez Valley is a long, east-west corridor with very cool temperatures on the coast that become progressively warmer inland. There are approximately 2,200 acres under vine planted to Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Syrah, and Merlot.
The Sta. Rita Hills AVA is located between the towns of Buellton and Lompoc and includes about 1700 planted acres within its small 10 square mile area. Its vineyards are cooled by marine winds and coastal fog. Pinot Noir dominates the small appellation and shares vineyard space with Chardonnay and Syrah. Because of a legal issue with the Chilean winery, Vina Santa Rita, the official AVA designation is a bit different than the actual Santa Rita Hills name.
Santa Maria Valley AVA has the largest amount of grapes planted with about 7,500 acres. Yet only a dozen or so wineries are located here. Large tracks of historic and prestigious vineyards benefit from the fog and coastal breezes and contribute to an extended growing season. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir lead the region in vineyard acreage, with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Grenache, Merlot, Mourvedre, Sangiovese and Syrah also being grown.
Santa Ynez Valley Vineyard
Santa Barbara County Wine Trail
Los AlamosValley, yet to receive official status as an AVA, is nevertheless an important growing region within Santa Barbara County. There are thousands of acres of grapes under vine here owned and managed by some of the largest producers in the state. The area is on average ten degrees warmer that the Santa Maria Valley to the north, and ten degrees cooler than Santa Ynez to the southeast. Small vineyards reside alongside large tracts of grapes growing Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Grenache, Mourvedre, Petite Sirah, Riesling, Viognier and Pinot Gris.