The Best of Santa Barbara Wine Country
Sideways (the cult classic movie) put Santa Barbara on the map (or wait, was it the other way around?) showing the rest of the world the beauty and quality found in this cool climate growing region.
However, besides Merlot, Santa Barbara wine country offers a little bit of everything for the thirsty wine drinker. The most commonly planted varietals in the valley include: Chardonnay 7529 acres, Pinot Noir 5561 acres, Syrah 1928 acres and Sauvignon Blanc 799 acres!
Wines are both elegant and sophisticated while maintaining down-to-earth minerality. They show an artful balance between fruit purity (think perfectly ripe berries), a rich velvety texture and freshness.
You can note that certain parts of the region farther inland are warm enough to fully ripen Cabernet Sauvignon (and other Bordeaux varieties) as well as white and red Rhône varieties (think Grenache, Syrah and Viognier!).
It’s fortunate that Santa Barbara wine country is sandwiched between two mountain ranges with elevations ranging from 200 feet in the valley to 3400 feet in the hillside vineyards. The transverse (East to West) nature of these mountain ranges is unique to the region and forms a collage of microclimates and soil types while keeping the region cool. Soils range from pockets of limestone that help maintain acidity, diatomaceous earth (aka DE) creates concentrated wines, sandy soils make more fruit driven styles, and finally, clay loam mixtures retain moisture for thirsty vines.
This region includes 6 American Viticultural Areas (AVA) which are designated wine grape-growing regions in the United States reflecting their geographic uniqueness / terroir (soil, weather, and micro-climates).
Santa Maria Valley
This funnel shaped region is host to arguably the longest growing season in California (125 days) due to chill average temperatures around 64 °F. It is the regions first AVA, (established in 1981) and the first region that planted Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in Santa Barbara.
Santa Ynez Valley
This is by far the largest AVA in the region, clocking in with 77,000 acres planted to over 60 different varieties and spanning over 30 miles east to west. Moving from west to east the climate goes from chilly and foggy (home to Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah) to warm and dry (good for Rhône blends, Zinfandels, and Bordeaux blends).
Sta Rita Hills
This small (2700 planted acres) hilly AVA lies in the western part of the larger Santa Ynez AVA. Famous for calcareous soils and a marine layer that sticks around till 10 am–this windy region is for Burgundy lovers. Dark fruited (plums, black cherries) and highly concentrated Pinot Noirs dominate representing 2000 acres, followed up by Chardonnays (500 acres).
In the middle of the greater Santa Ynez AVA lies this north-south oriented sub-AVA making a name for itself behind its mouthwatering Syrah. It is the only AVA in the USA devoted to this grape. Another 30% of plantings are to its fellow Rhône varieties like Grenache, Viognier and Roussanne. Syrah wines from here are noted for having more weight and concentration than a French Syrah (from Northern Rhône).
Lying on the far east border of the greater Santa Ynez AVA lies this hot and hilly AVA established in 2013. Unique to this region are the high magnesium content in the soils and hot daytime temperatures (peaking in the 90 °F). This results in low yields and fully ripe late ripening, magnesium demanding grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc, as well as grapes that require a lot of heat like Syrah and Grenache. The resulting styles are highly concentrated with jammy black fruits and a long mineral driven finish.
Today, the region has continued to grow and evolve with the addition of places like Los Olivos and Los Alamos Valley working to become Santa Barbara’s newest sub-AVAs. There has also been a recent increase in plantings of unique varietals including Chenin Blanc, Trousseau Gris, Gruner Veltliner, Cabernet Franc and Gamay. Amy Christine, a Master of Wine and grower in Sta Rita Hills, tells us that this region is actively adding diversity to the region. If you ever wanted to check this area out in person, now is the time.
Sources: Wine Folly – a terrific weekly email Amy Christine, Master of Wine W and owner of Black Sheep Finds in Lompoc sbcountywines.com for wine growing area info Happy Canyon AVA http://happycanyonava.com/ Ballard Canyon AVA Sta Rita Hills AVA Los Alamos Valley an article on the region from Napa Valley Register
Must See and Must Do:
The area is obviously great and getting better for wine lovers and real foodies with restaurants of every cuisine possibility. It’s also a bonanza for tourists with wonderful beaches & surfing, art & museums, and lots of boutique shopping excitement.
Your first stop should be downtown and its “chic” 26 welcoming wine tasting rooms after you sun, shop and dine downtown in the “funk zone,” located steps from the beach. Then its on to the neighboring small towns and villages.
Santa Ynez county first instance offers the unique townships of Solvang and Los Olivos. Solvang was founded by the Danish in 1911, reflected in the wind mills and half timbered buildings. There is an annual “Solvang Danish Days” complete with Viking reenactments and costumed gentry wandering the streets.
Los Olivos, acclaimed for its “porch culture” where laid- back neighbors hang out and chat like the old days, was a Stagecoach town established in the 1860’s. Matteis Tavern originally housed passersby and is now a luxury hotel destination.
Dining in Santa Barbara goes beyond your most demanding expectations with unique and delicious experiences including game (at a converted Pony Express type stop, French, Italian, Sushi, Chinese, Thai, Vegan and all kinds of seafood with the beach joints just a few moments away from most of the 4 and 5 Star resorts, hotels, and B&B.
There are many good ones! However, after a great deal of research including actual visits, we’ve selected a number of special tasting experiences that we feel represents the variety and excellence of great wines coming out of Santa Barbara wine country. However, if you have personal preferences, we’ll happily include them in your tour.
The Best of Santa Barbara Wine Country – 3 Nights, 4 Days Wine Adventure
- Airport transfers to and from hotel if needed
- Private Driver-Wine Guide for 3 ½ days with wine and Santa Barbara wine country commentary.
- Luxury Vehicle for 3 ½ days, including gas & tolls
- 3 Nights/4days: 4-Star
- 3 Breakfasts at your hotel
- 3 Lunches: 2 local cafés and 1 winery picnic.
- 1 Farewell dinner: Your choice of cuisine!
- 11 Wine Tastings: 7 Winery visits and 4 winery room visits!
- 2 winery tours including a cave and barrel tasting
- Water and snacks.
- Domestic airfare,
- Liquor, wine, food or meals not mentioned.
- Personal items, telephone and fax or room service/hotel purchases.
Cost for two (2) people, double occupancy: $6,438.00 or $3,219.00 per person
The Fine Print
All prices shown are per person double occupancy (twin share) and subject to change due to currency fluctuations until deposit and ultimately depend on preferred accommodation, number of guests and type/size of vehicle.
N.B. Restaurants, Hotels and Winery Owner/Wine Consultant Lunches may change based on availability of seats, rooms, or individuals. Substitutes will be of equal or greater value and interest.