The Potential for Greatness
Despite its southern locale, Santa Barbara County is cooler than most other wine regions in California, due to the influence of the Pacific Ocean and a string of east-west valleys that channel cool ocean breezes inland. In the 1960s the first modern wineries focused on Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Riesling and Chardonnay, but because of the diverse mezzo-climates and differing soil compositions, some varieties fared poorly. After 30 years of extensive experimentation, by the 1990s it was simply a matter of fine-tuning the results. Investments from corporate wineries followed, encouraging the local wine industry to take a more focused approach to its regional identity. Family-owned wineries still maintain a majority, and a new generation of winemakers is discovering the potential for high-quality wines.
The Santa Maria Valley is the northernmost appellation. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir benefit from the ocean’s cooling influence. Acclaimed wine critic Robert Parker says Santa Maria Valley has potential for greatness in growing the Burgundian varietals.
The Santa Ynez Valley is a long east-west valley with cooler temperatures near the Pacific coast and warmer ones further inland. Pinot Noir is the star on the cool western edge of the valley, while Rhône varietals shine in the warmer east. Many of the great Syrahs from Santa Barbara come from the eastern side of the Santa Ynez Valley.
The Santa Rita Hills area is often blanketed by fog in the cool early morning, and cooled down again by afternoon winds. The soils are sedimentary with patches of limestone, making a perfect home for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
Today there are over 200 wineries in Santa Barbara, many of which enjoy international popularity. Some of the most recognized wineries in the area include: Au Bon Climat, Babcock, Byron, Cambria, Fess Parker (of Daniel Boone fame), Firestone, Io, Meridian, Qupé, Rancho Sisquoc, Sanford and Zaca Mesa. There are also some newer wineries making their presence felt in the region, such as the internationally acclaimed Sea Smoke, Flying Goat, Taz, Melville and Carina.
Individual vineyards are also garnering significant acclaim. Bien Nacido is dedicated mostly to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and has experimental plantings of Barbera, Nebbiolo, Rousanne and other varieties. Smaller vineyards include Colson Canyon Vineyard, Fe Ciega Vineyard, Losson Ranch and Vineyard, Vina de Blanco, and the Windmill Ranch and Vineyard (Syrah).
Santa Barbara has the diversity of soils and climates to make it one of the most engaging and exciting winegrowing areas in California. With a commitment to excellence among its oenologists, Santa Barbara will be a force to reckon with for many years to come.