Wine Country

<<Back to Concierge

SANTA BARBARA WINE COUNTRY

HISTORY

An adobe winery built in 1804 adjacent to San Jose Creek in Goleta marked the beginning of Santa Barbara’s now world-renowned wine industry. Although the 25 acres of companion vineyard are gone, the adobe still stands as Goleta’s oldest landmark. Nearly forty years later, a grapevine was planted on a Carpinteria farm. Within 50 years, it had grown to monstrous proportions, with a trunk measuring nine feet in circumference, a two-acre arbor and an annual 10-ton yield. French wine influence arrived in the county in 1884 when Justinian Caire imported grape slips from that country and planted a 150-acre vineyard on Santa Cruz Island. It produced the fruit for prize-winning wines shipped all the way to San Francisco for bottling.

In 1962, Pierre Lafond, the 32 year-old owner of a wine and cheese shop, founded Santa Barbara Winery and the region’s modern day love affair with the grape and its potion was in full bloom. Firestone, Sanford, Rancho Sisquoc and Zaca Mesa wineries and vineyards were also among the county’s wine industry pioneers.

By 1980, terroir, a combination of the soil and climate specific to the success of a vineyard and specific grape varieties, was attracting more attention from Santa Barbara’s vineyard owners and winemakers. Pinot noir and chardonnay grapes were uprooting chenin blanc and white Riesling, and cooler regions were becoming home to Rhone varietals such as syrah, grenache, mourvedre, viognier, marsanne and rousanne.

TERROIR

In North America, mountain ranges usually run north-south. In Santa Barbara’s wine growing region, however, two ranges run east-west. The resulting a funnel effect causes fog and cool air from the Pacific Ocean to migrate inland. That serves to extend the growing season and allows grapes to ripen more slowly and evenly; thereby developing intense flavors and optimum acid-sugar ratios. Those conditions along with areas of plentiful sunshine and, overall, soils conducive to growing exemplary wine grapes, create the perfect set-up for a world-class wine growing region.

AVA’S

An American Viticultural Area (AVA) is an officially-designated region with a specific climate, geographical features and soil characteristics. Santa Barbara County is home to four AVAs. The largest, Santa Ynez Valley, is home to more than 50 wineries and many acres of vineyards and refers to the warmer eastern part of the valley – a climate reminiscent of France’s Bordeaux region. The Santa Rita Hills, in the west, closer to the ocean, has now received its own AVA designation.

Santa Maria Valley, the third Santa Barbara County AVA, is another cool and often windy and foggy area similar to France’s Burgundy, home of pinot noir and chardonnay.

The newest (and smallest in terms of vineyard acreage) AVA is Happy Canyon. It is nestled farthest east in the Santa Ynez Valley, at an altitude of 800 to 3,400 feet. It’s warm climate and rocky, mineral-rich soil make it the ideal home for Bordeaux and Rhône grape varietals.

WINES

Santa Barbara is blessed with an abundance of microclimates. That nearly endless variety gives winemakers the opportunity to produce a wide array of wines. Fine-tuning and more than 40 years of experimentation by vintners has resulted in the matching of grape varietals with the region’s terroir in order to craft superior varietal wines and blends. Santa Barbara County’s standout white wines are Chardonnay, Pinot Gris (Pinot Grigio) and Viognier, while Pinot Noir, Syrah and Rhone-style blends are the stars among reds.

Maturing Bordeaux and Rhône varietal vineyards are delivering more and more top-quality Cabernet Sauvignon blends, Merlots and Sauvignon Blancs from Santa Barbara’s Wine Country.

WINERIES, EVENTS AND MORE

The Santa Barbara County Vintners’ Association website, www.sbcountywines.com, offers comprehensive information about Santa Barbara’s wine country, wines, wineries and wine events.