Santa Barbara Wine Country - 2019
We've been exploring this area more in-depth since moving to the Central Coast so I thought we would share some of our discoveries with you.
This is a great place to hang out for a few days and get lost in the rural countryside exploring the widely dispersed wineries, farms and small towns of this climate diverse area. Centrally base your trip out of Solvang, Buellton, or Los Olivos in a hotel, rented RV or a cottage in the vineyards. You can and should take advantage of the multiple ways to get around the area by booking a group tour, a private driver, Uber wine, or even a local taxi driver so you can enjoy your time without having to drive tipsy after multiple tastings.
Wine tasting is not the only activity; check out the pristine sand dunes and coastline at Ocean Beach or venture out to Guadalupe Dunes Preserve, Hang ten with surfers @ Jalama Beach County Park, Take a Hike up Figueroa mountain or to Nojoqui falls, Taste unique brews while surrounded by Barrels of aging beer @ Firestone-Walker Tap room and Barrelworks, or check out the big birds @ Ostrichland. There are also endless opportunities for shopping and dinning in the many quaint villages/towns in the area. If none of that appeals to you, check out the bustling Chumash Casino Resort to get your gamble on or take in a show.
Located on the southern end of the Central Coast appellation, Santa Barbara County is about 90 miles northwest of Los Angeles, California. A geologic anomaly created by tectonic activity millions of years ago positioned the transverse mountain ranges here running east to west, unlike most other mountain ranges in California that run north-south paralleling the coast. This unique feature allows the cool ocean breezes to flow farther inland through the transverse canyons keeping temperatures cool at night and moderate during the day referred to by local growers as "refrigerated sunshine". The cooling ocean breezes, misty morning fog, year round "refrigerated sunshine", little rainfall and long growing seasons create exceptionally balanced wines.
Santa Barbara County has a rich history of wine making and wine grape growing from the Mission Era of early California to modern wine making that started in the 60's, The Santa Ynez Valley AVA is one of the major wine growing regions in Santa Barbara County, spreading from the eastern edge of Lompoc on the western end of the Valley, to the far side of Happy Canyon on the eastern end of the Valley. The Santa Ynez Valley has many different micro-climates within its boundaries, starting with a cool ocean influence in Lompoc and getting progressively hotter as you move inland. This enables different varieties of grapes to flourish, and therefore a diverse lineup of wines. There are four associated appellations within the Santa Ynez Valley: Sta. Rita Hills, Ballard Canyon, Los Olivos District, and Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara. (SantaBarbaraCountyWines.com)
Santa Ynez Valley AVA
The largest AVA containing the largest concentration of wineries and most varied grape varieties due to the varying micro-climates in this long east-west corridor The west side of the valley is cooler as it is closer to the Pacific breeze while the east side and further inland are significantly warmer. This climate diversity enables growers to cultivate and develop distinct characteristics from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Bordeaux and Rhône varietals including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Grenache, Marsanne, Mourvèdre, Roussanne, Syrah, and Viognier. Small amounts of Arneis, Gewürztraminer, and Riesling can also be found here.
The Santa Ynez Valley AVA boasts various soil types, ranging from sand to gravel, loam, and diatomaceous earth (i.e. deposits of fossilized marine life that are high in Calcium Silicate). All of these soil types provide excellent drainage and are highly suitable for viticulture.
Please note that four other AVAs are nestled within Santa Ynez Valley; they are Sta. Rita Hills, Happy Canyon, Ballard Canyon, and Los Olivos District.
Total Area: ~182,000 acres, Planted Area: ~5,000 acres,
Notable Vineyard: Firestone, Purisima, Zaca Mesa
Sta. Rita Hills AVA
Our favorite AVA! Created in 2001, this AVA was known as Santa Rita Hills up until 2006, when the name was changed to Sta. Rita Hills because a Chilean wine producer called Viña Santa Rita objected to the original spelling. This is the westernmost AVA and has direct access to the cool ocean breeze. The hills act as narrow corridors and the breeze blows through them, creating a cool climate in this wine-growing area.
There are about 20 cool-climate wine grapes planted here. The majority of the plantings are Pinot Noir and a good portion is Chardonnay. The sites in Sta. Rita Hills make a distinct difference in the flavor profiles of these two grapes. In Chardonnay, expect mineral, smoke, or flint characteristic. For Pinot Noir wines, most are rich and concentrated with red fruit accent. There tends to be more stem inclusion used in the vinification of Pinot Noir here, which can lend interesting flavors and tannins to the wines. Pinot Noirs, especially the single-vineyard bottlings, that bear the Sta. Rita Hills AVA are said to perform better after five years of barrel and bottle aging.
Total Area: Over 30,000 acres, Planted Area: ~2,700 acres Notable Vineyards: Acin, Ampelos, Babcock, Cargasacchi, Clos Pepe, El Jabali, Fe Ciega, Fiddlestix, Hapgood, John Sebastiano, Kessler-Haak, La Encantada, La Rinconada, Lafond, Machado, Melville, Mt. Carmel, Rita’s Crown, Sanford and Benedict, Sea Smoke, Sweeney Canyon, Zotovich
Happy Canyon AVA
This is the most inland AVA and because of that, it is significantly warmer than the other AVAs. It is at the far eastern edge of the Santa Ynez Valley AVA and has shown promise with Bordeaux varieties such as Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Sauvignon Blanc. Syrah is also planted here. The wines from the Happy Canyon AVA can be exciting, especially the Cabernet Sauvignon blends which tend to express ripe fruit notes without being overbearing. The soil types are made up of a mixture of loam and clay loam with red and yellow chert and serpentine cobbles.
Total Area: ~24,000 acres, Planted Area: ~500 acres Notable Vineyards: Grassini, Happy Canyon, Star Lane, Vogelzang
Ballard Canyon AVA
Located near the town of Buellton, this is the smallest AVA of the region. The Ballard Canyon AVA is known for producing Rhône-style wines. The majority of the plantings here are Syrah. Other varieties planted include Grenache, Sangiovese, Roussanne, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, Petite Sirah, and small amounts of Chardonnay. The vines are planted in clay or sand. In the northern part of the AVA, limestone substrate lies under clay topsoil. The reds from this area tend to be aromatic, fruit-forward, rich, and slightly earthy, with approachable tannins.
Total Area: ~7,700 acres, Planted Area: ~300 acres Notable Vineyards: Beckmen, Harrison Clarke, Jonata, Larner, Stolpman, Tierra Alta
Los Olivos District AVA
Established in January 2016, this is the newest AVA of the county. It sits within a triangle created by the towns of Solvang, Santa Ynez, and Los Olivos. From a geological perspective, it is fairly uniform and produces a handful of interesting wines from Bordeaux and Rhône varieties. Italian and Spanish varieties can also be found here. The soils consist of moderate to well-drained sandy loam and clay loam. The terrain slopes gently from north to south towards the water. As the Los Olivos District AVA is largely flat, machines and other automated support can be used here, as opposed to the neighboring wine-growing areas with steep, rugged terrains.
Total Area: 22,820 acres, Planted Area: 1,121 acres Notable Vineyards: Baehner Fournier, Sunstone, Tensley
Santa Maria Valley AVA
Established in 1981, Santa Maria Valley is the northernmost and oldest AVA of the region and the third oldest in the United States. It sees direct access to the cool ocean breezes but without the topography that creates a natural wind tunnel. The vines are mostly planted on the slopes of rolling hillsides with well-drained sandy loam and clay-loam soils, at elevations between 300 and 800 feet.
There are several varieties grown here—including Albariño, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, and Viognier—but the flagships are Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir, and Syrah. Chardonnays from this appellation can range from lean with crisp acidity to full-bodied with a floral tone. Noted for its slightly spicy and earthy characteristics, the Pinot Noir here can taste vastly different from the ones in Sta. Rita Hills. Overall, the wines from the Santa Maria Valley AVA tend to have a nice acidic backbone, high drinkability, yet not shy on complexity.
Total Area: 98,000 acres in So. SLO County and No. SB County, Planted Area: ~7,500 acres Notable Vineyards: Bien Nacido, Cambria, Foxen, Nielson, Sierra Madre, and Tepusquet
Santa Barbara County Wine Trailblazers
by Wendy Thies Sell
(EdibleSantaBarbara.com SUMMER 2019)
Whether they're called pioneers or visionaries, one thing is certain: They helped to blaze the trail for a wine region that less than 50 years after its birth is now considered one of the best in the world. The first generation of winegrowers and winemakers in Santa Barbara County shared a common love of wine and a level of fearlessness, and many are still passionately producing world-class wine in one of the most special places on earth.
When Richard Sanford arrived in Santa Barbara County nearly five decades ago, most of the ranches at the time raised cattle or dry-farmed barley and garbanzo beans. Leery farmers told Sanford that wine grapes would never grow there.
Nevertheless, with science as his guide, Sanford, a geographer, painstakingly studied the climate records of Burgundy, France, and discovered nearly identical Mediterranean climate conditions between Buellton and Lompoc. One of the earth's few transverse mountain ranges runs east-west there, allowing ocean fog to cool the land at night and burn off during the day. Sanford calls the effect "refrigerated sunshine."
He and botanist Michael Benedict planted the first Pinot Noir vines in the region in 1971; the legendary Sanford & Benedict Vineyard, along Santa Rosa Road, in what is now the esteemed Sta. Rita Hills AVA. He founded Sanford Winery in 1981 and planted the first certified organic vineyard in the county, El Jabali Vineyard, in 1983.
"It's been very exciting to be pioneers in organic viticulture in our region," said Sanford. "The most important thing for an organic farmer to know is that it's possible."
Weathering many storms in the challenging wine industry over the decades, Sanford and his wife, Thekla, began an new venture, Alma Rosa Winery, in 2005. Today at age 78, a grateful Sanford looks forward to the new winery facility in the works and new vineyard plantings at Alma Rosa ranch.
"It's been a spiritual journey as well as a business for me," Sanford said. "My time on the planet has been very satisfying."
His pioneering viticulture efforts were rewarded in 2012 as Sanford was the first Central Coast winemaker named to The Culinary Institute of America's Vintners Hall of Fame.
Fred Brander and his father, Erik Brander, planted their 34-acre vineyard in Los Olivos in 1975. Four years later, they built Brander Winery.
"My first commercial vintage was 1976," said Brander."The only other producer that was before me, other than Santa Barbara Winery, was Firestone in 1975. I made some wine in 1974 also."
Brander fondly recalls the early days: "It was really fun because there was really no pressure. It wasn't competitive and it was so easy to sell wine. That's probably the biggest thing that has changed: Our wines have gotten a lot better, yet at the same time they're much harder to sell just because of the competitive nature of the business; there's just so much wine out there on the global market."
Brander has earned the title "King of Sauvignon Blanc in California." Remarkably, 75 of his 15,000-case production is Sauvignon Blanc.
What would Brander's dad think of the now-$2-billion Santa Barbara County wine industry that they helped to start? "I think he would be amazed at the growth and I think he would be pretty pleased that we were one of the first to jump in," said Brander. "I think he would be definitely surprised how much wine is a part of the Santa Barbara economy and the lifestyle."
Today, more than 200 wineries are based in Santa Barbara County. When wine pioneer Ken Brown was hired as Zaca Mesa Winery's first winemaker in 1977, there were just a handful of fellow vintners.
"It was a very small industry," recalled Brown. "When I'd get together with all the other winemakers, we could do it at one kitchen table because there were only five or six of us!
Brown's early responsibilities included buying the new winery's equipment, planting vineyards and hiring the staff Zaca Mesa did an enormous amount of research both in the vineyard and winery because the region was so new; there was so much to learn. Zaca Mesa served as a winemaking training ground and was known as "Zaca University," with many Zaca Mesa alumni going on to enjoy successful wine careers, including Jim Clendenen (Au Bon Climar), Bob Lindquist (Qupe), Adam Tolmach (Au Bon Climat and Ojai Vineyard) and Lane Tanner (Lane Tanner Wines and Lumen), among others.
While at Zaca Mesa, Brown planted the first Syrah grapes in the county. He continued experimenting with grape varietals when he founded Byron Winery in the Santa Maria Valley in 1984, planting the county's first Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc. Brown sold Byron Winery to Robert Mondavi in 1990 and established Ken Brown Wines in 2003.
"There was a lot of magic then," said Brown, reminiscing about the early days. "Everyone had enthusiasm about making wine! It was a great, great, great time! We were all really proud but probably more than anything, really surprised because we just had no idea of the potential of the area."
No one has circled the globe more times touting Santa Barbara County's wine industry than Jim Clendenen, "The Mind Behind" Au Bon Climat Winery. Clendenen logs more than 200 days a year traveling domestically and internationally, promoting the region and his celebrated wines.
What is his message about Santa Barbara County when traveling around the world? "We have the most extraordinary climate for growing grapes that you can imagine," said Clendenen. "We have totally mild winters, we have absolutely spectacular cool foggy and cloudy summers and grapes come out the other end after a very long time on the vine in exquisite balance, if you're looking for that. I'm looking to make a wine that is exactly what they're looking to make in Burgundy."
Clendenen's first job in the wine business: bottling Fred Brander's 1976 Gewiirztraminer. What was his payment for his long day's work? ''A case of Gewiirztraminer."
After a stint as Zaca Mesa's first assistant winemaker, Clendenen and Adam Tolmach founded Au Bon Climat (ABC) in 1982. Now, 37 years later, ABC is receiving some of its highest scores from wine critics. "Decades later, we are overnight successes," Clendenen says, tongue in cheek.
Clendenen's two grown children, Isabelle and Knox, are now working with their proud dad, helping to sell ABC and Clendenen Family Wines, both locally and abroad.
"It's a good time to look back on it," added Clendenen. "I'm content."
"One doesn't set out to be a pioneer," said Rick Longoria, who founded Longoria Winery in 1982 and established the first winery in Lompoc in 1998. Others followed and today the area is a winemaking hub that includes the Lompoc Wine Ghetto and Sta. Rita Hills Wine Center.
Longoria's first wine harvest was in 1976 while he was cellar foreman at Firestone Winery, the county's first estate winery. His career includes winemaking stints at J. Carey Cellars and Gainey Vineyard.
Today, Longoria Winery produces 12 different wine varietals and Longoria is eager to make wine from new local plantings of Graciano and Mencia, two Spanish varietals recently introduced in the valley.
"We are farming grapes much, much better than we were back in the early days," explained Longoria. "I've had recent experiences of tasting my wines from the '80s and they're good. It's amazing that they're as good as they are given how relatively poor farming practices were back then. Without a doubt, I'm making far better wine now than I was back in the early days and that's due to vast improvement in the way wine grapes are farmed now."
"I've been very lucky!" said Longoria. "I still want to be part of it and I still get really excited about the potential of our area."
Bob Lindquist & Louisa Sawyer Lindquist
A pioneer in the American Rhone wine movement, Bob Lindquist worked his first wine harvest near Gilroy in 1975. While managing a tasting room in Camarillo, he made repeat trips to the Santa Ynez Valley and he realized his destiny lay in Santa Barbara County.
"On my days off, I would come up and visit Sanford & Benedict and Firestone Winery and Santa Y nez Valley Winery and places like that," Lindquist recalled. "I fell in love with it and I knew this was where I wanted to be."
His first hands-on winemaking experience came at Zaca Mesa. Lindquist soon established his own winery, Qupe Wines, in 1982, producing the first Syrah and Viognier in Santa Barbara County and the first Marsanne in California. In 2015, Lindquist was just the third person to be honored by the Rhone Rangers with its Lifetime Achievement Award.
"We are still making wine the same way we were in 1982," Lindquist said. "We've improved the equipment we use, but the basic techniques that we use are still the same. We use tried-and- true traditional methods. Great grapes always rise to the top."
Lindquist and Qupe's new owner, Vintage Wine Estates, parted ways in early 2019. "I'm very proud of what I accomplished with Qupe, as being the pioneering winery for Rhone varieties in this area. Hopefully, that legacy will endure."
Lindquist and his wife, winemaker Louisa Sawyer Lindquist, recently launched a new wine label: Lindquist, made from "clean" grapes, grown organically or biodynamically. Their first Lindquist wine is a 2017 Grenache. The couple owns a wine tasting room in Arroyo Grande and Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard in the Edna Valley.
Sawyer Lindquist is a wine industry visionary in her own right; "California's First Lady of Albarino" produced the white Spanish varietal in 1999, the first Albarino vintage in the state.
On being female in a male-dominated industry: "It's a different playing field now than it was 10 or 15 years ago and that's noticeable," said Sawyer Lindquist. "The world is changing; now it's no big deal, really."
"We just wanted to make wine; selling it was almost secondary," reminisced Lane Tanner, the Central Coast's first independent female winemaker, Her first winery job, in Northern California in 1979, required more than a bit of muscle.
"I actually had to clean barrels by putting chains in it and then water and then roll the barrel back and forth so the chains break off the tartrates," said Tanner. "Trust me, after about two or three barrels, that gets to be a lot of work! It was OK for me because I was very strong, but I think that definitely limited the number of women that went into the field at that point. The nice thing is, as I've gotten older, we've gotten more technology and now pretty much you don't really have to be that strong to do almost anything. Really, the industry has gotten easier."
Tanner arrived in the Santa Ynez Valley in 1981 with her chemistry degree in hand, for the enologist job at Firestone Winery.
She worked at Zaca Mesa before landing her first winemaker job, in 1984, at Hitching Post Wines. Nicknamed the "Pinot Czarina" for her passion for Pinot Noir, she started her own label, Lane Tanner Wines, in 1989.
"Pinot Noir just works with my body chemistry to give me the most wonderful high," said Tanner. "There is just something about Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir. There would be no other place I'd want to make wine; point-blank, none. It's so deep inside of my body."
It's been a road full of highs and lows. Tanner's piece of the pie kept shrinking as "big money" arrived in the region and flooded the market with Santa Barbara Pinot Noir. "At that point, I was breaking even; maybe not even breaking even."
After a decade, she retired her eponymous wine label. But she couldn't stay away from the winery. In 2013, she entered into a partnership with Will Henry to make Lumen Wines.
"I wake up in the morning and think I'm one of the luckiest people in the wine industry right now," said Tanner. "I get to make wine; I have a partner who's just so good to me; he and his wife, Kali Kopley, do all the sales; I get to do everything I love and nothing I hate and I get a paycheck! I'm loving it! I'm the happiest I've ever been."
Some of our Favorite Restaurants (So Far)
Cafe Dulce for coffee, smoothies, gelato, etc...
Mad & Vin (Food and wine in Danish?) Nice restaurant, food was well prepared and service was good. The seafood hot pot (order the smaller size off the bar menu), Pasta, Brussel sprouts and market salad were creative and well presented. Open for B/L/D and a good happy hour. If you plan on sitting on the outdoor patio, which is a good choice weather permitting, check to see if there is entertainment on the patio as it is very loud and annoying if you are sitting outside.
Root 246 - Part of the Corque Hotel (owned by the Chumash Casino) The restaurant is beautiful, patio is large and a great place to watch the tourist go by. Food is well done, bar menu is great, amazing desserts too...
First and Oak - Part of the Mirabelle Hotel. Cozy restaurant with great food and service. Probably our favorite in town. Small patio out front is nice on a warm summer night.
Busy little town with several wine tasting rooms, boutiques and a few eating establishments.
Sides Hardware and Shoes - Gets it's name from the building it's in, the old hardware and shoe store in town. A restaurant by the local Brothers group. Casual food and service, known for thier Bacon Steak! Yes thats right a thick slab of pork belly!
Bear & Star located at the Fess Parker wine country inn.
Industrial Eats Restaurant and Butcher Shop - Need a picnic for wine country or a place to stop off from the wine trail, look no further than Industrial Eats. It's busy but with plenty of communal seating. Pick up a picnic lunch before heading out for tasting at quiet wineries like Dierberg, Starlane or Demetria. You won't be disappointed in the quality or quantity.
Hitching Post II - Classic old school steak house. A raging fire fueled by local red oak is the cooking method of choice and imparts great flavors into the items cooked over it. The Hitching Post wines pair nicely with items on the menu
Bob's Well Bread - One of our favorite bakeries for bread, pastries and petite sandwiches on amazing french baguettes. They also have a full menu for breakfast and lunch including fantastic wood fired pizza
The Station - Next to the old Union Hotel, great BBQ from Cisco Kid, Wine Tasting, etc... set in an Old gas/Service station with shaded areas in the back for chillin'
Alma Rosa (Beullton) - Industrial setting but a nice indoor tasting room. Grab a snack from industrial eats right next door
Button Wood Farm Winery and Vineyard (Los Olivos) - Good wines and a nice setting for a picnic or relaxing outdoors. Make sure to pick up some of their peaches while you are there
Rusak (Ballard Canyon) - Wines are OK but the outdoor seating and view of the vineyards are beautiful.
Demitria (Foxen Canyon) - A destination up Foxen Canyon road, then 2 miles up a farm road through the vineyards and oaks to the top of the hill. Fantastic location to bring your picnic lunch, they will pair their wines with what you brought. Call ahead for a reservation
Foxen & 7200 Shack (Santa Maria Valley AVA/Foxen Canyon Rd.) - You'll pass a few other wineries on your way up Foxen Canyon road, best to wait till you get there to stop. Nice tasting room and great wines. Head a little north to "The Shack" their 7200 location for second label wines that are distinctively different and worth the stop.
Longoria (Lompoc) - Not much to look at located on a back street in Lompoc but once you are inside you'll be welcomed like family. Rick is a local institution and makes some of the best Pinot Noir, Tempranillo, and Albarino among others.
Wine Ghetto (Lompoc) - a cluster of dozens of local small urban wineries and tasting rooms set in an industrial complex. Don't let the warehouses scare you off just walk in and say hello.
1 - https://www.sbcountywines.com/
2 - https://exoticwinetravel.com/santa-barbara-wine-country-regions-layout/
3 - EdibleSantaBarbara.com SUMMER 2019