Wine Regions of Santa Barbara County
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 Maria contains Bien Nacido
vineyard, a sought-after 900 acre vineyard for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
Look for Chardonnays with flavors of lemon zest, nectarines and pears and a firm backbone of
acidity–built to age. Pinot Noirs are highly aromatic (violets, roses, spices) with an undertone of savory
meat and a powerful structure. Syrah also seems to be at home here as well, bringing meaty, tobacco,
and spice notes in a more Northern Rhône style than a Californian one.
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). Soils vary as well from well drained sandy soils on the valley floor to
silty, clay, shale loam blends in the foothills. The region also has some rapport for Sauvignon Blanc from
the historic Brander vineyard–it’s crisp and refreshiSta Rita Hills
On the edge of ripeness, 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 taut, racy Chardonnays (500 acres).
Right smack 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. 50% of this region is devoted to this grape making it
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. Because of its unique orientation, climate is the most mixed
here. Huge diurnal shifts with daytime temperatures peaking 90 °F and nighttime getting down to 40 °F
combined with fog in the south that burns off later than the higher elevations in the north, yields fully
ripe blackberry and blueberry flavored Syrah with racy acidity levels and a silky texture. Syrah wines
from here are noted for having more weight and concentration than a French Syrah (from Northern
Rhône) but more vibrancy and freshness than warmer regions like Napa.
Lying on the far east border of the greater Santa Ynez AVA lies this hot and hilly AVA. Named during
prohibition by folks who would “take a trip up Happy Canyon,” this region still makes cheerful wines.
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.
The unofficial regions of Santa Barbara
In addition to the established AVA’s, there are 2 other regions making noteworthy wines in Santa
Barbara that you should know about.
Affectionately called the “Wine Ghetto,” this odd-looking-but-joyous converted strip mall is home to the
2nd highest number of tasting rooms in the area (24, in fact). If you feel like a more urban experience,
this group of passionate producers offers a down to earth experience of the wines they make mainly
sourced from the Sta Rita Hills nearby.
Los Alamos Valley
Much like the town of Santa Ynez itself, Los Alamos offers the visitor a step back in history to a time
when stagecoaches and railroads reigned supreme. The region itself is cooler than Santa Ynez, but
warmer than Santa Maria valley, which means it has a wide diversity of wine varieties. Although the
region is famous for its premium stone fruit driven Chardonnay, other favorites include Grenache-Syrah
blends and Pinot Noir.