Many winemakers “fall” into winemaking as a side project that grows into a full-fledged company or a passing of the torch in a family-run business. However, Chuck Carlson got into the wine industry from the get-go with an early inclination to make wine. Growing up on a farm in the balmy San Joaquin Valley, Chuck admits he wanted to live closer to the coast. Like so many other talented Santa Barbara winemakers, Chuck started out at “Zaca University,” a colloquial reference to Zaca Mesa Winery.
In his early years, Chuck and others were still learning how to grow the best grapes in the valley. Through “admittedly” everyone stumbled growing Cabernet or other grapes we know now are best suited to Napa and Sonoma. Chuck can certainly claim to have seen it all in our corner of the winemaking world.
Carlson Wines doesn’t have their own tasting room; keeping his operation low profile with a limited, but exclusive distribution. Between this month as our featured winemaker in our Monthly Featured Winemaker Series and his normal bottlings, Chuck typically only produces 2,500 cases a year.
Traditional Approach to Wine
We ask our featured winemakers to sum up their winemaking style in one word. Chuck didn’t hesitate; describing his style as “Traditional.” We can vouch for this! In his decades in Santa Barbara County and Arroyo Grande, he’s kept a consistent, traditional style of winemaking dating back to early California labels.
After 37 years of winemaking, if Chuck Carlson has a preference, it’s Pinot. When his label started in 2004, his focus was creating outstanding Pinot Noirs from the Central Coast. Over the years, Carlson wines have expanded to five different vineyards across multiple local AVAs.
In Chuck’s own words he describes his Pinot: “The 2014 vintage provided Pinot Noirs that tend to reflect the sun year. These wines are impacted by the climate throughout the growing season. There tends to be slightly darker and riper berry flavors that show a beautiful restrained balance. The chemistry of the fruit yields wines that can age gracefully and have a beautiful balance.”
Chuck Carlson’s wine adventure is one of many local vintners in Santa Barbara County. Read our blog for our interviews with several local winemakers as part of our Featured Winemaker series.
This July, we’re pleased to welcome back Matt Brady, already a veteran guest of our Featured Local Winemaker series. Since our previous interview over a year ago, Matt has found a new calling and a new home at SAMsARA. SAMsARA Wine’s namesake comes from Sanskrit: The Buddhist interpretation of the word is the process of coming into being as a unique, mortal being. In Hindu culture, SAMsARA is the endless cycle of birth, death and rebirth of all life. This circle of passion, oneness and harmony are core values in SAMsARA’s winemaking process. The label produces only small batches of Pinot Noir, Syrah and Grenache from “carefully selected micro-sites” in the Sta. Rita hills region.
Fundamental to Matt’s winemaking is whole cluster fermentation – you’ll find this wine style in every SAMsARA wine. Whole cluster leads to greater aromas in their wines and a full mouthfeel profile without making the wines too strong.Stem inclusion is commonly a way to raise the PH of a wine, bringing natural acidity to the flavor profile. The cool climate vineyards, which SAMsARA exclusively selects for its retinue of grapes, are emblematic of very aromatic wines.
Matt’s favorite word to describe his wines: “Depth.” These wines are complex, multi-faceted, and appeal to those looking for an extra layer in their wines. Since 2005, Matt has worked almost every job in the California wine industry, most notably working his way from cellar master to co-winemaker at Jaffurs. When current SAMsARA owners Dave & Joan Szkutak acquired the winery, they had one name in mind to lead the operation: Matt Brady.
Currently, Matt spends as much time as he can in the vineyards, exploring new vineyard sites to add to the SAMsARA portfolio that match their style. The team is opening a new winery in Goleta and are expanding the Los Olivos tasting room, so there’s plenty to keep fans of the label occupied!
What’s next? While SAMsARA typically focuses on Pinot, Grenache and Syrah, the first vintage of Chardonnay should be available soon, so keep your eyes peeled for new offerings!
Each month, we sit down with a winemaker we feel represents the best qualities of Santa Barbara County winemaking: Transformative, curious, and brilliant individuals that make the Central Coast stand out in the ever-changing wine business. For more of our interviews with winemakers, check back in our blog for our recent features.
History of one of the fathers of Santa Barbara Winemaking: Rick Longoria
Few have the opportunity and privilege to run a winery for as long as some fine wines age. In a season filled with newcomers, fresh faces, and advanced winemaking technologies, we’re pleased to interview a man who has been a part of the Santa Barbara wine industry for over 4 decades. Rick Longoria is truly one of the masters of Central Coast winemaking; we sat down to learn his story through wine, which started at the University of California.
Rick’s time at UC Berkeley opened him to what he calls the “hippie mentality” of getting back to nature. Fueled by this zeitgeist, he frequently found himself in nearby Napa Valley at wine tastings (which were free to college students in the 70’s!), which connected him with the world of fine wine. It was in these visits where Rick decided to pursue a career in the wine industry, learn how to make wine, and see what options lay in his future.
Rick’s first wine gig came at famed Sonoma winery Buena Vista, the oldest winery in California (est. 1857) in 1974. During his time at Buena Vista, he worked with consulting winemaker Andre Tchelistcheff, considered by many to be the father of modern California winemaking.
It was Andre who encouraged Rick Longoria to drive south to Santa Barbara, where he kicked off his long career in Central Coast winemaking in the wine cellar at Firestone in 1976.
Longoria’s intent in winemaking is to identify the best sources of grapes; he believes in basic winemaking without manipulations to the wines themselves in order to showcase the best the grapes have to offer.
Spanish Wines in Lompoc
The 2016 Albariño is a product of Clover Creek Vineyard, a special place for Rick where the current owners asked him to lay down some vines for stellar winemaking. Clover Creek benefits from the breezes coming from the nearby Santa Ynez River to keep his Albariño and Tempranillo grapes cool.
These days, if you don’t see Rick actively in the cellars or tending to his vines at Fe Ciega or Clover Creek, he’s throwing himself into revitalizing the tourism industry in Lompoc. His group aims to renovate old town Lompoc, attract more people to the old theater, and put the area squarely onto the wine tourism maps of Central and Southern California.
Want to learn more about your local Santa Barbara County Winemakers? Read about our other Featured Winemakers here!
There was a time during the late 1980’s, where winemakers came together with a unified goal– to put Santa Barbara County on the wine map of the United States. Little did they know, but their first steps paved the way for the explosion of our popular Santa Barbara wine region. Winemakers like Jim Clendenen from Au Bon Climat or Brian Babcock of Babcock wines created a culture which enabled Brewer-Clifton and others to find success in their footsteps. These pioneers succeeded in getting Santa Barbara County on the map as a premier California wine destination, rivaling Napa in some regards.
Embracing this spirit of collaboration, Greg Brewer and Steve Clifton put Sta. Rita Hills on the map. Together they started their label in the 1990’s before the Lompoc-based Viticultural area even existed. Greg attributes the success of Sta. Rita Hills to the diversity of Santa Barbara County and his team’s ability to focus on the best grapes of the area, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. While other local AVAs may focus on Syrah or Sauvignon Blanc, Brewer-Clifton has always highlighted their flagships, which we’re currently featuring this month!
Santa Barbara Roots
At 21 Greg was a French-language professor at UCSB when he found his calling in the wine industry. He moved on from his previous passion for teaching to join Santa Barbara Winery in the tasting room for a meager $5.50/hour. He was hooked!
Greg Brewer met Steve Clifton in 1995 while working at Sunstone winery. Their friendship grew as they fed their desire to be part of Santa Barbara’s burgeoning wine region and soon discovered that their personalities blended well for business as well. Greg and Steve represent the best of the “next chapter” of the Santa Barbara wine story, after the premiere of the old guard. Their first 240 cases of wine came about in 1996, back when even some “established” wineries were still nothing more than young, green vines on a hill. The rest, as they say, is history. Greg considers his work in founding the appellation (which became an official AVA in 2001) his greatest accomplishment.
Back in 2017, Brewer-Clifton was purchased by the Jackson family (of the Kendall-Jackson winery). Greg is still the master winemaker of Brewer-Clifton winery, and considers the Jacksons the “largest champion of Santa Barbara County for decades”. He’s left to make his wines as he sees fit with his own spin on making premier Pinot and Chardonnay wines. If Greg isn’t making wine, he’s focusing on the education of newer, younger winemakers, and promoting the area here and abroad.
Humility & Vulnerability
Greg’s favorite part of winemaking: “the humility that comes with never being able to replicate anything” in his wines. Every vintage has a slight difference that provides a humble aspect to his life’s work. The spirit of Brewer-Clifton comes from transparency and vulnerability, with all wines “raised in a state of neutrality,” using old barrels. Greg’s team handles the wines from vine to barrel, ensuring the Brewer-Clifton touch on each stage of their grape’s lives. As a winemaker, Greg Brewer wants to eliminate his personal bias or prejudice on the wine, “to enable other componentry” to be louder than him in the wine.
Want to learn more about your local Santa Barbara County Winemakers? Read about our other Featured Winemakers here!
Jeff Fischer started small and dreamt big to make Habit Wines
What drives wine-lovers to Santa Barbara Wine Country? For most Californians, they visit because of the proximity and the refreshing rural escape from LA or the Bay Area– and of course for the quality of our wines. For Habit Wines owner Jeff Fischer, it’s all about the attitude our region exudes– a welcoming attitude with a willingness to share knowledge and support its fellow winemakers.
You might know Jeff from his eponymous character on the Fox show American Dad!.Balancing his two callings of acting and winemaking, Jeff started small, making several cases of wine out of a garage in Los Angeles, with a few hundred pounds of grapes he bungee-corded onto his truck and brought down from Santa Barbara.
Three defining moments helped Jeff get started: The first winery to agree to sell him grapes. The winemaking classes that guided him through the creation of his garagiste cases of wine he made in LA. And, Doug Margerum who opened his winery doors giving Jeff the opportunity to become a full-fledged winemaker. (Watch our interview to hear Jeff’s journey to winemaking in his own words.)
For a wine to grow as a passion into a business it takes a certain kind of creative energy which Jeff imbues in every one of his wines.
Mavericks in the industry like Jeff help define Santa Barbara wine country – and the winemakers who make it all happen. Like others before him, it’s this culture of expression and encouragement that helped him get started, or as he puts it, “it’s a great, great vibe!”
So, why the big hand on the Habit Wines label?
“It’s really all about art and addiction,” says Jeff – the art of acting and his addiction to winemaking. For him, the hand belongs to William S. Burroughs, Jeff’s favorite poet from his hometown of St. Louis, who “may be reaching for his own fix” on the label. The Habit label certainly does pop out on a shelf of wines – it’s easy to spot from a distance on our own wine wall – and the design even landed his wines in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
Like most ‘misunderstood’ modern art, it wasn’t always as accepted. During one of his first vintages, Jeff brought his wines to the famed French Laundry restaurant in Napa. The staff loved the wine but refused to buy any for the restaurant giving the reason that the label was too modern, too out of the ordinary for the bourgeois Napa eatery.
Habit Wines are made from grapes from several vineyards throughout Santa Barbara County. Jeff prefers Happy Canyon grapes to grow his Bordeaux blends, keeping it hyper-local to the area. Most of his other varietals are grown in the Los Olivos District.
Winemaker Dieter Cronje of Presqu’ile Winery Shares His Energy
Dieter Cronje isn’t shy about what he needs as a winemaker – more storage! In helping build Presqu’ile Winery from the ground up, he’s acutely aware of the needs of his vineyard. As he puts it, “the problem is, an empty barrel of air takes up the same space as a full barrel!”
This month’s local Featured Winemaker showcases how a love of winemaking affects us globally, as South African Dieter Cronje takes us on his personal journey bringing him to Presqu’ile Winery in Santa Maria.
Out on the cold, windswept, and sandy hills of the far western side of the Santa Maria AVA, Dieter’s team works to perfect a select few wines that have made Presqu’ile stand out in North County: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Rosé, and Sauvignon Blanc.
Dieter believes strongly in the philosophies behind making wine; the energy he puts into his wine shows in each varietal Presqu’ile showcases. Coming from a formal education as a winemaker, Dieter understands the science behind what makes wine taste so good; Presqu’ile’s large on-site laboratory and full-time wine chemist attest to their devotion to textbook-perfect wine.
The 73-acre Presqu’ile vineyard sits close to the western border of the Santa Maria viticulture area, where the cold Pacific air constantly blows over the ocean-facing hills. Dieter and the Murphy family, owners of Presqu’ile, built the winery and tasting room from the ground-up, to their exacting specifications. The result is a world-class, gravity fed winemaking operation focusing on exhibiting fascinating Pinots, Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs.
From South Africa to the Central Coast:
Dieter got his start with wine early, “when I realized I could make my own booze!” he proclaims. After his father encouraged him to get in the industry over a shared love of wine, Dieter studied at Elsenberg Agricultural College and the University of Bordeaux, before traveling the world to hone his skills in crafting excellent Pinot Noir. Finally, Dieter met his future business partner Matthew Murphy at Ambuello Winery, where after several years, Dieter chose to come on as Presqu’iles winemaker.
Presqu’ile got its start in Mississippi, as a beachfront property owned by the Murphy family. They owned a small vineyard which was devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Looking to start fresh on the West Coast, the Murphy’s searched up and down California from the Russia River, Napa, and Santa Barbara County to find the perfect place to grow cold Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes. After settling on the Santa Maria AVA, the Murphys began growing grapes and had their first Presqu’ile Winery vintage in 2009.
Pursuit of Perfection
Whats next for this successful winemaker: the ceaseless pursuit of that perfect wine. “…I think if any winemaker tells you he has made the wine he’s completely satisfied with, he’s probably lying and should stop making wine because then there’s no more pursuit of perfection or pursuit of improvement.”
Dieter’s journey is one very similar to many of the other local Santa Barbara Wine Country winemakers that we have interviewed. It started with a dream, that with hard work and determination has made our incredible niche in the world of wine something to be proud of.
Meeting and interviewing Pete Stolpman of Stolpman Vineyards and Winery offered a rare glimpse into how winemakers are born. Pete is the subject of our Featured Local Winemaker series.
We asked Pete to sum up in ONE word an aspect of his personality that gets infused into Stolpman wine. Pete’s answer: “Crazy”! He chose this word as he reflected on his father’s sheer determination to find a property with the same soil characteristics as the European wines he loved. Pete’s father, Tom Stolpman, knew that if he found the limestone soil he was looking for, the rest would fall into place. And… it did.
Pete’s parents, Tom and Marilyn Stolpman founded Stolpman Vineyard and Winery in 1990.
The senior Stolpmans envisioned winemaking as an investment worth pursuing because they could enjoy the fruits of their labor… together. And now, Pete and his wife, Jessica are partners in their family endeavor.
Their 220-acre property in Ballard Canyon— of which a whopping 153 acres are currently planted to grapes– lies on three major limestone ridgelines. By implementing revolutionary viticultural techniques, their mission is to push the dry-farmed limestone vines to unprecedented levels of quality.
Stolpman Vineyards produces Syrah, Roussanne, Grenache, and Sangiovese within the Ballard Canyon AVA. Petite Sirah, Viognier, and Sauvignon Blanc are also grown and produced in limited quantities, as well as some more obscure native French varietals that promise some very interesting wines in the not-so-distant future.
One of the first business decisions the Stolpmans made– a decision that gives them a reputation for being mindful of their role in our community– was to give all their workers full-time employment; they made a commitment to them and their families by providing careers, instead of temporary work. Ruben Solorzano is one of the key players that gives Stolpman wines their stellar reputation. As a 20-year veteran vineyard manager and local viticultural superstar, Ruben organically dry farms the vines for balanced concentration and a healthy ecosystem. Kyle Knapp, head winemaker, and consulting winemaker, Sashi Moorman, round out the team’s talent. Kyle and Sashi work hand-in-hand with Ruben and Pete in timing the harvest of their taut, fresh fruit. Kyle proudly sees himself as the steward, rather than the creator, of Stolpman’s “vineyard crafted” wines.
Here’s Pete Stolpman’s unique ‘how-I-became-a-winemaker” story:
After graduating from Georgetown University, Pete took a management job in Los Angeles. He became increasingly involved in his family’s vineyard operation until it became apparent that jumping into the family business was what he was meant to do. He quit his job, and embarked on a three-year wine training program; he refers to this as the “Master’s Degree by Tom Stolpman.” Pete made wine in Australia and in Italy before returning home to sell wine for the Henry Wine Group, where he was awarded the title, Fine Wine Specialist of the Year in 2008. AT 26 years old! He was the youngest salesman to receive this award (and still holds the record!).
Ready for THE challenge, Pete took over day-to-day management of Stolpman Vineyards in 1990 and hasn’t regretted his decision for one moment.
Pete’s time at Henry Wine Group was not only a great learning opportunity, it was also life- changing in terms of his personal life.
During his training at Henry WineGroup, he met his wife, Jessica. She attended Cal Poly San Luis Obispo where she fell in love with the world of wine through her involvement in the Vines to Wines Club. Upon graduation, she joined the Henry Wine Group, where, she met Pete, AND won the award for Highest Sales Growth. After two years at Henry Wine Group, Jessica moved on to become the Western Regional Sales Manager for Zaca Mesa Winery, just 10 miles north of Stolpman Vineyards on Foxen Canyon Road. Now fully emerged in the family business, Jessica manages the California wholesale market for Stolpman Vineyards.
A long-term vision
The Stolpmans are recognized for their pivotal role in developing the Ballard Canyon AVA. Upon publication of the AVA, Pete was elected President of the Ballard Canyon Wine Growers Alliance. Through his travels promoting Stolpman Vineyards around the world, Pete is also spreading the word about Ballard Canyon’s commitment to Syrah, leading the charge to establish the area as the benchmark Syrah appellation in the New World.
The Stolpman Story is one very similar to many of the other local Santa Barbara Wine Country winemakers that we have interviewed. It started with a dream, that with hard work and determination has made our incredible niche in the world of wine something to be proud of. Having the legacy passed down to the next generation is a sign that our burgeoning wine country is here to stay!
Karen Steinwachs, the winemaker for Buttonwood, is an inspirational example of following your dreams. Although she has been a fixture at Buttonwood since 2007, her journey did not begin with anything close to where she is now. She was instead working in management in the technology industry, sitting in an office in a tall urban building and donning a suit. After 20 years in the tech world Karen decided it was time for a change, she wanted a new career one that allowed her to be outdoors working with her hands, a career change that would become a reality for her with hard work and persistence.
After several attempts to be hired to work the seasonal harvest, Karen was accepted to work at Foley Winery for just $7 an hour and only for a 6-week contract. She was warned that it might not be what she was imagining as many people romanticize the winemaking profession until they try it out and realize how dirty your hands really do get. However, after that 6-week harvest internship, she remained working for Foley for three more years and learned everything she could from highly respected local winemaker Norm Yost (who now has Flying Goat Cellars).
After three years at Foley, Karen was ready to take things to the next level and went to work at Fiddlehead cellars with Kathy Joseph, another local legend. It was while working for Fiddlehead that Karen began to learn about Buttonwood and their philosophies.
After three harvests as the assistant winemaker at Fiddlehead Karen went for her ultimate dream and has been with Buttonwood ever since. Betty would be proud, looking down at her farm where Karen works every vintage to express the land and craft a “wine that will provide pleasure at the table and in the glass.”
We invite you to discover more in our interview with Karen Steinwachs.
Betty Williams (1918-2011), was the founder of Buttonwood Farms in 1968. Her mission statement is all about having a “balanced ecological microcosm;” a living, functioning property with the vineyard, farm, animals, and employees all working together sustainably and in harmony. Betty was a founder of the Land Trust of Santa Barbara County and was very involved in local arts and humanities as well. All of this continues to shape Buttonwood as things grow and the world changes.
Buttonwood was sustainable before a sustainable certification was a thing. With vineyard plantings dating back to 1983, the now 39-acre vineyard boasts several different varietals. Sauvignon Blanc is what locals know Buttonwood for first, but taste the lineup and you’ll soon discover that the excellence doesn’t stop there.
What takes Buttonwood’s sustainability to the next level is how the land is used, it’s not just a winery, it’s also a very productive farm.
Having the diversity of fruit trees along with the vineyard is how Betty’s mission to have a “balanced ecological microcosm” comes to fruition. A visit to this special tasting room in Solvang, California is an experience, and different throughout the year depending on the season. Peach season is one of our favorites!
We’ve selected this Holiday Three Pack with three wines that will make your holiday gatherings impressive from start to finish! Start off with appetizers and salads paired with the 92 point Metz Road Chardonnay, then move on to your main course with the fun, classic flavors of Objet D’Art Pinot Noir, and when the conversation is warmed up and getting deep, unleash the Destinata GSM Blend. Purchase all three of these wines as a 3-Pack at huge savings while supplies last.
92 points- Wine Enthusiast! Juicy red apples, citrus and bright tropical fruit greet the nose, followed by lilting aromas of vanilla and toasty oak. The palate delivers concentrated apple and pear flavors with a distinct mineral component. Beautifully balanced, the well-integrated oak doesn’t overpower and a soft, full mouthfeel is complemented by a balanced acidity. Regularly $27
Metz Road, a family-owned winery, specilizes in small lot, single vineyard wines. Located in Monterey, 100% of the vineyards are officially certified by the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance, a statewide certification program that provides third-party verification of a winery’s commitment to continuous improvement and the adoption and implementation of sustainable winegrowing practices. The namesake Metz Road runs alongside the family’s Riverview Vineyard, site of their 2012 vintage Chardonnay. Located adjacent to the Pinnacles, nestled on a bench overlooking the Salinas River, it is a Burgundian landscape dramatically influenced by the proximity of the Monterey Bay.
Fruit-driven aromas of cherry and redcurrant greet earthy whiffs of lavender, black pepper, and thyme before strawberry and clove commandeer the palate. Open a bottle at a classy dinner party, and pair it with figs and goat cheese. Regulary $37
Director of Winemaking Ryan Zotovich oversaw every step of this grape-to-glass Pinot Noir, from hand-picking the fruit in Santa Barbara’s Kick On Ranch Vineyard in late August 2015 (an early pick date that grants the eventual wine a leaner style and lower alcohol) to whole-cluster fermenting a quarter of the grapes to aging the wine in neutral oak.
The Kick on Ranch Vineyard has quite the history. In 1854, a determined family traveled to California almost 2000 miles by covered wagon on the Oregon Trail across open plains, mountains and desert. Outside the new village of Santa Rosa they established a “fine ranch” with orchards and 25 acres of vineyards, later lost by Prohibition. In 2000, they planted a new vineyard on the land these pioneers first settled. Since then, they have strived to grow premium grapes for a select group of winemakers, whose wines are defined by effort, promise and optimism, like Kick Ranch itself.
Bright and brooding collide, with lavender and violets, chocolate reduction, dried anise and dusty suede. Juicy, lush palate that delivers generous red fruits backed by dark yet soft tannins. Destinata is a Blend of 68%Grenache, 28% Syrah, and 4% Mouvedre. Regularly $40
Rabble Wine Company creates Central Coast flavors with edgy and historical labels. The end result? A bottle of wine that truly over-delivers. Their Central Coast winery showcases the best fruit from Paso Robles and the Santa Maria Valley.
This is a bottle for lovers of wine labels as well. The labels all incorporate beautiful public domain art rooted in history: woodblock prints from the 1500s, illustrations by John James Audubon, and etchings from William Blake and John Boydell. The labels, like their wines, are known to engage, evoke emotion, and spark conversation. The Destinata GSM Blend’s label story describes a marriage of heaven & hell; sun, moon & angels on the front, with “the damned” riding a serpent across the lake of fire on the back.
PURCHASE ALL THREE AS A 3-PACK AND SAVE 35%! (WHILE SUPPLIES LAST)
Say the words “California wine” and more often than not, bruiser Napa Cabernets or buttery Sonoma Chardonnays come to mind. There’s a certain irony to the fact that most consumers consider wine country of Santa Barbara County as a relative newcomer when in fact the area has had acreage under vine for over one hundred years. But it wasn’t until the 1980s that Santa Barbara County really took off, thanks in part to the UC Davis’s assessment of it having the optimal climate for growing grapes.
What makes the climate of Santa Barbara County and the Central Coast so unique? Three factors come into play: The Humboldt Current, the Coriolis Effect, and the Transverse Range.
The Humboldt Current, despite its name, has nothing to do with cheese or green pharmaceuticals. It’s actually a deep ocean current that comes up from Peru, bringing cool waters with it. That combines with the Coriolis Effect, which is a phenomenon that occurs when northern winds push surface-warm ocean water off the top of the Pacific and moves it further west. The Coriolis Effect truly is phenomenal because it’s not possible without the Earth’s rotation! When that warmer water shifts away, those deep, cool waters shift towards the top, ensuring a continuous cooling effect mid-California Coast. That cool air is then funneled inland due to the Transverse Range: that’s where the North-South running mountains turn East-West due to an early plate tectonic shift. That geological and meteorological combination add up to the unique microclimates we find around Santa Barbara County – which add up to a great variety of wine!
The two biggest AVAs, or American Viticultural Areas, in Santa Barbara County are Santa Maria Valley and Santa Ynez Valley. Both are river valleys created by that plate tectonic shift, which means they oddly run west-to-east, funneling cool maritime air in with them. Both AVAs benefit from large diurnal swings because the cool Pacific influence brings in chilly fog overnight, lowering the nightly temperatures, before burning off midday at higher, hotter afternoon temperatures. That large temperature swing optimizes sugar levels in grapes while maintaining acidity. You’ll notice wines from both AVAs may be higher in alcohol but never taste out of balance: there will always be a refreshing prickle of acidity on the finish. Let’s take a moment to thank diurnal swings for that!
Within the Santa Ynez Valley AVA, the best known AVA is Sta. Rita Hills. (And yes, it is legally ‘Sta. Rita Hills’ and not ‘Santa Rita Hills.’ It seems the famous Santa Rita winery in Chile was a bit peeved when the Santa Rita Hills AVA was initially granted and sued to prevent consumer confusion.) Sta. Rita Hills is most famous for its Pinot Noir. The AVA benefits from that ocean air as well as very specific ‘chet’ soil that create the unmistakably bright and floral Sta. Rita Pinot flavor. It’s no mistake that some of the best-known California Pinot vineyards, including Sea Smoke, are located here.
Moving away from the ocean, we find the Ballard Canyon and Happy Canyon AVAs. As their names imply, they are both lower altitude AVAs and, since they’re surrounded by mountains, heat and sunlight reflect off to create much warmer microclimates than those found in Sta. Rita Hills. Bordeaux and Rhone varietals do well here. In particular, Cabernet Sauvignon loves Happy Canyon and Syrah rules Ballard Canyon.
And, fun fact!: Happy Canyon earned its moniker by having the only working still during Prohibition, leading many a local to visit and to leave quite happy! We’re pleased to see this happy-making legacy continued with fantastic wine.
And finally, the newest AVA in the region is perhaps the closest to our heart: the Los Olivos District. Located in the area surrounding the Los Olivos Café, the Bernat vineyard is proud to be part of the Los Olivos District. Comparatively flat and warm, Syrah absolutely thrives here – which you can taste in the many different Bernat Syrah bottlings.
With the continued interest in Santa Barbara County, we feel that its potential is just now being brought to fruition. The various microclimates and unique topography allow for infinite possibilities, from rich, round reds to bright, acidic whites. Santa Barbara Country truly has a wine for every wine lover!
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In the heart of Santa Barbara Wine Country, we are the premier wine merchant for California Central Coast wines, from Santa Barbara County to Monterey County, with select vintages from other areas of California’s Wine Country and noteworthy wines from around the world.