Santa Barbara is considered by many to be one of the world’s most beautiful wine regions. Blessed with a rugged coastline, dramatic scenery and abundant Californian sunshine, it is no surprise that the area has seen a significant upturn in interest over the last twenty years. What is alarming however, is the fact that it took a Hollywood adaptation of a Rex Pickett novel to alert the world’s wine lovers to the undoubted viticultural charms of this exciting, and quality focussed region.
Diversity is a key feature of the Santa Barbara landscape, its terroir and its grapes. More than fifty unique varieties thrive here, from rare natives to internationally established varieties such as Riesling and Sangiovese. The principal fruits of Santa Barbara however, are Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, which together account for around two thirds of the planted area. Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon come next in terms of vine share, with Viognier also seeing its popularity increase notably in recent years.
Geologically unusual - in that the valleys of this area run east to west rather than the regular north to south orientation - the county experiences a range of microclimates conducive to viticulture. As the ocean breeze in funnelled eastward, the inland vineyards are afforded the benefits of its moderation, with warm days and cooler night-time temperatures ensuring a fruit balanced in sugars and acidity. Nearer to the Pacific however, the vines enjoy a typical coastal climate with less diurnal variation in temperature. With soils of clay, sand, silt and limestone dependant upon location, the conditions on the ground are as wide ranging as those from above, making the terroir of Santa Barbara the perfect place for a broad diversity of grapes to flourish.
Nowadays, the county of Santa Barbara has more than two-hundred wineries and a healthy wine tourism industry that continues to grow year on year. Its six AVAs - Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Maria Valley, Sta. Rita Hills, Ballard Canyon, Los Olivos District and the wonderfully titled Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara - as well as the notable region, Los Alamos Valley, produce exquisite, velvety smooth wines which rank amongst some of the state’s finest.
In the eastern corner of the Santa Ynez Valley, there is a wine appellation whose name one cannot help but smile at… The Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara is one of the youngest AVAs in the area - being officially recognised as such only since 2009 - and is today principally known for its wines from the typical Bordeaux varieties.