Santa Barbara Wineries, Wine Tours, and Tasting Rooms
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Santa Barbara Wine

Santa Barbara County Wine-Growing areas include Happy Canyon, Los Alamos Valley, Paso Robles, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Rita Hills, and Santa Ynez Valley. Here are detailed descriptions of each of these regions.

Happy Canyon American Viticultural Area - Santa Barbara Wine Growing Area

Achieving designation as a American Viticultural Area (AVA) in November of 2009, the Happy Canyon region in Santa Barbara Wine Country is one of the county’s newest wine-growing areas yet it is already living up to its great promise in the production of high-quality premium wines. Wineries Santa Barbara

As Santa Barbara County’s smallest AVA, the Happy Canyon AVA encompasses 23,941 acres in the southeastern corner of the larger Santa Ynez Valley AVA. 

Known for large horse ranches as well as the vineyards covering the rolling hillsides, Happy Canyon is located just to the northwest of Lake Cachuma and runs into the San Rafael Mountains. The Happy Canyon region descends in elevation from the northeast to the southwest.

The picturesque and bucolic Happy Canyon viticulture region benefits from high-mineral, low-nutrient loamy clay soils with yellow and red chert and a mix of serpentine cobbles. 

The serpentine-laced, high magnesium soil of the Happy Canyon AVA is generally low in nutrients resulting in smaller vines creating low relatively low yields of grapes with high quality wine grapes with very concentrated flavors. 

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The inland location of Happy Canyon includes a diversity of soils, abundant sunshine, and a rolling, hilly terrain of oaks and grasslands that provide extremely warm conditions well-suited to vines that ripen late, ensuring that the grapes fully mature with a superb terroir expression.

Verdant vineyards cover the scenic hills of Happy Canyon where temperatures during the summer typically reach the low to mid-90s once the mid-morning fog burns off and gives way to the bright sunshine. 

The morning fogs of this area of Santa Barbra Wine Country burn off sooner than the rest of the Santa Ynez Valley, creating the valley’s warmest micro-climate. Around 4 pm the marine winds begin blowing, moderating the heat of the day.

Growing extremely well in the Happy Canyon area are the Bordeaux grape varietals such as Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot as well as Syrah, Sangiovese, and other Rhone varietals. Wineries Santa Barbara.

The Bordeaux grape varietals grown in the Happy Canyon AVA are known for their natural acidity as well as their ripe fruit flavors. 

The fruit sugar of the grapes grown in the region tend to develop subsequent to their flavor, unlike other grape growing areas where the sugars tend to develop before the flavor. The result is that the Bordeaux grapes of Happy Canyon exhibit complex though still graceful tastes along with a strong depth.

Some of the major vineyards in the Happy Canyon region include Cimarone, Star Lane, McGinley, Vogelzang Vineyards, Happy Canyon Vineyard, and Grassini.

The name of this canyon is said to come from a time long ago when simple alcohol was produced in the canyon. Some people would say they were going to visit “Happy” canyon, and that is where the name is said to have come from.

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Los Alamos Valley Viticultural Area - Santa Barbara Wine Growing Areas

Set between Santa Ynez Valley and Santa Maria Valley, Los Alamos Valley has not yet achieved an AVA designation though growers are well aware that this is a prime area for growing grapes to produce premium wines.

The cool nights, warm days, and well-drained soils of Los Alamos Valley create a wonderful concentration as well as a good balance in the thousands of acres of Chardonnay grapes grown in the valley. Also grown are many experimental Italian varieties.

The temperate climate of the region is about ten degrees warmer, on average, than Santa Maria Valley just to the northeast. 

Conversely, Los Alamos Valley is about ten degrees cooler than the Santa Ynez Valley located just to the south. La Purisima Hills border Los Alamos Valley on the south while its northern reaches are bordered by the Solomon Hills. 

Some winemakers believe that Los Alamos Valley should be recognized as an AVA just like the nearby Santa Rita Hills and Santa Maria Valley AVAs.

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Paso Robles American Viticultural Area - Santa Barbara Wine Growing Regions

Established in 1983, the Paso Robles AVA encompasses about 650,000 acres and includes all of the wineries and vineyards in northern San Luis Obispo County and is located on the inland region of the Santa Lucia coastal mountains. 

The region is somewhat rectangular in shape, measuring about 25 miles wide by 35 miles long. 

From the Santa Lucia Mountains the Paso Robles AVA extends east to the Kern County line and is bordered on the north by the border with Monterey County. The southern edge of the region is the Cuesta Grade below Santa Margarita.

The Paso Robles AVA is a large appellation and includes several distinct grape-growing regions, and each of these unique viticultural areas have variations in rainfall, average temperature, soil types, and in the amount of maritime airflow they receive.

The climate and soils of the south (Santa Margarita) and the north (San Miguel) have the most variation, though many people think of the region more in term of east and west, with the dividing line being the Salinas River. 

In the future some of the sub-regions within the Paso Robles AVA may get their own AVA designations, and some petitions have already been filed with the Federal Tax and Trade Bureau.

Perhaps due to the diversity of microclimates and soils of the region, various types of fine grape varietals grow well within the Paso Robles AVA. Vineyards of the region have had significant success with numerous red grape varietals including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel, and Syrah.

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Santa Maria Valley American Viticultural Area - Santa Barbara Wine Country

The northernmost of Santa Barbara County’s wine growing areas, Santa Maria valley is best known for its Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grape varietals. In addition, some very fine Bordeaux and Rhone varietals grow in the eastern region of the valley.

The region is bordered on the west by the town of Santa Maria, on the south by the Solomon Hills, and on the east and north by the Los Padres National Forest and San Rafael Mountains. 

Due to its rare east-west orientation the Santa Maria Valley is directly influenced by the Pacific Ocean creating an exceptionally cool viticultural region providing one of California’s longest wine-growing seasons. The relatively low temperature and extended growing season result in very intensely flavored low pH wines with great natural acidity. 

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Santa Maria Valley is also fairly wide which allows the cool sea breezes and ocean fogs to funnel inland. A relatively broad valley at the town of Santa Maria, the valley gets narrower moving east up into the Sisquoc and Santa Maria River drainage.

Santa Maria Valley is the recipient of winds that blow onshore due to northwesterly airflows coming from the adjacent San Luis Bay. Because the Pacific Ocean water stays cool throughout the year, rising only as high as the mid-50s in summer, the cooling influence is persistent all year around which bodes well for the Santa Barbara wineries located there.

The average high temperature of the vineyard areas reaches only about 75 degrees Fahrenheit even during the hottest months of summer. Experiencing a coastal maritime climate, the average temperature around Santa Maria town is about 64 degrees Fahrenheit.

The fogs and winds create a diversity of microclimates, and the region also has a variety of soil types that are primarily of marine origin as well as from the sedimentation due to river wash. Most of the soils are well-drained and consist of sandy loam or clay loam.

Established in 1981, the Santa Maria Valley was the first of Santa Barbara County’s wine-growing areas to be approved as an American Viticultural Area (AVA). Most of the vineyards of this AVA are planted along the Santa Maria River mesa river bench and along the Sisquoc River drainage as well as atop various plateau areas.

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Santa Rita Hills American Viticultural Area - Santa Barbara Wine Country

Established as an AVA in 2001, the Santa Rita Hills AVA is the newest AVA in Santa Barbara Wine Country. Santa Rita Hills is located at the foot of Point Conception is set in the westernmost section of the Santa Ynez Valley to the east of the town of Lompoc and west of the town of Buellton.

Numerous well known wineries are located in Santa Rita Hills AVA, and wines from this appellation were formerly (and sometimes still) labeled Santa Ynez Valley because the AVA is located within the larger valley. 

A very highly respected wine growing region, the Santa Rita Hills AVA is bordered on the south by the Santa Rosa Mountains and on the north by the east-west trending La Purisima Mountains.

The elevation of the Santa Rita Hills AVA ranges from near sea level to about 1,800 feet above sea level. The region is considered semi-arid as it receives about 13 inches of rain each year on average. Most all of this rain falls from December to May.

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The Santa Rita Hills appellation is distinguished for its unique, ultra-cool climate that differs from the vineyards to the east where the climate is hotter and the fog burns off quicker. This wine growing region  is cool due to the influences of the fog and maritime air that rolls into the valley from the sea.

Santa Rita Hills is generally about 10 to 15 degrees cooler than the greater Santa Ynez Valley to the east. Also distinguishing this AVA are the unique soil types, primarily sedimentary with patches of limestone. The varied soil includes clay, loam, limestone and marine sand. There is a relatively large percentages of marine deposits and dune sand along with more recent river wash and alluvial deposits.

A dense layer of fog often blankets the vineyards in the morning and burns off before noon providing warm and sunny weather for a few hours before the cooling sea breezes arrive. The early-forming and late-dissipating maritime fogs create one of the world’s coolest wine growing regions.

The Santa Rita Hills wine growing region with its notably cool growing season is known for producing high quality Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

The relatively extreme cold and windy climate of the Santa Rita AVA compared to other wine growing regions produces low yields that result in wines with intense taste characteristics, including ultra-premium Pinot Noir wines that are known for their density of color.

Since most of the rain fall from December to May, vinters are able to extend the grapes’ “hang time” without the potential harm that can come from fall rains as occur in other well-known regions that grow Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

This wine growing region is said to be the most significant western running corridor into the Pacific Ocean found anywhere from Chile all the way up to Alaska. Currently about 1,700 acres within this 10-square mile AVA are planted in grapes.

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Santa Ynez Valley American Viticultural Area - Santa Barbara Wine Growing Regions

Santa Ynez Valley American Viticultural Area (AVA) is the largest AVA in Santa Barbara County, having been designated in 1983.

The valley runs from east to west with very warm temperatures inland in the eastern interior valley area, and much cooler in the western portion of the valley near the sea. The soils of the Santa Ynez Valley AVA are primarily of marine origin.

Santa Ynez Valley is bordered on the northeast by the San Rafael Mountains and to the west the AVA follows the Purisima Hills ridge top. 

The westernmost border of the AVA is near Lompoc while. The southeastern border of the wine-growing region reaches near to Lake Cachuma while the southern border follows the Santa Ynez Mountain ridgeline.

The varied terrain of Santa Ynez Valley provides areas that are ideal for several grape varietals including Merlot and Cabernet in the eastern region of the valley and Pinot Noir in the west. 

Some of Santa Barbara County’s finest Rhone and Bordeaux wines come from the eastern portion of Santa Ynez Valley, while the western area known as the Santa Rita Hills AVA produces respected cooler climate grape varietals such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

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