California is one of the most unique wine growing vinicultural areas in the world. The California winemakers have the envious position of being able to make high quality French, Spanish, and Italian wine varietals. California not only can make those wines as good and in some cases better than the countries that originated each varietal, they can also be made in a myriad of styles and price points.
To be clear, if California was its own country it would likely be rated as the #2 wine region in the world, trailing only the French wine making tradition and history that France has had a 1000 year head start on us to build on. Californians have always been open to buying wine from all of our different wine growing regions and are open to trying all styles, but that openness changes when it comes time to travel to a wine region for the enjoyment of the wines and the local food, and atmosphere. Too often we are trapped into thinking that Napa/Sonoma areas are the only places worth visiting. This is what makes those areas unbearably crowded and expensive to visit. In the interest in highlighting some of our many winegrowing regions that are more than capable in producing high quality wines and a fun time, I bring you the beautiful wine growing area of Santa Barbara.
Santa Barbara is a coastal climate region known especially for its top-quality Chardonnays and Pinot Noir’s. Santa Barbara is not just about Santa Barbara proper, it includes the vinicultural areas of; Santa Ynez, Santa Maria, Santa Rita Hills, Ballard Canyon, Happy Valley, and Santa Barbara County.
Santa Maria can best be described as windswept and foggy, lending itself to making some of California’s best Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs.
Santa Rita Hills, Santa Ynez Valley, Happy Canyon, and Ballard Canyon are all within the Santa Ynez area. While they are all still heavily influenced by the coastal proximity, the eastern part of these areas do get warmer and can make great quality Cabs and Merlots along with the Chard and Pinot Noir’s that Santa Barbara area is known for.
One of the best things about Santa Barbara is the mixture of large and small lot wineries each with something wonderful to offer.
Here are some of the best wineries to check out:
1819 Ballard Canyon Road
Solvang, CA 93463
Rusack Syrah is simply to die for and the winery tasting room is filled with it as well as their high quality Pinot Noir. Rusack also owns the only vineyard on Catalina Island and if you ask nicely they might give you a taste of the very small production wines from there.
5175 E Highway 246
Lompoc, CA, 93436
Known for its tasting room that attracts a younger, hipster crowd filled with 70’s and 80’s music, vinyl art and unique vintage gifts. This winery however can boast Pinot Noir clones that can rival the best in the state and is therefore a must visit for anyone, hipster or not. I recommend their PSI Clone of Pinot Noir, which is filled with cocoa and dried rose petals. Made from grapes on Estate Grown, Organic vineyards in Santa Rita Hills.
Winemaker Bryan Babcock Has become a hot commodity in the wine world and has been selected by the LA Times as “Ten Best Winemakers of the Year” and was named “Most Courageous Winemaker of the Year” for his unique and out of the box approach to pushing winemaking evolution with new practices and techniques.
5475 Chardonnay Lane
Santa Maria, CA, 93454
If you have your winery on a street called “Chardonnay Lane” you had better make a great Chardonnay. Cambria does not disappoint, with it’s quite moderately priced Chard. More representative of a large winery (it is owned by the Jackson Estate, as in Kendall Jackson) it is none the less everything that is right with the Santa Barbara wine region. Their wines are complex, affordable and available in a vast number of stores which means that bottle you enjoyed on your trip to Santa Barbara might be able to be found once you are home as well. Tons of fog, crushed seashells in the soil, means these wines have character and a uniqueness.
The Santa Barbara’s micro-climate that the locals pay good money to live in, is reminiscent of a Mediterranean climate. Which also might explain the Mediterranean architecture and food options that are pervasive in the Santa Barbara area
Restaurants I Recommend:
127 Anacapa St
Santa Barbara, CA, 93101
If I owned a pizza place, this is how I envision it. Perfect setting not far from the ocean, Pizzas so good that you’ll question why you ever order anything from a national pizza chain, great ambiance, and great wine selection. I visit every time I am in town and cannot resist the “Ode to Dan Russo” pie, with smoked mozzarella and Calabrian chile.
120 Santa Barbara St
Santa Barbara, CA, 93101
In the new and hipster-fied “Funk Zone” of Santa Barbara comes this laid back restaurant featuring great beers, the best potato waffles that you will ever have (and they’re purple!) Located in a big shipping container, and connected to a local beer shop. You will be well advised to order the pretzel, beer-battered shrimp and people watch for a few hours.
Santa Barbara is a wine lover paradise, it is also a food lovers paradise, you could also say that it has the same climate, almost year round as paradise. So, if you feel the need to experience paradise, bring your beach attire, your wine glasses and an empty stomach, because I think I have found Paradise.