Santa Barbara County Wine Country: Uniquely Transverse

Great wine regions worldwide feature an unmatched geophysical characteristic that makes each fantastic for viticulture and resulting superb wines; and this factor—whatever it is for each location—will have increasing importance for wine’s future with continuing climate change. Today’s online wine stores, like Bottle Barn, allow tasting the results of such geographic perfection, making geographic comparison easy. In New York’s Finger Lakes region, it’s those long, extremely deep lakes that have provided a climate where otherwise winterkill would make cultivating Vitis vinifera impossible. In Andalusia’s Jerez region, its gently sloping hills close to the ocean.

In Santa Barbara County, too, the Pacific Ocean proximity combined with transverse mountains and foothills provide the secret to winemaking success. Indeed, The Santa Barbara Vintners association proudly states: “Santa Barbara County is different than any other wine growing region in the world.” A recent articles in Forbes boasts: “Santa Barbara is the most compelling wine destination in the U.S. right now,” largely due to its unique ocean-linked characteristics.

East-west-running valleys formed by the coastal mountains meet the Pacific Ocean, which also accounts for the area’s captivating beauty. In fact, for about 50 miles this pattern continues, making Santa Barbara home to the largest swath of such Transverse Ranges on the entire west coast of the American continents—that is, both South and North America. The name Transverse Range is due to the unique orientation, making them crosswise to the general northwest–southeast orientation of most coastal mountains in the west.

So why does this matter for grape growing and fine wine? And why will it continue to be an advantage?

Having grown up near the City of Santa Barbara, near the foothills, I know it has a hot, dry, Mediterranean-like climate, especially in summer. But in Santa Barbara wine country, somewhat north of the city, the ocean fog and breezes reach inland through the transverse valleys, cooling and humidifying, creating distinct micro-climates. This allows grapes to remain on the vines for more extended periods than in many other parts of California, which produces wines of excellent varietal character and expression, including necessary tannins and acidity. Remarkable for southern California, Santa Barbara wine country claims among the coolest AVAs in the state. Thus, it’s fame for Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays, wines for purchase online from across the country. But there’s much more. There are even acclaimed sparkling wine producers! Syrah, too, and other Rhone varietals like Grenache, Viognier, Rousanne, and Marsanne thrive in certain areas like Los Olivos. And we cannot forget classic Cabernet Sauvignon, in a style not far from Bordeaux wines.

Santa Barbara has many micro-climates, with seven official AVA appellations: Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara, the Santa Maria and Santa Ynez Valleys, Ballard Canyon, Los Olivos, Santa Rita Hills, and Alisos Canyon. Each one deserves a look (and a taste) for its unique characteristics.

As viticultural areas across the globe warm, which seems inevitable, the home of Santa Barbara wine country in the heart of a vast Transverse Range will not dissipate, and the fog and cool breezes will become all the more important.

A few examples of available wines will show what I am referring to: 2017 Beckmen Vineyards Santa Ynez Valley Estate Grenache will delight Grenache lovers, with its mouthful of strawberry, raspberry, and cherry flavors, adding a vanilla dash on the finish. The 2019 Fess Parker Santa Barbara County Chardonnay is a great value for wine online, at under $15 per bottle. Wine Enthusiast praises its “tightly coiled aromas of crushed limestone, grapefruit rind and lemon pith” and named it an Editor’s Choice! An example from Santa Rita Hills is the 2018 Melville Donna's Block Syrah. This is undoubtedly an expression of cool-climate Syrah at its finest! Of course, these are all superb wines to order online, quickly and easily.

Written by:

Charlie Leary

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