Winegrowing Areas in Santa Barbara County
The unique, transverse nature of the valleys of Santa Barbara
Wine Country provides a patchwork quilt of microclimates and
terrains, resulting in one of the most diverse grapegrowing
regions in the country. The valleys in the Pacific coastline
actually run east-west rather than north-south, and both the
coastal Santa Ynez Mountain range and the more interior San
Rafael range are transverse too. Because of this geologic oddity,
the ocean breezes sweep eastward, channeled by the hills and
mountains that ring the region. Heading east into the foothills,
the temperatures are warm during the day and very cool during
the night, whereas the vineyards that lie westward toward the
ocean enjoy a mild and moderate climate. Coupled with soils
that run the gamut from ancient beach and diatomaceous earth
to chirt and limestone, there is a near-perfect place for a
wide variety of winegrape varietals.
"One of California’s most beautiful and exciting
viticultural regions lies ... just 90 minutes north of the
seemingly endless urban sprawl of Los Angeles. Santa Barbara
... is making some of the most thrilling wines in America.
... From ocean-cooled valleys to stark mountain vineyards;
from racy syrah to velvety pinot noir to the prospect of great
cabernet; from rustic ranchers to reclusive celebrities – if
any wine region can have it all, it’s Santa Barbara."
from "Under the Boardwalk", Anthony Dias Blue
are currently four federally-sanctioned American Viticultural
Areas (AVAs) within Santa Barbara County: Santa Maria
Valley, Santa Ynez Valley, Sta. Rita Hills and Happy Canyon
Barbara. As grapegrowers continue to advance their understanding
of the best places to plant particular winegrape varietals,
the Los Alamos region, Ballard Canyon, the Los Olivos
District, and the Santa Maria Bench are also showing distinct
that may one day lead to AVA status. The Los Alamos Valley
area between Santa Ynez Valley and Santa Maria Valley
also hosts several vineyards, although the area is not officially
The Vintners' Association also publishes two detailed maps
of the vineyards in Santa Barbara Wine Country, the appellations
of Santa Maria Valley, Santa Ynez Valley and Sta. Rita Hills.
If you would like to purchase these maps, please
Santa Maria Valley
The often foggy and
windswept Santa Maria Valley is the northern most appellation
in Santa Barbara County. The region’s first officially
approved American Viticultural Area (AVA) enjoys extremely
complex soil conditions and diverse microclimates. Chardonnay
and Pinot Noir are two varietals which especially benefit from
the ocean’s influence, and are the flagship wines of
"No viticultural region in America has demonstrated
as much progress in quality and potential for greatness as...
the Santa Barbara region, where the Burgundian varietals
and Pinot Noir are planted in its cooler climates."
Food & Wine, Robert Parker Jr.
The quality of Santa Maria Valley grapes is so widely recognized
that the fruit is not just used in winemaking at wineries in
the appellation. Santa Maria Valley grapes are also used by
wineries throughout Santa Barbara County and at many wineries
outside of the county. So don't be suprised when you see the
Santa Maria Valley name on labels from wineries that are based
far away from the Santa Barbara County sunshine. The Santa
Maria Valley appellation is bounded by the San Rafael Mountains
and the Los Padres National Forest to the east, and by the
Solomon Hills and the city of Santa Maria to the west.
For more information visit the Santa Maria Valley Wine Country
Click here for the official Federal definition of the Santa Maria Valley Viticultural Area.
Santa Ynez Valley is a long, east-west corridor with very
cool temperatures on the coast that become progressively warmer
inland. Consequently, several varietals do well, from Pinot
Noir in the west to Cabernet and Merlot in the east. Several
Rhône and Italian grape varietals have also gained acclaim
in this versatile Santa Barbara County AVA.
The largest concentration of wineries is in the Santa Ynez
Valley appellation. From one-person labors of love to multi-thousand
case operations, each has a dedication to producing wine that
truly reflects the high quality and broad diversity of local
For more information visit the Santa Ynez Wine Country website.
Click here for the official Federal definition of the Santa Ynez Valley Viticultural Area.
Sta. Rita Hills
Sta. Rita Hills is actually within the Santa Ynez Valley appellation,
although its unique soils and climate distingush the grapes
grown there from the ones in the warmer vineyards to the east.
A typical day in Sta. Rita Hills starts with marine layer clouds
and fog, which burn off by 10am; there is then two or three
hours of calm sunshine until the on-shore winds pick up, cooling
things down again. This maritime influence, combined with the
sedimentary soils with patches of limestone is the perfect
place to grow the appellation's hallmark Chardonnay and Pinot
Noir. The region continues to innovate with progressive farming
techniques, supplying fruit used to produce highly-stylized
and structured wines.
Santa Rita Hills sits within the larger Santa Ynez Valley
AVA, on its western border, just a few miles from the Pacific
Ocean. It is an appellation that has proven to be especially
well-suited to Pinot Noir, Syrah and Chardonnay.Antonio Galloni, Robert Parker
The Sta. Rita Hills appellation includes about 1700 planted
acres within a 10 square mile area. Located between the towns
of Buellton and Lompoc, the region is bounded by the La Purisima
Hills to the north and the Santa Rosa Hills to the south, and
intersected by the Santa Ynez River.
For more information visit the Sta. Rita Hills Winegrowers
Click here for the official Federal definition of the Sta. Rita Hills Viticultural Area.
Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara
of Santa Barbara is a relatively new winegrowing region
that has recently become its own AVA. Located in the
far eastern edge of the Santa Ynez Valley AVA, it delves
Mountains just northwest of Lake Cachuma. Its inland
position means a significantly warmer climate that
maturation for later ripening varieties.
The rolling terrain, high slopes and varied soils of this
region are best suited for growing Bordeaux varieties Cabernet
Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Sauvignon
Blanc, creating rich, concentrated wines. Syrah and other Rhône
varieties also flourish here.
For more information visit the Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara
Click here for the official Federal definition of the Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara Viticultural Area.
Los Alamos Valley
Los Alamos Valley lies between
Santa Maria Valley and Santa Ynez Valley. With warm days
and very cold nights, the fruit from this region achieves incredible
concentration and balance. Its slight, well drained soils
a wide range of microclimates allows for a diversity
of varietals. Because Los Alamos Valley is not an official
won't see it on a wine label - "Santa Barbara County" is
used instead. But you should not be surprised to see Los Alamos
Valley vineyard names specified on the label.
Los Alamos, which means "The Cottonwoods" in Spanish,
is a town just off the 101 freeway between the Santa Maria
Valley and Santa Ynez Valley appellations. The area around
Los Alamos has a temperate climate all its own - ten degrees
cooler than Santa Ynez Valley to the south and ten degrees
warmer than Santa Maria Valley to the north-east. Los Alamos
Valley is bounded to the north by Solomon Hills and to the
south by La Purisima Hills.
"Los Alamos Valley has as much right to wine legitimacy
as Santa Maria Valley and Santa Rita Hills, which it
resembles in its comparable coolness. Like those two AVAs,
Valley also grows thousands of acres of Chardonnay and
Pinot Noir, as well as smaller experimental acres of Italian
New California Wine, Matt Kramer