By: Wandering Wino
Ballard Canyon is the newest recognized wine region inside of Santa Barbara County.
What does this mean?
A couple of things, starting with wine labels likely will show off the new AVA name, Ballard Canyon. In my view, on some level there is a science to this, and on the other hand, it becomes marketing.
As Ballard Canyon is noted for producing stellar Rhones (like Viognier,Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Roussanne, Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Petite Sirah, among others), it can become a platform for the wine market. Just like the Oakville AVA of the Napa Valley has showcased itself as being a premiere Cabernet region, Ballard Canyon will have the same opportunity. I had a chance to discuss the new AVA with Keith Saarloos of Saarloos and Sons. Keith says, "It's like a dot on the map or a zip code. Every sommelier has to know Ballard Canyon now." With the new AVA recognized officially, I asked Keith how he will label his wines that have been labeled Santa Ynez Valley (other wineries have opted for Santa Barbara County). He said, "Ballard Canyon AVA."
Another destination and purpose for the new AVA is being different in aspects such as climate, soil, rain, wind, and temperature variance. Each grape requires different conditions of climate, weather, leafing, trellising, and farming, to shine in the best possible light.
In a previous article I wrote about 'How To Buy Wine Like A Champion', I suggested buying very specific wines from regions that are best suited for their respective grapes. It is kind of supporting the similar concept of ordering a steak at a steak house, and fish at a fish house. So do not drink Chardonnay from Mexico or buy Cabernet from Alaska. It would, however, be wise to consider Rhones from Ballard Canyon.
A part of the marketing idea is that this specific region of Ballard Canyon that sits inside of the larger Santa Ynez Valley, has specific conditions to produce very high quality Rhones, some Bordeaux varietals, and a little Sangiovese. As consumers get out, taste the wines, see the labeling, they will begin to identify high quality wines from this region.
Many Santa Barbara wine industry professionals and residents have been clear in their interest to stay on the smaller side in Santa Barbara County, with a smaller community,and simply produce stellar wines. So far, Santa Barbara has done an excellent job of maintaining more of a community vibe, less build-up, and less big brand business which is often seen in other wine regions. That'old-school' vibe is a big piece of the romance to Santa Barbara wine country in my view.
No hotels, restaurants, water parks, bungy jumps or bouncy castles can be found inside of Ballard Canyon, just beautiful vineyards, country roads, ranches, and a few wineries. I have often shared with many others that Ballard Canyon is one of the most beautiful drives in wine country.
From my years of consuming great wines from Ballard Canyon, the high quality resonates an excitement for me each time I simply look at a bottle. So if it is tasting the wine, or simply being there in Ballard Canyon, it is no doubt an exciting place. Get out and explore for yourself if you haven't already!
Ballard Canyon Details:
Vineyards and Some Varietals:
By: Wandering Wino
Throughout California, there are many wine appellations or American Viticulture Areas (AVA's). According to the TTB of their description of AVA's -
"These designations allow vintners and consumers to attribute a given quality, reputation, or other characteristic of a wine made from grapes grown in an area to its geographic origin. The establishment of viticultural areas allows vintners to describe more accurately the origin of their wines to consumers and helps consumers to identify wines they may purchase."
Each AVA is broken down by distinctions like climate and soil that produce both growing and wine distinction. The French word terroir will not be used because most of us do not speak French and, well, mainly for fear of civil unrest among the hard-core. Many of the regions are known to produce and specialize in various wines. The Central Coast includes over 30 different AVA's. Having some familiarity with these regions, there are key distinctions that often can be blanketed with the term "Central Coast."
Central Coast is essentially half of the coast of California, near 300 miles in length and at its widest is near 50 miles inland. Beginning at the Southern bay area near San Francisco, to as far south as Santa Barbara, and as far East as the Paso Robles AVA. With such a large span and distinctions among them, it is almost like a person traveling abroad, telling someone in another country that they are American. It's a fantastic giant "soup pot." As an American, it is easy to see the distinctions between places like Key West FL, Mississippi, Montana, Michigan, New York, and so on.
The Central Coast can be referred to as the North Central Coast and the South Central Coast. Amongst the wine appellations of the Northern Central Coast, some of them include Arroyo Seco, Carmel Valley, Chalone, Monterey County, Livermore, Santa Cruz, Santa Clara, Santa Lucia Highlands, San Lucas and many others.
While wine production history for the northern region goes back to the 1830's, prohibition shut down the wine community. In 1957 Mirassou and Paul Masson purchased 1,300 acres in Salinas Valley. Bill Jekel brought high quality wine attention to the area. It wasn't long before fame was brought by pioneers like Dick Graff producing great Pinot Noir at Chalone in the mid-1970's. Other famed producers of the area include Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon Vineyard, the Wagner family of Caymus and their Conundrum brand, JC Cellars from Jeff Cohn, the well known Ridge and Rosenblum.
The many varietals produced from the Northern Central Coast include Barbera, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Riesling, Mourvedre, Pinot Noir, Viognier, Zinfandel, and many more. Generally, this region is warm with a few cooler spots like the Santa Cruz Mountains and portions of the Salinas Valley.
The southern region of the Central Coast has quickly become known as one of the best areas in the world outside of Burgundy for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Vines were originally planted in Paso Robles in the late 18th century and Santa Ynez Valley in Santa Barbara County pre-prohibition held its fair share of vineyards. Post-prohibition didn't see its first Santa Barbara County winery return until 1962. Right around that same time, the Nielson vineyard in Santa Maria Valley became the first commercial vineyard. Most of the fruit from the Nielson vineyard was sold to Napa Valley in the early days.
Santa Maria Valley resides slightly south of Edna Valley past Arroyo Grande, in the Northern region of Santa Barbara County. Santa Maria Valley is one of the oldest AVA's in the US and home to some of the most famous vineyards, the Miller family's Bien Nacido and Solomon Hills vineyards comprising nearly 2,000 acres. Over the years, major wine press have indicated these vineyards to be amongst the top ten in the world. Some of the most notable wines of California source their fruit from these vineyards including Au Bon Climat, Qupe, Foxen, Kenneth Volk, up and comers La Fenentre and Presqu'ile.
While grapes have been growing around Paso Robles since 1797, Paso Robles Rhone Ranger and "Godfather," Gary Eberle helped bring quality by starting Estrella winery (later Meridian) in 1973 and put Syrah on the US map, and in our glass. Other Paso pioneers include "Mr. Chardonnay" Chuck Ortman, Castoro's winemaker Tom Meyers, and Vic Roberts of Victor Hugo Winery. The coastal influence is blocked by the mountains allowing for many hot days and cool nights. Paso's highest acreage plantings are of Chardonnay, Merlot, and Cabernet. However, Paso Robles may be best known for Zinfandel and Rhone varietals like Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvedre. Should one ask near 40 year Paso veteran Gary Eberle, he believes Cabernet Sauvignon is his best producing grape.
Just south of Paso and north of Santa Maria Valley sits San Louis Obispo, known as "SLO" to locals, and more specifically the Edna Valley AVA, home to less than 20 wineries. Pinot Noir, Syrah, and Chardonnay shine in this area with fantastic producers like Chamisal Vineyards, Kynsi, Baileyana, and Talley, among many others. This region is home to a well known agriculture college producing enology and viticulture professionals, Cal-Polytecnic-University.
The Central Coasts' terrain, climate patterns, and wine produced has a large scale range. So the next time a label is seen showing "Central Coast," this fantastic giant "soup pot" might be a little more understood. Undoubtedly there is very high quality in both the north and the south.
CA CENTRAL COAST AVAs (31 including Santa Barbara County's newest AVA, Ballard Canyon)
• Arroyo Grande Valley AVA
• Arroyo Seco AVA
• Ballard Canyon
• Ben Lomond Mountain AVA
• Carmel Valley AVA
• Central Coast AVA
• Chalone AVA
• Cienega Valley AVA
• Edna Valley AVA
• Hames Valley AVA
• Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara AVA
• Lime Kiln Valley AVA
• Livermore Valley AVA
• Monterey AVA
• Mt. Harlan AVA
• Pacheco Pass AVA
• Paicines AVA
• Paso Robles AVA
• San Antonio Valley AVA
• San Benito AVA
• San Bernabe AVA
• San Francisco Bay AVA
• San Lucas AVA
• San Ysidro District AVA
• Santa Clara Valley AVA
• Santa Cruz Mountains AVA
• Santa Lucia Highlands AVA
• Santa Maria Valley AVA
• Sta. Rita Hills AVA
• Santa Ynez Valley AVA
• York Mountain AVA
Interesting stories from Santa Barbara Wine County.