Tuesday, October 9th. [During my absence in the Loire, guest author Andrew Wang offers this excellent posting. Andrew also writes regularly for Travel Reward Credit Card, Wine Making Supplies, International Travel Medical Insurance Guide. ~Dave]
When Father Junipero Serra planted the first grapevine cuttings in Santa Barbara County in 1782 he could scarcely have been aware of the potential of the land. The same can be said of the generations that followed him. It was only in the 1980s that the first recognition came of the area’s unique potential.
It was then realized that the Santa Barbara County was blessed with the right soil, the right amount of sunshine and the right temperature to grow grapes. Vineyard masters and wine makers descended on this glorious Californian land, bounded by Santa Ynez to the south and the San Rafaels to the north, to plant yards and yards of world-class grape vines. The result: Santa Barbara is now known as America’s wine country.
Today a drive through Santa Barbara County is any wine lover’s dream. Over 100 wineries operate in this area, and more are setting up shop. There is also a great deal of experimentation going on as new winemakers join the party. Tasting rooms dot this beautiful County, where visitors can taste some of the best wines being produced in America.
The County itself has been divided in three clear zones (AVAs): the Santa Ynez Valley, the Santa Rita Hills, and the Santa Maria Valley. Each zone has its own, unique climate. The Santa Ynez Valley, which is the largest, is home to more than 50 wineries and scores of grape growers. It is slightly warm, as its eastern parts are a little removed from the ocean.
The Santa Rita Hills are much cooler because they are fed by a cool ocean breeze that also brings in fog. This area is ideal for growing grapes like syrah, pinot noir and chardonnay. The Santa Maria Valley is the coolest. It is windy and often foggy and has a climate that is almost like Burgundy, the French home of pinot noir and chardonnay grapes.
Some of the most well known vineyards in Santa Barbara Country are Sanford & Benedict Vineyard, Bien Nacido, Babcock Vineyards, and Byron Vineyard and Winery. Besides this, winemaking giants Beringer, Robert Mondavi and Kendall-Jackson have major vineyard holdings in Santa Barbara.
Perhaps best known for its Pinot Noir, the County also produces some of the most exotic grapes in the world. These include Syrah, Petite Syrah (aka Petite Sirah), Sauvignon Blanc, Mourvèdre, Grenache, Viognier, Rousanne and Marsanne as well as Riesling, Dornfelder and Tocai Friulano.
The fame of the County has grown with the shooting of the Hollywood film Sideways in 2004. Hundreds of tourists now descend on Kalyra Winery, where the film’s sassy star, Stephanie (played by Sandra Oh), was pouring wine. Other stops for these tourists are Los Olivos Café & Wine Merchant, Hitching Post II, cellar at Firestone and Foxen tasting room. In fact, this trail has come to be known as the "Sideways tour" which ends well if you finish your day at Solvang’s Tastes of the Valleys wine bar, where they feature the wines of the Sideways Wine Club.
Visitors can also time their visit to coincide with the wine country’s two annual bashes. The first one is Vintners’ Festival and is held in April. The second one is called the Celebration of Harvest, and is held in October. Both are marked by days of wild dancing, crush parties, dining and merrymaking.
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