The unique, transverse nature of the valleys of Santa Barbara Wine Country provides a patchwork quilt of micro-climates and terrains, resulting in one of the most diverse grape growing regions in the world. Unlike the rest of North America, the valleys in the Pacific coastline, including the coastal Santa Ynez Mountain range, run east-west rather than north-south. Because of this geologic oddity, the ocean breezes sweep eastward, channeled by the hills and mountains that ring the region. Heading east, 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, with early morning and late-night fogs. Coupled with unique soils of ancient beaches and sea beds containing limestone and other minerals, the Santa Ynez Valley is a near-perfect place for a wide variety of wine grape varieties.
Tip No. 1: Many of the vintners cultivate or purchase grapes from several AVAs in the region and from even AVAs further north in California. Although a vintner’s wine tasting room or winery may be in a certain AVA, that doesn’t mean the vintner only makes wines from that AVA. For example, one of my favorite wineries is in the Santa Rita Hills AVA which is the area best known for its “cool” varietals of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. But he owns and harvests vineyards of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes in the much hotter Happy Canyon AVA in the eastern end of the Santa Ynez Valley and in my opinion, makes the best Cabernet Sauvignon from the Santa Ynez Valley AVA. Another vintner may blend just a “smidgen” of Chardonnay grapes from the Santa Maria AVA into his Santa Rita Hills Chardonnay for a little different “structure or character.” So regardless of where a winery is located, it’s best to study each winery’s offerings and to know what wines are offered and from where its grapes hail.
Tip No. 2: One of the most enjoyable experiences is packing a snack or picnic – as simple or as complicated as you want to make it – and enjoying the serenity of Santa Barbara Wine Country. Many tasting rooms and wineries have picnicking areas in beautiful woodland settings. And fresh fruits are available from local roadside vendors. Enjoy the area!
The Funk Zone
Although not an AVA, just a few blocks west of IJF Hqs. is Santa Barbara’s The Funk Zone (or just the “Zone”). It includes most of what’s called The Urban Wine Trail. Begun by hip visionaries intent on redevelopment of an old warehouse and industrial area -- bordered by the ocean and Santa Barbara’s scenic beaches and marina on the south side and the Amtrak station and Highway 101 to the north – the Funk Zone
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Santa Rita Hills AVA
This could be my favorite AVA … except for the others. In the western most part of Santa Barbara Wine Country, a typical day in the Santa Rita Hills AVA (SRH) starts with marine layer clouds and fog, which burn off by 10 a.m. Then two or three hours of mild sunshine until the on-shore winds pick up, cooling things down again.
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Los Olivos District
The Mediterranean climate of Santa Barbara County and much of California is as conducive to growing wine as growing olives … much like Spain, Italy and other countries along the Mediterranean. The Los Olivos AVA is an area where ancient rivers deposited loose soil, rocks and other sediment between the Purisima Hills above Solvang and the western flank of the Happy Canyon area.
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Positively Yes! Located in the far eastern edge of the Santa Ynez Valley AVA, the Happy Canyon AVA delves into the San Rafael Mountains just northwest of Lake Cachuma. Being inland means a significantly warmer climate that ensures complete maturation for later ripening varieties.
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Ballard Canyon, one of the newest AVAs, lies where the unique soils and climate of the Canyon create a great environment for producing distinctive wines from red grapes such as Syrah, Grenache, Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc and white grapes such as Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and Roussanne.
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Santa Maria Valley, Los Alamos and the Foxen Canyon Wine Trails with western hospitality meets world class wine in the Santa Maria and Los Alamos area. The transverse nature of the Santa Maria Valley lends itself to a diverse range of wines produced here. Heading south from Santa Maria, take a leisurely drive along Foxen Canyon to Los Olivos or drive down the 101 and stop in the Western town of Los Alamos.
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When you arrive at the IJF, the JOCLA will have brochures, maps and other resources for your wine tasting pleasure. In the meantime, here are some other resources through the magic of the Internet:
Santa Barbara Vintners Foundation: https://www.sbcountywines.com/home.html
Guide to Wine in Santa Barbara: https://santabarbaraca.com/itinerary/santa-barbara-wine-curious/
Forbes Magazine: “Forbes Magazine Santa Barbara Wineries”
Wine Folly: An Introduction to Santa Barbara Wine Country, http://winefolly.com/review/an-intro-to-santa-barbara-wine-country/
 These are nothing more than this writer’s personal favorites based on my experience. I’ve visited the area and its wineries since turning 21 and graduating from UC Santa Barbara in 1970. Back then and for many years thereafter, tastings were free. Not now … but the quality and sophistication of the wines has improved astronomically!