Oh Hi, Santa Barbara!
It was a clear black night, a clear white moon... No, wait --
It was a clear blue sky, a bright yellow sun -- and Winelala was in Santa Barbara, trying to consume. So... pretty much the opposite of Nate Dog and Warren G's circumstances. But the energy was the same, because we were about to hit the city's Urban Wine Trail!!
(Perhaps you've noticed Winelala's November Monthly Favorite was Jamie Slone's 2014 Pinot Noir. Jamie Slone's wine was found deep in the tasting rooms of said trail at the end of a long, great, day.)
Most of the downtown tasting rooms' corresponding wineries are located about 45 minutes away in the Central Coast area, so having everything consolidated in a one-right-after-the-other pattern versus having to trek (drive) out into the country was super helpful. You leave one tasting room and land right in the next, bar crawl style.
Let's first draw lines though guys, because the number one response to my advice to drink more wine from this area has been, "I don't like California wine." Wine is nothing without geography, and California is one of the most, if not the most, diverse wine regions on earth. So stop painting with a big, fat, unfair brush. (For those of you who don’t do that, keep being cool!!)
Santa Barbara County is located an hour northwest of LA along the coast and is made up of the Santa Maria and Saint Ynez Valley AVAs. Santa Ynez is then broken down into four sub-AVAs. Running east to west, those are Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara, Los Olivos District, Ballard Canyon, and Sta. Rita Hills. Santa Barbara is a cool climate area - Region 1b if you're into the Winkler Scale - cooler than some of California's more northern regions, such as Napa Valley.
The area experiences lower temps mainly because of two special geographic features: the east-west orientation of the Santa Ynez and San Rafael Mountain ranges and the Elkman Spiral. The mountains’ east-west orientation funnels Pacific breezes and fogs right into the wine growing valleys, rather than forming a barrier against them, as would be the case if they ran north-south. The Pacific Ocean’s Elkman Spiral sweeps warm surface water away from the coast and replaces it with cold subsurface water. This keeps ocean temperatures chillier than expected given the region’s latitude.
All of this Pacific gorgessity allows the vineyards close to the coast to enjoy a nice, maritime climate and gives vineyards further east warm days and cool nights; ideal conditions for a long growing season and hang times and thus, perfectly ripened grapes. An interesting fact (which can help deduce which AVA your wine is from in a blind tasting) is that the inland temperature goes up one degree per mile as you travel east from the coast. So relatively speaking, Happy Canyon is a warm-climate AVA suited really well for Cab and Merlot, while Sta. Rita Hills is cool-climate and caters more to Pinot Noir, although of course, both grow both. And more.
There is a lot more technical data that we could delve into like fog and soil, but let's get back to what matters - the area is known mostly for Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Syrah, even though it grows lots of varieties. For me personally, it was the Pinot Noir that was especially amazing, although the Syrah was not far behind. I really got to know those grapes and they literally are a world away from their French counterparts. We visited lots of wineries over those few days, and the standouts (to me, and I'll be back to confirm) were Au Bon Climat, Grassini Family Vineyards, Dragonette Cellars, and Jamie Slone.
You come back enriched after a great learning experience. I learned that the wine from Santa Barbara is even more carefully crafted than I would have ever known; by the mountains that direct the cool winds which are a function of an oceanic phenomena, the cool winds that in turn affect the fog and sun, the fog and sun that interplay to shape the environment for the grapes that grow to become the wine that’s in my glass. How can such specificity be so quickly lumped into one category simply called ‘California’?
So back to borrowing from Nate Dog and Warren G - New Wine Drinkers of Santa Barbara: Mount up!!