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. 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 as well.
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 wine grape varieties.
There are currently six federally-sanctioned American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) within Santa Barbara County: Santa Maria Valley and the Santa Ynez Valley which is then broken down into four sub-AVAs (West to East): Sta. Rita Hills, Ballard Canyon, Los Olivos District, and Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara. As grape growers continue to advance their understanding of the best places to plant particular wine grape varieties, the Los Alamos Valley and the Santa Maria Bench are also showing distinct characteristics that may one day lead to AVA status.
Considering the various AVA’s in Santa Barbara County, one appellation that stand’s out is Santa Rita Hills. The soils, the exposition and the ridge line close to the sea all add a certain nuance and complexity to the wines that make them very distinct and one of california’s truest representation of pinot & chards.
Sta. Rita Hills is actually within the Santa Ynez Valley appellation, although its unique soils and climate distinguish 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 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.