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Santa Barbara: Southern California's sun-splashed wine wonderland

 

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santa_barbaraFor most people, California's wine country is located north of San Francisco – the trinity of Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino counties. While it is there that many of the state's most famous wineries are located, the southern part of the state has a long history of winemaking, and in recent years has begun to earn more press with its world-class wines and tasting experiences.

It's often said that Northern and Southern California are like two different countries, and this is as true with wine as with anything. Most of the southern part of the state is a world of eternal sun – good for certain types of winemaking, but only within limits. Santa Barbara is special. The specific topography of the region creates a small channel of fog and cooler air that help moderate temperatures, allowing for a more nuanced approach to grape growing, and richer, more complex wines.

There are only four main wine regions within Santa Barbara County: Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Maria Valley, Happy Canyon, and Santa Rita Hills. Of these, the Santa Ynez and Santa Maria regions are the most cultivated and best known.

While Santa Barbara was once home mostly to small-scale wineries without tasting opportunities, in the past decades it has grown to a world class wine destination. The proximity of Los Angeles ensures a constant flow of visitors, who have helped fund the construction of luxurious tasting rooms, beautiful properties, and a robust wine infrastructure. The Santa Maria Trail is the most established of the tasting routes, and on a day trip along this short road you can taste top-tier wines from producers such as Foxen, McKeon-Phillips, and Riverbench.

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Despite the growing density of Santa Barbara County, the region still contains a handful of smaller, off-the-beaten-path wineries. These often require you call ahead first to make an appointment, and it may take more of a drive through the rolling hills to get there, but the experience is well worth it. Winemakers here have more time to talk, the wines are smaller production and difficult to find outside of California, and the dedication to restrained, terroir-driven winemaking is evident. Highlights include Melville, Addamo, and Kenneth Volk.

 

See also:

Santa Barbara – the American Riviera

Visit California for the wine and the weather