Winery exterior.  Gainey Vineyard.

Santa Barbara County

by Eve Andersson

Home : California Wine Regions : One Article
Santa Barbara County is a "cool" place for winemaking, in more ways than one. It is a fashionable region, commanding higher wine prices than does much of California. The weather is also predominantly cool, with ocean breezes and fog — ideal for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay (and, to some extent, Syrah). Santa Barbara County contains three AVAs: Santa Maria Valley, Santa Ynez Vally, and Sta. Rita Hills. The eastern part of Santa Ynez Valley is warmer than the rest of the region, largely escaping the ocean breezes and fog, and is known for its Syrah.

Santa Barbara County Wineries

Gainey Vineyard
Santa Ynez Valley AVA. Gainey produces wine from the Santa Ynez Valley, where the winery is located, as well as from Sta. Rita Hills. The vineyard in Sta. Rita Hills is 20 deg F cooler than that in Santa Ynez Valley. Gainey's Syrahs from the two AVAs are markedly different. The warm-weather Syrah is fruitier with white pepper flavors. The cool-weather Syrah is darker, heavier, fuller, with black pepper flavors. Gainey's tours are quite interesting, especially the part related to trellis systems. You learn that the French Lyre configuration is good for high-moisture areas, as it spreads out the grapes. The Narrow "T" configuration maximizes production. Vertical Shoot makes the grapes easy to pick because they hang below the vines. Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir do well with Head Train & Spur Prune, which use no trellis, though that configuration should be avoided in high moisture areas because rot could result.
Tasting room.  Gainey Vineyard. Ice-covered steel tank.  Gainey Vineyard. Barrels.  Gainey Vineyard. Large oval barrels, which impart less oak flavor into wine than traditional barrels.  Gainey Vineyard. Winery exterior.  Gainey Vineyard. Gainey Vineyard. Room of empty bottles.  Gainey Vineyard.
Sunstone Vineyards & Winery
Santa Ynez Valley AVA. Sunstone makes some beautiful wines, including EROS, a Bordeaux blend created with its own organic estate grapes. Sunstone also sources grapes from the nearby, organic Harmon Family Vineyard as well as from vineyards elsewhere in the state.
Sunstone Vineyards and Winery. Barrels.  Sunstone Vineyards and Winery. Door leading to tasting room.  Sunstone Vineyards and Winery. Sunstone Vineyards and Winery. Library and reserve wines room.  Sunstone Vineyards and Winery. Picnic area.  Sunstone Vineyards and Winery. Tasting room.  Sunstone Vineyards and Winery. Tasting room.  Sunstone Vineyards and Winery. Vineyard.  Sunstone Vineyards and Winery.
Alma Rosa Winery & Vineyards
Sta. Rita Hills AVA. This charming, rustic winery practices organic, sustainable farming. They are located in the foggy, breezy, cool Sta. Rita Hills appellation, known for its Pinot Noirs. And Alma Rosa's Pinot, with its luscious fruit flavors, does not disappoint.
Tasting room.  Alma Rosa Winery and Vineyards. Cacti.  Alma Rosa Winery and Vineyards. Tasting room patio.  Alma Rosa Winery and Vineyards. Kids on bicycles in vineyard.  Alma Rosa Winery and Vineyards. Tasting room.  Alma Rosa Winery and Vineyards. Vineyard with mountains behind.  Alma Rosa Winery and Vineyards.
Tres Hermanas Vineyard & Winery
Santa Maria Valley AVA. This quirky winery with a country ranch feel has an intriguing and delicious estate syrah that tastes like raspberries and eucalyptus. Syrah is the only varietal grown on the estate; others are sourced from various locations.
Sign.  Tres Hermanas Winery. JT barn.  Tres Hermanas Winery. Wagon wheel on fence.  Tres Hermanas Winery. Tasting room.  Tres Hermanas Winery. Cows standing in the shade.  Tres Hermanas Winery. Cows.  Tres Hermanas Winery.
Koehler Winery
Santa Ynez Valley AVA. This winery, with its beautiful mountain backdrop, took my breath away. Koehler's 30-year-old vines are some of the oldest in Santa Barbara County, originally beginning with Rhone varietals, though other varietals such as Sangiovese have now been grafted onto some of the vines. The estate Syrah is full-flavored, peppery, fruity, with a lingering finish — truly a beauty — and it's not surprising that Robert Parker awarded the 2005 vintage 93 points.
Sign.  Koehler Winery. Animal figures.  Tasting room.  Koehler Winery. Bridge with duck crossing sign.  Koehler Winery. Duck Crossing sign.  Koehler Winery. Picnic area.  Koehler Winery. Tasting room.  Koehler Winery. Tasting room.  Koehler Winery. Vinyard and hills.  Koehler Winery. Vineyard and hills.  Koehler Winery.
Rancho Sisquoc Winery
Santa Maria Valley AVA. Rancho Sisquoc has 300 acres of vineyards — an order of magnitude larger than many others I've visited. All of the wines they produce are estate grown, and they sell grapes to other wineries as well (saving the best grapes for themselves). I enjoyed every one of their wines that I tasted — which is an unusual thing for me to say about any winery. Rancho Sisquoc is the only producer of the Sylvaner varietal in California.
Entrance.  Rancho Sisquoc Winery. Tasting room.  Rancho Sisquoc Winery. Tasting room.  Rancho Sisquoc Winery. Driveway.  Rancho Sisquoc Winery. Nearby field and mountains.  Rancho Sisquoc Winery.
Cottonwood Canyon Vineyard & Winery
Santa Maria Valley AVA. Cottonwood Canyon's 78-acre estate enjoys a Burgundian microclimate, with temperatures in the high 70s F in the summer, and, located 15 miles from the ocean, fog rolls in in the evening and persists through the morning. The long, cool growing season gives the wines high acid content, but the wines taste excellent — not overly acidic. Cottonwood Canyon focuses on Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and some Syrah and even I, not usually a fan of Chardonnay, enjoyed their two styles of Chardonnay.
Sign.  Cottonwood Canyon Vineyard and Winery. Tasting room.  Cottonwood Canyon Vineyard and Winery. Tasting room.  Cottonwood Canyon Vineyard and Winery. View from picnic area.  Cottonwood Canyon Vineyard and Winery. Canyon with vineyard on other side.  Cottonwood Canyon Vineyard and Winery. Vineyard and mountains.  Cottonwood Canyon Vineyard and Winery.

Santa Barbara County Towns

Founded by a groups of Danish people in 1911, Solvang retains its Danish appearance — or, one might say, it has become a caricature of old Denmark. In Solvang, you can buy Danish pastries, fudge, clogs, yarn, and other Danish goods. If that's not your cup of tea, never fear — you can also taste local wines at a number of establishments, including the excellent Wandering Dog Wine Bar.
Solvang sign.  Downtown Solvang. Building.  Downtown Solvang. Atterdag Square windmill.  Downtown Solvang. Picture of butter churner.  Downtown Solvang. Pedal car in front of Vinhus.  Downtown Solvang. Mortensen's Danish Bakery.  Downtown Solvang. Wandering Dog Wine Bar.  Downtown Solvang. Windmill for lease.  Downtown Solvang. Winery Row.  Downtown Solvang. Danish childrens' outfits.  Downtown Solvang. Clog sign.  Downtown Solvang. Clog sign.  Downtown Solvang. Fredensborg Square.  Downtown Solvang. Ingeborg's Danish Chocolates.  Downtown Solvang. King Atterdag Court.  Downtown Solvang. Old Danish Food Farm Fudge Kitchen.  Downtown Solvang. Vinhus (wine house).  Downtown Solvang. Rasmussen's Imported Yardage Yarns Linens.  Downtown Solvang. Royal Copenhagen Inn.  Downtown Solvang. Visitor information center.  Downtown Solvang. Red Viking Restaurant.  Downtown Solvang.

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Eve Andersson (


Santa Barbara Wine Tour

As part of our California Vacation, we went on a trolley tour of the Santa Barbara wineries and it was fab! We loved the trolley---lots of atmosphere and great visibility---the countryside is absolutely beautiful! We visited four wineries - Buttonwood, Bridlewood, Rideau, and Sunstone and in addition to wine tasting, got to see the actual facilities and wine making process. Really fun excursion - highly recommend!!

-- gary connors

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