Santa Barbara Pinot
Wine X Staff
Wine X Online Edition
Pinot rocks on turkey day so it seems like a good time to talk about the grape of champions. Champions as in, “can be expensive but worth it.” But seriously, its not like any of us are gonna roll up to Mom’s place with a DRC in our diaper bag. There’s a shit-ton of outstanding pinot that’s affordable but still has a soul. So, here’s a little pitch to encourage you to go down…. south from your typical Cali pinot favs and try something new.
Santa Barbara County has an identity crisis. As you travel on Hwy 101 in California from LA to SF you go through the county. In the South County, you have the surfers and cannabis growers in Carpinteria. The next town north is Oprah’s neighborhood of Montecito. Then, Santa Barbara itself is a tourist mecca for the LA crowd. One more city north is Goleta or “the good land”, home to industry, avocados, and the University of California Santa Barbara. After that, beautiful coastline. You can’t get closer to the Pacific unless you were driving on it.
North County is all farmland. The towns of Buellton and Lompoc aren’t much to see. At the end of the county is Santa Maria, where the strawberry is king. It is really hard to believe that some of the best Pinot Noirs in CA are coming out of this sparse part of the county.
There is no one “thing” the county is known for…except, maybe, exceptional wines.
This wine region is actually made up of 3 separate valleys. Santa Ynez, Los Alamos and Santa Maria. As you head north on 101 you traverse all three.
The unique thing about this wine region is that the topography flows from east to west while most wine regions in California are north to south. The natural boundaries that contain the valleys are the Santa Ynez range to the south and the San Rafael range to the north. These ranges open up to the west and converge in the east forming a large funnel which provides the area with a lot of ocean influence as far as temperature goes.
Locals claim that, in summer, you drop a degree a mile from east to west. That’s good because summer temperatures in the east can get up to about 100 degrees while the west side is at around 70 degrees. Therefore, 30 miles=30 degrees.
Now, Pinot loves to be cool. Don’t we all…but this grape must be. Being a thinner skinned produce, cooler temperatures are needed for it to ripen properly.
Two areas where the grape is grown in this county; in the western region of the Santa Ynez Valley in an AVA known as Santa Rita Hills and in the Santa Maria Valley AVA. Both have a nice cool climate with Pacific Ocean influence to create the perfect growing season for Pinot Noir.
A majority of the wineries in this region usually produce more than one Pinot. Since the growing conditions are so perfect, the vineyards don’t have just one type of Pinot. There are many clones that showcase different flavor profiles. A few wineries dedicate their entire production to only Pinot to show off the subtle and not so subtle differences in clone flavors.
As a wine lover, that’s a challenge I’ll accept.
Regardless of single clones or blended clones, Pinot Noir from this area is an assault on the senses.
These wines show great dark berry and cherry characteristics. Tannins are often medium to soft on the finish. Very fruit-forward with almost a cherry sucker pop in the front of the palate. Some with medium tannins will be your most food-friendly. The softer ones are great cocktail wines. Velvet in your mouth…just you and the wine.
Most of these labels can’t be purchased in the store, so you’re just going to have to visit. Price points for these wines won’t break the bank. You can get great bottles for about $30.
Honestly, most of these wineries should be charging more for their Pinots than they do, but don’t tell them that. We don’t want them to be “known” for something.