Guide to the Santa Ynez Wine Region

Long before the movie “Sideways” put Santa Barbara’s Santa Ynez Valley on the map, the region was home to passionate winemakers producing top-quality, beautiful wines. What do you know about this region’s stunning wines?

Santa Barbara Wines At A Glance

Unlike other famous American wine regions, like the Napa Valley and Willamette, Santa Barbara’s valley runs transversely (from East to West, rather than from North to South). In fact, if you were to examine a map of Alaska to South America, Santa Barbara’s valley would have the longest East-to-West valley of this entire region. Its mountains on either side range from elevations of 200 feet to more than 3,000 feet.

What does this mean? In short, variety: the soil ranges from limestone to sandy to loamy; differing elevations create numerous microclimates, and temperatures vary throughout the region. The valley, which traps cooling coastal breezes through a process known as the “coriolis effect,” creates a region that is perfect for wines that love cooler temperatures, such as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. (The region produces roughly 7,500 acres of Chardonnay and 5,500 acres of Pinot Noir). Yet Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc also thrive in the region and are 3rd and 4th in regard to production, respectively.

Santa Barbara AVAs

Santa Barbara has the following wine regions (called AVAs):

  • Santa Maria Valley
  • Santa Ynez Valley
  • Santa Rita Hills
  • Ballard Canyon
  • Happy Canyon

It also has two “unofficial” regions: Lompoc and Los Alamos.

The Santa Ynez Valley

Located in the larger region of Santa Barbara, the Santa Ynez Valley comprises the towns of Los Alamos, Los Olivos, Buellton, Solvang, and Santa Ynez (many also now include the “micro-burg” of Ballard). It borders another famous Santa Barbara AVA, Santa Maria, and is famous for its 30-mile Foxen Canyon Road, which is home to 14 wineries.

Santa Ynez Valley AVA

With 77,000 acres of planted grapes of more than 60 varieties, the Santa Ynez Valley AVA is the largest of the AVAs in Santa Barbara. In the west, the 30-mile long region is cooler (here, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Syrah thrive); as you move eastward, the region becomes warm and dry and you find more Rhone blends, Zinfandel, and Merlot.

Santa Ynez Valley is not just about red wine, however. The region is also famed for its high-quality, crisp Sauvignon Blanc.

Santa Ynez Valley Wine Characteristics

Since the Santa Ynez Valley varies so much in soil types, temperatures, and varietals grown, it is difficult to classify the characteristics of the region’s wines. However, since the region averages around only 12 inches of rain per year, most agree that Santa Ynez wines are concentrated, complex, and elegant.

Recommended Santa Ynez Valley Wine

2019 Elysian Sauvignon Blanc

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Guide to the Santa Ynez Wine Region Blog Post