Santa Barbara County sits north of Los Angeles on the Central Coast. The region has a history of wine making and growing wine grapes that goes back more than 200 years before California became a state, though the modern history of the region begins in the 1960s.
A growth explosion would follow in the 1990s leading to the establishment of the 283 wineries and seven officially recognized American Viticultural Areas or AVAs that we see today.
The AVAs within the greater Santa Barbara AVA are Santa Maria Valley AVA, Santa Ynez Valley AVA, Sta. Rita Hills AVA, Ballard Canyon AVA, Los Olivos District AVA, Happy Canyon AVA, and Alisos Canyon AVA.
Each of these sub AVAs has its own identity based on its terroir and there are a host of grapes planted, however, Chardonnay is the most widely planted wine grape with over 7,500 acres under the vine in Santa Barbara County. It’s the region’s superstar wine and its best expression comes from the cooler climates of Santa Maria Valley and Sta. Rita Hills.
Pinot Noir is the second most widely planted grape variety in Santa Barbara County. Due to climate and geography, the most complex and interesting Pinot Noirs come out of Sta. Rita Hills, Santa Maria Valley, and the Los Alamos Valley.
Pinot Noir is able to thrive in marginal, harsh sites with cool temperatures, cold breezes, and less fertile soils as found on hillsides and ridges throughout the Sta. Rita Hills.
When it comes to food pairing, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are considered to be some of the most versatile wine varietals. In addition to a wide range of more exotic cuisines, both are also an excellent choice for the variety of flavors that are found in the traditional Thanksgiving dinner.
Pinot Noir easily complements the mild flavors of an herb-roasted turkey with cranberry sauce while Chardonnay can stand up to the array of creamy, sweet, and tart tastes in the myriad of side dishes that are typically served with it.
Some top wine picks from the Santa Barbara area can be found on or near Galveston Island at such places as Spec’s and Total Wine. Others can be purchased directly from the winery website.
Etude Pinot Noir Fiddlestix Vineyard in Sta. Rita Hills showcases cheery aromas and flavors of bright red berry fruits, red plums, and Bing cherry, alongside citrus hints of ripe nectarine. Layers of sweet baking spice notes follow from the well-integrated oak, with nuances of cinnamon and clove, all framed by a silky texture with vibrant acidity, great balance, and a lengthy finish.
The Fiddlestix Vineyard was part of owner Kathy Joseph’s Fiddlehead Cellars boutique winery empire. She planted the vineyard in 1989 but sold it after harvest in 2021. Although her remaining wines are not found on the island, they are well worth seeking out through direct buy from the winery.
The Hilt Estate Pinot Noir, with only a couple of thousand cases produced annually, is a wine to snap up when found. This savory and dark Pinot Noir is soft and vibrant with a classic cherry fruit character backed up with black tea and moderate chalky tannins, and an acid-driven structure leading to a lingering and mouthwatering finish.
Pence Ranch Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are both found at Spec’s. The Pinot Noir is an organic, lightly perfumed explosion of strawberry fruit with plum, chocolate, and hints of spicy tobacco with a beautiful lithe feel and a long silky finish.
The Chardonnay is a fresh, invigorating style with notes of citrus blossom, lemon curd, peach skin, and touches of wild sage, it’s weighty and elegant and can carry the whole Thanksgiving meal.
Sanford Chardonnay Sta. Rita Hills is a fuller-body wine and features rich tropical pineapple notes with baked pear tart, bright citrus, and roasted nuts followed by juicy acidity and a lengthy spiced finish.
The Santa Barbara region was voted wine region of the year by Wine Enthusiast in 2021 and it has a lot to offer visitors. In addition to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, wine lovers will find a wide variety of other varietals and blends.
Happy Valley is known for their Bordeaux grapes especially Cabernet Sauvignon while Alisos Canyon is known more for their Rhone-style blends. Located near the coast, visitors can enjoy fresh Pacific seafood with the local whites and rose wines.
While there is an airport in Santa Barbara for those who prefer a more direct entry, the drive from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara is just under two hours and is quite scenic and well worth the time spent.
This Thanksgiving share the beauty of this smaller American wine region with your family. These beautiful and elegant wines are the perfect complement to the season’s all-American meal.