Santa Barbara County, to the south of San Luis Obispo, has three AVAs: Santa Maria Valley (1981), Santa Ynez Valley (1983), and Santa Rita Hills (2001)- a sub- AVA of Santa Ynez Valley, which now appears as “Sta. Rita Hills” on labels, due to a legal tussle with the large Chilean wine producer, 2006).
The dominant grape varieties are Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, with excellent plantings of Rhone Ranger grapes, especially Syrah, and some smaller plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot further inland. More than 60 wineries exist in the county now. This is the “Sideway” wine country- the 2004 movie did so much for California Pinot Noir was filmed at wineries in Santa Rita Hills AVA.
Santa Ynez Valley AVA is a long and narrow Valley, with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay rule in the cooler western end (15 miles from the ocean), due to the Pacific Ocean’s cool influence, while Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are more found in the eastern end (20 miles from the coast). Syrah is planted at higher elevation in the east side, as daily temperature fluctuates dramatically, with lots of warm sunshine but also windy days and cool nights, which is perfect for Santa Ynez Valley Syrah.
The small Santa Rita Hills AVA is almost wholly contained within the Santa Ynez Valley AVA. Rocky soils and cool Pacific breezes are both fine conditions for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Syrah does quite well here, too. Famous wineries include: Au Bon Climat, Foxen, Hitching Post, Sanford etc.
Santa Maria Valley AVA has more than thirty wineries in residence. Long growing season with powerful sunshine tempered by scant rainfall, abundant fog and strong Pacific winds. Most vineyards are planted on slopes helping the drainage of the soil. Grapes from this AVA are some of the most expensive in California, especially those are grown in Santa Maria Valley’s most famous vineyards: Bien Nacido (Miller Family, 2000 acres, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Pinot Blanc and Merlot), Sierra Madre (Circle Family, 175 acres, mostly Pinot and Chardonnay) and Tepusquet (Kendall- Jackson, 1400 acres, famous for Syrah and Viognier).