Santa Barbara was launched into the consciousness of most mainstream wine drinkers 19 years ago with the release of the film Sideways. Despite a starring role in that narrative, however, Santa Barbara continues to be undervalued as a fine wine region, perhaps in part due to its size and complexity. But make no mistake about it, Santa Barbara now makes some of California’s finest wines.
The sheer diversity of wines made in Santa Barbara County can make the region a challenge for many wine lovers who understandably find comfort in straightforward notions about what is good, where: Napa does Cabernet. Sonoma does Pinot. Lodi does Zinfandel.
‘What I love about Santa Barbara County is the diversity’, says Jessica Gasca, winemaker and owner of the boutique wine label Story of Soil. ‘That diversity put Santa Barbara on the map to pay attention to. We know Burgundy, Rhône, Bordeaux, but we are young and it’s the wild west out here. We’re a newer generation pioneering fun with new grapes, making things differently, and trying new things.’
Santa Barbara credibly produces outstanding cool-climate Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, excellent renditions of Rhône varieties in the styles of both the northern and southern Rhône, and even a few truly excellent Cabernet Sauvignons.
Such diversity is a strength, but one that strays quickly into complexity when it comes to telling the story of the region as a whole.
In fact, there is no single reductive story that can be told about Santa Barbara. Instead, it is a region much better understood in terms of its individual subregions and the geological forces that have made them what they are.
This article teases my monthly column (this month in two parts, of which this is the first) at JancisRobinson.Com, which is available only to subscribers of her website. If you’re not familiar with the site, I urge you to give it a try. It’s only £8.50 a month or £85 per year ($11/mo or $111 a year for you Americans) and well worth the cost, especially considering you basically get free, searchable access to the Oxford Companion to Wine ($65) and maps from the World Atlas of Wine ($50) as part of the subscription costs. Click here to sign up.