Farm-fresh food, tastings, tours, wineries, and a myriad of ways to explore it all—either by car, bike, or trolley—makes California wine country one of the most popular destinations for wine lovers and foodies alike, especially when you’re experiencing it #SantaMariaStyle.
California is responsible for 81% of the country’s wine sales (right behind Italy, France, and Spain). With more than 637,000 acres dedicated to wine grapes, our distinct climate and diverse landscape make for incredibly unique wines and a variety of different ways to experience them all. Whether you’re in the mood for a high-end pairing near the coast, a cave tour among the cliffs, a trolley ride through Santa Maria Valley’s rolling hills, or a friendly barn tasting with local winemakers–and everything in between–Santa Maria Valley is California wine country, and we have something for everyone.
The Perfect Blend — Your Guide to California Wine Country
While California wine country runs the length of the entire Golden State, Santa Barbara wine country is, by far, the largest piece of it, clocking 77,000 acres with over 60 different varieties that span more than 30 miles from east to west. Grapes are grown in 49 of the 58 counties that make up California (read: almost all of them; big surprise, there) and it’s broken up into four different primary wine-producing regions: the North Coast, the Central Coast (our favorite), the Central Valley, and the South Coast.
Napa and Sonoma, which most people are already pretty familiar with, sit at the top of California wine country to the north alongside the Santa Cruz Mountains, Mendocino County, and Lake County wine regions. However, did you know they only account for about 5% of California’s total wine production? Known as California’s “workhorse wine region,” the Central Valley (Sacramento, San Joaquin, and Fresno) actually accounts for nearly 75% of all grapes used in wine production across the state. You’ll find the Sierra Foothills and Lodi California wine countries here, too, and grapes with higher natural acidity, such as Chenin Blanc, Colombard, Barbera, and Chardonnay.
Pro tip: If you find yourself in the Central Valley (and you’re looking for a laid-back, affordable wine experience), Santa Maria Valley is just a hop, skip, and a jump away – less than three hours from Fresno, if we’re being specific. It also gives visitors the opportunity to visit the Monarch Butterfly Grove and the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes before they sink their teeth into some authentic Santa Maria Style Barbecue – and so much more!
Santa Barbara County – the best county to experience California wine country (sure, we might be a little biased, but it’s California’s most popular wine region for a reason) – is home to Santa Maria Valley and is located between Los Angeles and San Francisco on California’s beautiful Central Coast. Everything south of Los Angeles, all the way to the border of Mexico, is known as the South Coast wine region. Known mostly for Syrah, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay varietals, Santa Maria Valley boasts one of the world’s most dynamic wine-growing regions, making it the California wine country everyone must experience. The geography and the terrain vary quite a bit (similar to the Central Coast), from cool coastal climates to warm inland valleys, making it possible for a wide variety of grapes to thrive in the region.
Let’s swirl our way through California wine country, #SantaMariaStyle:
The Best (and Biggest) Wine-Producing Region in California
Santa Barbara County is host to more than 100 unique wineries and tasting rooms and a number of exciting wine routes to discover them all. Right in the heart of Santa Barbara County and California wine country is Santa Maria Valley, the perfect place to experience the Central Coast and all that California wine country has to offer. Known for its rolling hills, miles of wide open spaces, unspoiled coastlines, laid-back vibe, and natural beauty, the Central Coast is one of California’s most beloved destinations. The humid, cooler conditions (and similar geology to France’s Rhone Valley) also make it possible for more than 70 different grape varieties to thrive, here, too—and we have Bien Nacido to thank for a lot of that.
As the largest connected vineyard in California, Bien Nacido is located in the heart of Santa Maria Valley and boasts 900 acres across its expansive geography. Not only does Santa Maria Valley enjoy the longest growing season in California wine country, but it’s also the first region to plant Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in Santa Barbara County, too. While Pinot Noir and Chardonnay dominate the western side of the region, if you love southern Rhone-style, Bordeaux blends, Cabernet Sauvignon, or Zinfandel, Santa Maria Valley is the place for you. In fact, the unique orientation of our home’s climate—chilly and foggy (great for Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Syrah) to warm and dry (perfect for Rhône blends, Zinfandels, and Bordeaux blends)—is why Santa Barbara County is home to some of the most famous AVAs in California wine country, including the Santa Maria Valley AVA.
In the region surrounding Santa Maria Valley sits longstanding AVAs like Santa Ynez Valley and Santa Rita Hills, as well as urban wineries in Solvang, Lompoc, Los Olivos, Buellton, and Santa Barbara proper. These AVAs of California wine country offer notable signature varietals like our famous Pinot Noir (which is a perfect match for Santa Maria Style barbecue), Chardonnay, and Syrah and are sought after by wine enthusiasts from all over the world. However, that’s not all we’re known for. Santa Maria Valley’s casual pace of life and friendly communities welcome you home like an old friend and will feed you like family (no dainty plates here…unless you really want one), one of the many reasons we’re the only part of California wine country that matters most.
Experience California Wine Country on the Central Coast
Less expensive than the Bay, less crowded than L.A., and with more room to roam, Santa Maria Valley is how California wine country is meant to be experienced. Some of the best wineries and tastings (without all the pretense) can be paired with the region’s most delicious foods at a number of award-winning restaurants, pubs, farm-to-table cafes, taprooms, and more. And your room key may also get you free tastings at participating wineries. Please check with your hotel directly.
As the perfect home base and gateway to the Central Coast and California wine country, Santa Maria Valley gives visitors a variety of different ways to experience the beautiful outdoors with truly uncrowded beaches and hiking trails. In fact, we’re one of the very few California wine regions that actually have a coast, elevating your California wine country experience in Santa Maria Valley that much more. In Santa Maria Valley, there will always be a glass half full waiting for you—and something delicious to pair it with.
To start your adventure touring the Central Coast, explore the Santa Maria Valley AVA for some of the best wine tastings California wine country has to offer (and make sure to take the trolley if it’s running). If you’re exploring yourself, stop by Riverbench Vineyard and Winery along the Foxen Canyon Trail. It’s the perfect place for a wine picnic (there are also bocce ball courts, a garden, and horseshoes). Cottonwood Canyon Vineyard and Winery is also great for wine picnics, too, but most people go for the cave tour—it’s a must-see—and just a few miles up Foxen Canyon Road. After your tour, head up to Presqu’ile Winery for some of the most exceptional Pinot Noir, which just so happens to pair perfectly with our Santa Maria Style barbecue. Stop by one of our must-taste barbecue spots before ending your day of tasting and eating your way through California wine country.
Arguably one of the best parts of Central Coast’s California wine country is being able to enjoy the cool-climate of the outdoors while soaking in some breathtaking scenery. Head out to the Oceano Dunes and Oso Flaco Lake Natural Area for some outdoor thrills and adventure. The dunes are the highest on the West Coast and Santa Barbara is only an hour away by car, so make sure to set time aside for a day trip!
Being right in the middle of California wine country gives you the perfect opportunity to see the most and do the most all within a short drive (not to mention, for less of the cost). From day trips to sandy coastlines and towering redwoods hidden amongst the mountains to shopping exciting boutiques and sampling some of the best food and wine the West Coast has to offer, Santa Maria Valley is the heart of California wine country, the Central Coast, and is the perfect place to experience them both.