Santa Barbara wine country, located along the beautiful, temperate, California Central Coast, is a world-renowned wine-growing region.
Known for its cool, Mediterranean climate, transverse geography and Rhône varietals, Santa Barbara wine country is favored among vino connoisseurs. The unique geography of the Central Coast allows for multiple American Viticultural Areas (or AVAs) that are unique in geography, soil structure and climate, which gives way to the production of a variety of delicious and balanced wines.
In true, laid-back #SantaMariaStyle, we simply refer to the AVAs as the various “wine-growing regions” of Santa Barbara County. Here, you’ll find wine country done differently. The winemakers are approachable, people are friendlier, and you don’t need to swirl your glass “just so” to fit in.
What does this mean for your next visit to Santa Maria Valley and Santa Barbara County wine country? Read on for a brief history of the growing regions and what you’ll find in each!
Santa Maria Valley AVA (1981)
Our little slice of heaven, Santa Maria Valley is the oldest and northernmost AVA in the Santa Barbara wine country. While the AVA was officially established in 1981, grape growing in this region dates back to the Mexican colonial period of the mid-1800s. Today, the AVA encompasses roughly 7,500 acres of grape-growing area and a little more than 98,000 acres total. The Santa Maria Valley AVA boasts a unique transverse geography, which helps funnel Pacific fog into the region. The fog blankets the vineyards, leading to the production of exquisite cool-climate wines like Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah.
Santa Ynez Valley AVA (1983)
South of Santa Maria Valley lies the Santa Ynez Valley AVA, which was established in 1983. This AVA’s unique shape allows for the production of cool-climate wines like Chardonnay near the coast, Cabernet and Merlot to the west, as well as Rhône and Italian grape varietals further inland. Because of its extreme climate diversity, the Santa Ynez Valley boasts the greatest concentration of wineries in Santa Barbara County. The Santa Ynez Valley AVA occupies roughly 43,000 total acres.
Sta. Rita Hills AVA (2001)
Established in 2001, the Sta. Rita Hills AVA is a sub-AVA located within the Santa Ynez Valley appellation. The Sta. Rita Hills occupies the foggy, cooler-climate western region of the Santa Ynez Valley AVA, making it perfect for growing cool-climate varietals like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The Sta. Rita Hills AVA is one of the smaller AVAs in the state with just 1,700 acres of grape-planting area and just under 31,000 total acres.
Happy Canyon AVA (2009)
Happy Canyon is the eastern-most AVA in Santa Barbara County. Another sub-AVA, this one was established in 2009, making it one of the newer AVAs in Santa Barbara wine region. Happy Canyon’s eastern location coupled with its high-rolling terrain makes it perfect for growing warmer-climate wine grapes. Bordeaux and Rhône varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah flourish in this region. The Happy Canyon AVA is relatively small, occupying around 24,000 total acres.
Ballard Canyon AVA (2013)
Established in 2013, Ballard Canyon is also a sub-AVA of the Santa Ynez Valley. Ballard Canyon occupies a very small area at just 7,800 acres total. It is the smallest AVA in the Santa Barbara wine country and accounts for only 10 percent of the larger Santa Ynez Valley AVA. Ballard Canyon’s unique weather pattern is perfect for growing Syrah, which accounts for half of the AVA’s growing area.
Los Olivos District AVA (2016)
The fourth sub-AVA of the Santa Ynez Valley, the Los Olivos District is one of the more recently developed AVAs in the Santa Barbara wine region. The Los Olivos District is often described as a broad alluvial terrace. It boasts a uniform consistency in geography and soil profile that is rare among the AVAs of Santa Barbara County. While Rhône varietals also reign supreme in this AVA, guests can find Spanish and Italian varietals among the 1,121 planted acres, too.
Alisos Canyon AVA (2020)
The newest of the Santa Barbara County AVAs, Alisos Canyon AVA was established on August 25, 2020. The AVA is nestled tightly between the Santa Maria Valley and Santa Ynez Valley AVAs. This small, stand-alone AVA occupies just 5,774 acres, but is renowned for high-quality fruit and unique geography, soils and climate. Rhône-style varietals thrive in this region, especially Syrah, Grenache and Grenache Blanc.
Learn more about Santa Maria Valley wine country here, and make SMV your home base when you explore the other AVAs across the region!
In Santa Maria Valley, there’s so much to do from here. Hit the road and explore it all with our 24 hiking trails, 34 tasting rooms, seven unique AVAs, 13 beaches, and a growing selection of local breweries, all within a beautiful 30-minute drive. There is no need to venture far if you are looking for sand dunes, cycling and authentic Santa Maria Style dining. You’ll find it’s the perfect home base, where you can eat, drink and do more for less.