Twenty million years ago, this land was under the ocean. The tectonic plates moved and the mountains were shoved up out of the ocean in a North-South direction causing the Mountain ranges we are familiar with in California.
Over the next 12 million years, the mountains in the Santa Barbara area broke away from the plate and began their gradual clockwise turn bringing the mountain ranges here to an East-West orientation. They are continuing their move today.
This east-west orientation of valleys allows the marine influence to flow into the region. The temperature from the west near the coast to the east inland in Happy Canyon increases by 1 degree per mile. As a result, many varieties grow here, over 70, according to the Santa Barbara Vintners Association.
There are 7 AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) in Santa Barbara.
The Santa Ynez Valley AVA covers much of the southern portion of the wine region. It has four nested AVAs, with the Sta. Rita Hills AVA sitting closest to the coast. As you move east, you find the Ballard Canyon AVA, which sits in a smaller North South Valley. On the eastern border of Ballard Canyon, you find the Los Olivos AVA, which is the most recently approved sub-AVA.
Happy Canyon sits the furthest East of these nested AVAs and is the warmest region.
North of the Santa Ynez Valley, you find the Alisos Canyon AVA. This AVA runs from the 101 East to Foxen Canyon Road. This East-West Valley pulls in marine winds from the Pacific Ocean, which is just 20 miles away. More and more winemakers have been pulling fruit from this region. This is part of the larger Los Alamos Region which is not at this point an AVA.
North of Alisos Canyon, you come to the Santa Maria Valley AVA. This was the 2nd AVA in California and the third in the US in 1981.
Santa Barbara County is divided into distinct Growing regions:
- Santa Maria Valley
- Santa Ynez Valley
- Sta. Rita Hills
- The Los Alamos Valley
- Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara
- Ballard Canyon
- Alisos Canyon
- Los Olivos AVA
About Los Alamos
Los Alamos sits across the 101 from the Alisos Canyon AVA. This area is filled with vineyards and fields of flowers.
The town of Los Alamos is charming with tasting rooms, restaurants, and boutique motels. It is a perfect place to spend a weekend afternoon.
I recommend Plenty on Bell for a great lunch with terrific local wine pairings. We had a delicious lunch there. We only had time for lunch, and there is so much more to explore here.