Until the 1960s, only a handful of wineries existed in Santa Barbara County. But University of California research began to reveal the area as an excellent location for growing wine grapes. A few pioneers, including Richard Sanford and Michael Benedict, plunked down vines to see what would happen.
Those vines not only took root, but grew chardonnay and pinot noir grapes of such high quality, the region eventually catapulted onto the international wine map. Turns out the unusual east-west orientation of the mountains, plus multiple microclimates, do indeed provide near-ideal growing conditions for a wide range of grapes. Sideways, a 2004 film set in Santa Barbara wine country, also spurred worldwide interest in the region.
Santa Barbara County now has more than 200 wineries and several wine trails in official AVAs — to date Santa Ynez Valley, Sta. Rita Hills, Happy Canyon, Ballard Canyon, Los Olivos District and Santa Maria Valley — plus Los Alamos Valley and Santa Maria Bench viticultural areas.
Tasting rooms are sprinkled all over the county. Santa Barbara, Lompoc, Solvang, Buellton and Los Olivos all have clusters of wine tasting venues appealing to those who prefer to park and walk from room to room.
For wine touring information and trail maps, contact the Santa Barbara County Vintners Association.