Heading to Los Angeles and have a spare day? Why not visit one of these stunning wine regions right on the city’s doorstep?
Napa Valley is not the only wine region of note on the West Coast of the U.S. Southern California and the central coast – with endless sunshine and rolling green hills – are home to some astonishingly beautiful vineyards, all within driving distance of LA. Take the coast road north out of LA, and before you’ve really had a chance to take in that big blue Pacific view, you’re in Malibu. It might be world-famous for its surf, but up in the hills just above the beach lies a 200-year-old grape-growing region that has until recently been a well-kept secret.
Just over an hour’s drive north from Malibu and you’re surrounded by the gorgeous farms and ranches of Santa Barbara County. The county has more than 9000 hectares of wine grapes and more than 220 vineyards. The unique transverse nature of the valleys of Santa Barbara wine country provides a patchwork quilt of micro-climates and terrains, resulting in one of the most diverse grape-growing regions in the country. The valleys in the Pacific coastline run east to west rather than north to south, including the coastal Santa Ynez Mountain range and the more interior San Rafael range. Because of this geologic oddity, the ocean breezes sweep eastward, channelled by the hills and mountains in the region, creating the perfect conditions for cool-climate wines. It is quite literally, “Sideways” – as the film set in this region suggests.
Despite being located just six kilometres from the coast, the basin-shaped canyon keeps out much of the maritime influences here, with greater temperature fluctuations than in lower-lying surrounding areas. Along with the silty loam soil this creates ideal conditions for cabernet sauvignon and merlot.
Nestled in the Santa Monica Mountains just two kilometres in land from Malibu-Newton lies the sunny south-facing slopes that are home to a growing number of boutique wineries producing mostly cabernet sauvignon and syrah.
Santa Ynez Valley
Santa Ynez Valley is a long east-west corridor with very cool temperatures on the coast that become progressively warmer inland. Consequently, several varietals do well, from pinot noir in the west to cabernet and merlot in the east. Several Rhône and Italian grape varietals have also gained acclaim in this versatile Santa Barbara County American Viticultural Area (AVA).
Located in the far eastern edge of the Santa Ynez Valley, Happy Canyon delves into the San Rafael Mountains just northwest of Lake Cachuma. Its inland position means a significantly warmer climate that ensures complete maturation for later ripening varieties. The rolling terrain, high slopes and varied soils of this region are best suited for growing Bordeaux varieties cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, Petit Verdot and sauvignon blanc, creating rich, concentrated wines. Syrah and other Rhône varieties also flourish here.
Santa Maria Valley
The often foggy and windswept Santa Maria Valley is the northern-most appellation in Santa Barbara County. The region’s first officially approved AVA enjoys extremely complex soil conditions and diverse microclimates. Chardonnay and pinot noir are the two most commonly produced varietals, as they especially benefit from the ocean’s influence.
The Funk Zone
Short on time? Look for the walls of graffiti-art between the ocean and Highway 101 in Santa Barbara town and you’ll find the neighbourhood’s former industrial warehouses have been converted into cafés, art galleries, restaurants and a dozen or so wine-tasting rooms, so you can sample wines from a number of vineyards without leaving town.