The first vines were planted in Santa Barbara County in 1782 by Father Junipero Serra, who brought vine cuttings from Mexico to be planted in the area now known as the Milpas district.
Though extant for over two centuries, Santa Barbara's wine industry remained relatively insignificant until the early 1960s. Research conducted through U.C. Davis revealed Santa Barbara County to be cooler than most growing areas of Northern California and that the critical factors of climate, geology, soil and water suggested it had great potential as a viticultural area. The first vineyards of Santa Barbara's renaissance were planted in the Tepusquet area of the Santa Maria Valley soon followed by plantings in various parts of the Santa Ynez Valley.
The fifty-mile coastline which is the southern boundary of Santa Barbara County, stretching from Point Conception to Rincon form the only east-west traverse of Pacific shoreline from Alaska to Cape Horn. The Santa Ynez and San Rafael Mountains constitute a unique coastal range which creates east-west oriented valleys open to the Pacific Ocean. These valleys act as conduits, allowing fog and ocean breezes to flow inland, with the result that Santa Barbara is one of the coolest viticultural areas in California. The region's many microclimatic variations are suitable to virtually all of the classic wine grape varietals. Far cooler than Napa and Sonoma, Santa Barbara, with more of a maritime influence, the region's morning and evening fogs blanket the grapevines even in the heat of summer, protecting them from excessive sun exposure. This means balanced wines with fine structure, opulent fruit and long finishes.
Santa Barbara County has three distinct AVAs: Santa Maria Valley, a thirteen-mile long valley in the northern part of the county; the Santa Ynez Valley, a diverse, twenty-five-mile wide zone in southern Santa Barbara County separated from the eastward thrust of the Pacific coast by the Santa Ynez Mountains; and the far smaller Santa Rita Hills, the most westerly of the three and the zone closest to the coast. The rule of thumb, as in Napa and Sonoma, is that with each mile's progression inland the temperature rises by one degree Fahrenheit. The heat summation ranges of each area are shown below, all falling either in the cool Regions I and II. For comparison purposes, the Chablis district averages 1,710 degree days, and on the other hand, Rutherford averages 2,900:
Santa Maria Valley 2,100 - 2,670 degree days
Santa Rita Hills 1,900 - 2,100 degree days
The Santa Maria Valley, located east of Highway 101 Freeway and inland from the town of Santa Maria along Santa Maria River, supports over 6,000 acres of vineyards. It enjoys one of the longest growing seasons of any viticultural area in the world. The unusually long period of time the grapes remain on the vine means they reach maturity and phenolic balance before becoming overripe. Soils range from sandy loam to clay loam, and the prevailing ocean breezes and fogs keep this region cooler than areas further inland. Santa Maria Valley is known for Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah.
The Santa Ynez Valley is situated east of the town of Lompoc and runs along the Santa Ynez River. Generally warmer than Santa Maria, the half of the valley lying to the east of Highway 101 tends to be warmer than the half lying to the west. The over 4,000 acres of vineyards in this area lie on soils which vary from sandy loams and clay loams to shaly and silty clay loams. The Santa Ynez Valley is best known for Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling.