The Santa Rita Hills is Santa Barbara County's newest AVA, established as such in May of 2001. Situated to the west of the town of Buellton in one of the coolest areas of the county, it is essentially a very hilly, 1,500-acre extension of the Santa Ynez Valley of limited potential growth due to its geographic position between the Purisima Hills to the
north and the foothills of the Santa Ynez Mountains paralleling the coast to the south. Brisk ocean breezes and maritime fogs are funneled into the valley, extending the growing season. The area is semi-arid, with an annual average of thirteen inches of rain falling primarily between the months of December and May. This allows the harvest to be delayed as long as necessary to achieve optimum ripeness without constant threat of autumn rain. Soils in this area tend to be sandy and clay loams with high percentage of excellently drained alluvial and marine sand. The Santa Rita Hills show spectacular performance thus far for cultivation of Santa Barbara County's finest Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
The Santa Barbara appellations, including the regional appellation of Santa Barbara County which is particularly densely planted in the Los Alamos area, collectively constitute approximately 21,000 acres of vineyards. Slightly less than half the yield of these vineyards is used by local producers; the balance is exported to wineries outside the area. As of 2001, Santa Barbara counted over fifty-eight wineries located primarily in the Santa Ynez and Santa Maria appellations producing a million cases of wine annually.
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