Santa Barbara County's unique grape-growing valleys run east and west through the Santa Ynez Mountains, funneling ocean breezes inland. Warm days, cool nights: an enological double-play that produces premium-quality wine grapes.
Varietals such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Cabernet and Riesling are grown on about 10,000 acres of vineyards in two major valleys--the Santa Ynez and the Santa Maria. The oldest vineyards have been planted for less than 20 years, yet the Santa Barbara County growing area is nonetheless home to several notable wineries that are producing award-winning wines. A partial list:
Tony Austin, the founding wine maker at Firestone Vineyard, opened Austin Cellars in Los Olivos in 1981. His 1982 Sierra Madre Pinot Noir won a double gold and the Sweepstakes Award at the 1986 Central Coast Vintners' Club Tasting and was poured at a state dinner in October at the White House. Austin's 1981 and 1982 Sauvignon Blanc Botrytis (Sierra Madre Vineyards) received two Cordon Bleu awards from the Wine and Food Society of Southern California.
Ballard Canyon Winery in Solvang, owned by Gene Hallock and his wife, Rosalie, is noted for its Johannisberg Riesling grapes. Wine maker Michael B. Hoffman's 1986 Johannisberg Riesling won a gold medal at a recent competition in Long Beach, while the winery's 1986 Late Harvest Johannisberg Riesling earned a silver at the San Diego competition earlier this year. The 1986 Rosalie also won a gold medal at the recent Orange County Fair.
The Brander Vineyard in Los Olivos was established in 1975, with the first harvest in 1977. Its wines are made only from estate grapes. Owner / wine maker Fred Brander's 1983 Cabernet Sauvignon garnered a gold medal at the 1985 Orange County Fair.
Byron (Ken) Brown's wines have been on the market less than two years. The founding wine maker of Zaca Mesa Winery opened Byron Vineyard and Winery in Santa Maria in 1984 and since then has won the American Wine Competition's highest award for his 1984 Pinot Noir.
The Gainey Vineyard in Santa Ynez was opened in November, 1984, by Daniel and Robin Gainey. Wine maker Rick Longoria has produced several award-winning wines, including a 1985 Sauvignon Blanc and a 1986 Johannisberg Riesling that earned gold medals at the Orange County Fair. The Gaineys frequently host cultural events, such as summer concerts, at the winery as well as cooking and wine-appreciation classes.
Houtz Vineyards in Los Olivos are home to a relatively new winery that had its first grape crush in 1984. Owners Dave and Margy Houtz and wine maker John Kerr picked up gold medals for the winery's 1985 Sauvignon Blanc at the recent Orange County Fair and the 1986 California Central Coast Wine Competition.
The Sanford Winery in Buellton, owned by Richard and Thekla Sanford, is known primarily for its Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays. Wine maker Bruno d'Alfonso's 1984 Pinot Noir earned a platinum medal for Best of Class in the 1986 American Wine Competition in New York, a gold medal for Best of Show at the Atlanta International Wine Competition last October and the Sweepstakes Award for a red wine in the 1987 Quantas Cup, a wine meet between American and Australian wines. The winery's 1984 Chardonnay picked up a gold medal at the 1985 Orange County Fair.
Pierre Lafond's Santa Barbara Winery in Santa Barbara produces several different varietals, including its 1986 Johannisberg Riesling Late Harvest that was voted Best of Competition and earned a platinum, a double gold and a gold medal at the Toronto Intervin Festival held recently in New York. Wine maker Bruce McGuire is looking forward to his sixth vintage there.
Santa Ynez Winery in Santa Ynez has the oldest commercial vineyards--planted in 1969--in the Santa Ynez Valley. Under the direction of wine maker Mike Brown, the winery took a gold medal for its 1984 Cabernet Merlot at the recent Orange County Fair, and its 1985 Chardonnay won a gold medal at Toronto's Intervin competition. Brown, an Australian, is the only wine maker in the county to make port wine.
Vega Vineyards Winery, owned by Dr. William Mosby and his wife, Jeri, is housed in a reconstructed 1860 Victorian carriage house in Buellton. Mosby's 1984 Pinot Noir earned a double gold in mid-June in a San Francisco judging by wine writers from national publications. The 1984 Pinot Noir also picked up a gold medal--as did the winery's 1984 Chardonnay--at a national competition held in May in San Diego.
Zaca Mesa Winery in Los Olivos released its first wine in 1978. Known mainly for its Pinot Noir, Cabernet and Chardonnay, the winery has earned eight medals in competitions thus far in 1987. Notably, the 1983 Reserve Pinot Noir won a gold medal and Sweepstakes Award at the West Coast Wine Competition last year. Gale Sysock, wine maker at Zaca Mesa Winery, was wine maker at Conn Creek in the Napa Valley before coming to Zaca Mesa.
Information is available from the Santa Barbara County Vintners' Assn., P.O. Box WINE, Santa Ynez, Calif. 93460.