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Santa Barbara Wine Industry Ages Well

Santa Barbara County adds another AVA with Los Olivos, bringing the total number of distinctive wine growing areas to six. (Photo Traffic411)

Santa Barbara County adds another AVA with Los Olivos, bringing the total number of distinctive wine growing areas to six. (Photo Traffic411)

We’re barely into 2016, and it’s already been a good year for Santa Barbara wine industry.

In January, the federal government awarded Los Olivos its own AVA (American Viticultural Area). The designation recognizes a wine-grape growing region as being distinct from surrounding areas in climate, soil and geographical features.

Tune-in to my podcast with Fred Brander of Brander Vineyards and Morgen McLaughlin of the Santa Barbara County Vintners Association

“I think each place in the Santa Ynez Valley has its own right area for different varietals,” said winemaker Fred Brander. The owner of Brander Vineyards led the decade-long effort to achieve the AVA designation for Los Olivos.

“Bordeau varieties mainly do well (in Los Olivos), certainly Sauvignon  Blanc…. the reds have been longer to perfect, namely Cabernet Sauvignon…. it’s a matter of applying some really careful viticulture.” Brander, who has a background in chemistry, was one of the first winemakers to plant grapes in the Santa Ynez Valley 40 years ago.

Fred Brander, owner of Brander Vineyards, was one of the first winemakers to plant grapes in the Santa Ynez Valley 40 years ago.

Fred Brander, owner of Brander Vineyards, was one of the first winemakers to plant grapes in the Santa Ynez Valley 40 years ago.

“When Cabernet is grown right, it can make some great wine,” added Brander. “Of course it has to be grown in Los Olivos. You can’t probably make the best Cabernet in Santa Rita.”

Brander explained the new Los Olivos AVA covers “the area between Happy Canyon and Ballard Canyon with the Santa Ynez River being the southern boundary, and for the northern boundary we picked the 1000 foot elevation.”

“It’s very exciting to have a new AVA, because it provides more clarity and more spotlight on our unique growing region,” said Morgen McLaughlin, executive director of Santa Barbara County Vintners Association. “Santa Barbara is one of the most unique growing regions in the world. Having a new AVA helps us to better tell the story.”

McLaughlin explains that Santa Barbara County is different than other California wine countries. “Most regions are more similar, in that they have one or two signature wine grape varieties. We are blessed in Santa Barbara in that we have more than 50 varieties that do so well.”

Anyone who has spent much time in Santa Barbara County has probably noticed that wines have become big business, and a tourist magnet. A new economic impact report revealed that the wine industry adds more than $1 billion annually to the Santa Barbara County economy.  McLaughlin says even she was surprised by the eye-popping number.

“The report shows that our wine and grape industry provides…. $1.7 billion annually to economic vitality to the county……  That’s not only from wine making, but it’s also from grape growing, tourism, the restaurant business, those who sell and pour Santa Barbara County wines, retailers, tour companies. There’s a lot of different small businesses that benefit from the wine industry in the county.”

“Santa Barbara remains the most exciting wine country area in all of California,” said Brander.

Los Olivos becomes the sixth AVA for Santa Barbara County, distinguishing itself from Santa Ynez Valley, Happy Canyon, Ballard Canyon, Santa Rita Hills and Santa Maria Valley wine growing areas.

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Wine Lovers: Santa Ynez Valley

Rideau Vineyards in Solvang is one of my favorite spots for wine tasting in Santa Barbara County's Santa Ynez Valley. (Photo:

If you have seen the movie Sideways, you know that the Santa Ynez Valley (Santa Barbara wine country)  is home to some terrific wines, and it’s a scenic and easy drive from Los Angeles.  Whether you’re a fan of reds or whites, there is something for every wine lover in this beautiful Southern California wine country. And, it’s a romantic spot for Valentines.

The little town of Los Olivos offers several tasting rooms on one street, so you can park your car and walk to sample a lot of wines including varietals from Andrew Murray, Arthur Earl, Tensley, Qupe, Daniel Gehrs and more.

As for beautiful scenery, my favorite winery is Rideau Vineyards.  Owned by New Orleans native Iris Rideau, the place is surrounded by vineyards with an old-style feel.  It’s a relaxing place to sample delicious wines and relax in beautiful surroundings. Be sure to try the Tempranillo!

The quaint Santa Ynez Inn is my pick for a romantic place to stay.  The boutique bed & breakfast it’s a bit pricey, but the rooms are plush, quiet and very romantic. Each room is unique, decked out in pillows, plush bedding, thick rugs and most, if not all, have a Jacuzzi tub and fireplace.  It’s a great, private hide-way to romance your sweetheart.

If you’re looking for something more affordable, nearby Solvang offers a lot of options, including a Best Western. Solvang is a Dutch-themed village with an old world European feel. A fun daytrip while you’re in the area.

Santa Ynez is about a two hour drive north from Los Angeles, some of the route you’ll be hugging the coast, a gorgeous drive up the 101 freeway. If you’re already in So Cal, it’s an easy getaway for a one or two night stay.  And, it’s not far from Santa Barbara, another favorite spot for lovers.

Traffic411 Insider Tip:  Do a day trip to Solvang or Santa Barbara if you have time. Chumash Casino is nearby, if you wish to try your luck.

Distance from LAX: 132 miles (2 hours 15 minutes, when it’s not rush hour)

Helpful links to help plan your getaway:

Los Olivos wine tasting

Wine tasting at Rideau Vineyard (

Santa Ynez Valley: Living the Life

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