Celebrate Chardonnay Day with Santa Barbara County Wine


Happy Chardonnay Day!

For all of you ABCers (Anything But Chardonnay people) stay tuned because I have posts coming up about Spanish Albarino, Italian Grillo, and a few other very interesting white wines! And I hope you’ll consider your stance and at least try one of the very special mineral, terroir driven Santa Barbara Chardonnays that are coming out of the region.

But today is a day to celebrate Chardonnay!

Last week, I attended a Santa Barbara County Chardonnay seminar moderated by Elaine Chukan Brown where we were led through a tasting and discussion of Santa Barbara County Chardonnay, followed by a walk around tasting with many of the winemakers.


I took some notes plus a series of tweets which I share below,  and then this week Sue and I tasted three more Chardonnay from the area, two that you should be able to find easily in your local grocery store, one under $15 and the other around $30. (I also attended a Bordeaux varieties seminar as well as attended a walk around tasting of Rhone varietals so subscribe for more about Santa Barbara County wine!)

Key to understanding Santa Barbara County wine and the most important points that came out of the seminar is how different the terroir is from west by the sea and further east where it is much warmer. In fact, people used to say that you couldn’t make good wine from grapes grown on the east side of the 101! Of course that has been proven to be very very wrong!

On the west side of the 101, the land is cloaked in fog much of the summer, while as you travel east, it is said for each mile you go east from the sea, the temperature raises one degree.

So temperature is a big factor, followed by fog, then it is important to remember that Santa Barbara County is a desert with only 10-15 annual inches of rainfall a year, and then fourth, factor in the soil. Greg Brewer of Brewer-Clifton showed me his Chardonnay “Diatom” after the diatomaceous earth quality of the soil! (And yes, I liked it quite a bit!) In fact, Sta. Rita Hills is one of the rare places on earth where grapes are being grown in that soil type–which is essentially ground up fossilized shells!


In general, while wine on both sides of the 101 are characterized by intense minerality, Chardonnay from the west side of the 101 has more salinity and citrus notes while Chardonnay on the east side has sage, herbal, and white stone fruit characteristics.

The biggest and most well-known AVA in Santa Barbara County is the Santa Ynez Valley AVA which encompasses both sides of the 101; just north is the Santa Maria Valley AVA. West of the 101 is Sta Rita Hills, and moving east you’ll cross the boundaries for Ballard Canyon, Los Olivos, and Happy Canyon.


I am clearly a fan of the style of wine that is coming from these winemakers, but if I had to pick a favorite, I’d say that the Pence 2013 from Santa Ynez really hit the right notes for me: minerals, fresh fruit, acidity, salinity, bright, complex, and with a lovely long lingering finish that left me wanting more! When I talked to the owner, Stephen Janes, I learned that the winemaker there studied with Adam Tolmach of the Ojai Vineyard for five years — and I am such a fan of The Ojai Vineyard that I am a club member there and we chose their Solomon Hills to feature for Chardonnay Day to pair with paella!

At last week’s events, I had the opportunity to speak with winemakers in each of these AVA, and Sue and I will be taking some walks in the vineyards to better understand the AVAs and the various vineyards there that we have come to know and love. And while we’re there, we’ll also taste some wine–and not all of it Chardonnay!

There’s a whole lot to say about this topic but for now, here’s a few notes about three wines that weren’t at the SB County tasting, two that you should be able to find at your local store, and a third you can mail order if you live in the right state!

Naked Unoaked Chardonnay 2013 Santa Barbara County 13.9 all under $15

With a price point of under $15, this is a reliable expression of unoaked Chardonnay.  Crisp minerality, citrusy, they suggest we pair it with oysters, and we certainly would buy a bottle of this to take to the beach to have with oysters! This is not your typical California chard as it is unbaked so it will not be rich and buttery. There are other qualities that make this a nice little wine for the price. It does not have the complexity of the smaller batch producers in the Santa Barbara area, however it also does not have the price point at under $15. Color is very pale very faint. Citrus, lemons and limes. It has a very generous nose as it warms up and opens up, however this wine is enjoyed more when it is cold and crisp. Very light in color. I bought this wine on sale at Vons and I would buy it again. Screw top.

Sanford Chardonnay 2013 Santa Rita Hills Appellation – 14.3% alcohol around $30

Double the money, but you are buying a legacy wine: Sanford was one of the pioneers in wine making in Santa Barbara County. There is a nice balance to this wine, and it is just lightly naked, so the oak does not overwhelm the fruit. There is minerals and citrus, there is nice nectarine/peach fruitiness to this wine instead of the expected apple or pineapple that we tend to find in California Chardonnay. This is a lovely wine to be able to get at your neighborhood grocery store. (Note: I purchased this wine at Vons).

The Ojai Vineyard 2013 Solomon Hills 13% alc. $35

Sue and I are both members of The Ojai Vineyard for a number of reasons but wines like this one are a HUGE reason. When we paired it with the paella pictured above, made with homemade shrimp stock and fresh shrimp from the Santa Barbara Channel, we thought we’d died and gone to heaven.

This wine is a steal at $35: lemon peel, minerality, salinity, white flowers, yellow flowers, white peach, all integrated, refined, balanced.

Wine makers’s notes: I love the fine fruit and excellent balance this vineyard gives. Solomon Hills is on the western edge of the Santa Maria Valley Appellation, so it’s climatically very cool. Fortuitously it’s planted to Dijon clones 76 and 95, which are particularly adapted to cool climate spots and it has none of the tropical fruitiness one finds in clone 4—the clone most planted in California. It’s all lemon curd, pine and minerals–making it a great counterpoint to rich chicken dishes made with lots of cream. The 2013 Chardonnay Solomon Hills comes across as elegant and refined. A delicate aroma of wet stones with a touch of nutmeg entices the palate. The wine follows through with a thick texture that is mineral, tangy/salty, and finishes with an aftertaste of poached pears. Blend: 100% Chardonnay | Alc: 13.0% | Vinification: Barrel fermented in French Oak, 10% New | Barrel Aging: 11 Months | Total Production 372 Cases |


So what are you drinking for Chardonnay Day? And where would you visit in Santa Barbara County?


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