Santa Barbara County Wine Region Basics

© Theo Morrison
© Theo Morrison

Four years ago, the uniquely Pinot-friendly climate of Santa Barbara County seemed better known to starlings and mule deer than wine drinkers. And then the Oscar-winning movie Sideways turned the central-California appellation into the Cabbage Patch doll of the wine world. The public demand for Santa Barbara Pinot Noir was suddenly and seemingly insatiable: Winery mailing lists filled up, and local restaurants like the Hitching Post II became crowded with tourists traipsing after the film's raffish stars.

Even more remarkably, Pinot Noir sales nationwide jumped 45 percent over the next year as wine drinkers developed a hankering for the grape rhapsodized in the film as "the most haunting and brilliant and subtle and thrilling and ancient on the planet." Of course, the groundwork for many of these changes was laid long before AS SEEN IN SIDEWAYS signs were posted around the country. A number of important new wineries were in the works around the time that Sideways debuted—among them Alma Rosa and Jonata—and the amount of acreage under vine was at a record high. Indeed, the growth of the $500 million Santa Barbara County wine industry has much more to do with three decades of hard work than it does with the success of a popular Hollywood film.

Recommended bottles

  • 2005 Fess Parker Santa Barbara County Viognier
  • 2006 Qupé Bien Nacido Cuvée Santa Maria Valley
  • 2004 Gainey Vineyard Santa Ynez Valley Merlot
  • 2005 Cambria Bench Break Vineyard Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir
  • 2005 Sanford Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir

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