In the history of California wine, Santa Barbara wine country is a new frontier. Over the past 40 years, several legendary vintners including Pierre Lafond, Richard Sanford, Ken Volk, and Richard Longoria, have written the first chapter. Due to their vision and efforts, Santa Barbara County vineyards have a stellar reputation for Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Syrah. Now, a new generation has emerged. Meet nine of the region’s most talked about vintners, destined to make their own marks in Santa Barbara wine.
A favorite accolade: I was awarded the "Andre Tchelistcheff Winemaker of the Year" award at the San Francisco International Wine Competition, the largest wine competition in the United States. On wine: I love the camaraderie of the wine industry. Most of my friends are winemakers and we enjoy life. We enjoy good wine, good food, and good friends. I love the Santa Ynez Valley and the diversity of micro climates. We can grow beautiful Pinot Noir in the cool climates and rich, voluptuous Syrah in the warmer climates. On Santa Barbara wine country: We are extremely close to the coast which allows for cool marine influence and creates wines with beautiful concentration, purity of fruit, and natural acidity. Whether you stay on the beach in Santa Barbara, or in the heart of Santa Barbara wine country, beautiful vineyards and wineries are right in your backyard.
A favorite accolade: The 2010 Andrew Murray Esperance received 90 points from The Wine Advocate which said, “It is without question one of the finest Rhône blends produced in California.” On wine: No two days are the same and they are never easy. On Santa Barbara wine country: Visitors are never disappointed by the beauty, the wide-open, uncluttered viticultural areas, and the diversity and quality of our wines. We also have wonderful things to do when they’re not wine tasting.
A favorite accolade: Sunstone has been voted Santa Barbara County’s Favorite Red Wine and/or Favorite Tasting Room for more than 10 consecutive years. On wine: I love the lifestyle and characters it attracts. There’s also the fact that we are growing an organic product from the Earth that is shared at dinner tables around the world. On Santa Barbara wine country: Santa Barbara wineries produce a wide variety of world-class wines. This diversity in offerings is part of what makes our region so appealing to visitors.
Consulting Winemaker, Riverbench
A favorite accolade: When someone who doesn’t drink Chardonnay or Pinot Noir says, “I love your wines!” On wine: I look to produce each individual wine in its own style, accentuating the flavor profiles I taste in the vineyard. On Santa Barbara wine country: I love the community. We make our own wines, but we don’t have to compete between each other. It’s an intoxicating experience to picnic or walk among the vines, and feel the sunshine and gentle breezes.
A favorite accolade: For me, more than high scores and medals, the highest accolade is a first-time taster’s smile followed by “mmmm.” On wine: We craft a product that gives people pleasure! If we all just sat down and had a glass of wine together, world peace would ensue! On Santa Barbara wine country: We’re one of the most unique wine-growing regions in the world, due to our transverse valleys and southern latitude. We grow an incredible range of wines, all with excellence and no snobbery or pretense. We love for visitors to join us at the table.
A favorite accolade: I sent a bottle of 2008 Zaca Mesa Reserve Syrah to one of my mentors in New Zealand who used “balance” and “elegance” to describe it. On wine: My office is 200 acres of vineyard with an old barn and barrels. I love this. I also love that my job constantly challenges me to change, and that it introduced me to my wife. On Santa Barbara wine country: This is a fantastic place to tour! The topography, weather, varietals, and spirit are all well worth visiting and learning about. We have a very approachable atmosphere and our wines rank among some of the best.
Leslie Mead Renaud
A favorite accolade: The 2011 Lincourt Steel Chardonnay received 92 points and a Best Buy from Wine & Spirits Magazine. On wine: It has different seasons throughout the year. Harvest, blending, bottling, sales trips...it keeps things fresh and never mundane. On Santa Barbara wine country: Santa Barbara County has some of the most diverse growing areas of anywhere I can think! You can start in the morning tasting Pinot Noir and Chardonnay on the west side, Rhône in the Central Santa Ynez Valley for lunch, and finish your day with Bordeaux varietals from Happy Canyon.
A favorite accolade: It’s an honor when someone says they’re impressed with all of my wines because they are individually distinct, and also very good. On wine: I love the people in the wine industry on all sides of the business, but most importantly, the consumers, for without them we wouldn’t have a business. On Santa Barbara wine country: Our wine region, though still quite young, is truly amazing. We are producing world-class wines from dozens of grape varieties. You can enjoy downtown Santa Barbara and then head 30 minutes north and be in the heart of Santa Ynez Valley .
Megan McGrath Gates
A favorite accolade: I am most proud when the winery’s foreign interns apply to come back to work again and again. On wine: We are a microcosm of thinkers, dreamers, farmers, and technicians coming together to make wine. This trade is small enough that we feel like an extended family, simply by sharing the travails of harvest. On Santa Barbara wine country: You can enjoy natural beauty in extreme wilderness just a moment’s drive from the main highway; lush gardens reminiscent of prehistoric times; breathtaking ocean views; and hills and paths of the North country scented with wild sage—all within 90 minutes of a major metropolis. The contrast is breathtaking.