Ballard Canyon, in the Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Barbara, was established as an AVA on 1 November 2013. Cathy Huyghe finds Rhône varieties perform well here and picks a wine to try.

The defining geographical feature of Santa Barbara County is its transverse mountain range – the most significant along the entire western continental edge, from Alaska to Patagonia – which imparts a wide range of microclimates and specific growing regions. From colder climates in the west (loved by Chardonnay and Pinot Noir), to Happy Canyon in the far east (mostly Cabernet Sauvignon blends), the county’s varied geography determines its varied grape profile.

Ballard Canyon, a sub-AVA of the Santa Ynez Valley, is right in the middle of the county, where Rhône varieties perform well. At about 2pm every day, it’s getting uncomfortably hot for the vines, says Jonata’s Matt Dees, but the temperature drops 5°C to 10°C almost immediately as the ocean air breezes in. Yet the grapes continue to ripen and metabolise.

The Jonata vineyards are unique to the appellation because of their sandy soils. There, the drainage is thorough and the soil is devoid of nutrients and water, so the vines grow deep, without vigour, yielding tiny berries with very thick skins. The diurnal shift in temperature adds a subtle complexity to the wines.

Thanks to Santa Barbara’s unique geography, one foot can stand in a vineyard of sandy soils while the other stands in clay topsoil and about 100m of limestone underneath. The clay/limestone mix is more typical of the AVA, and it enables Peter Stolpman of Stolpman Vineyards and others to practise what he calls the ‘modern definition of dry farming in California’, which means not irrigating from May to August. The clay retains moisture from the morning fog and it also retains the cold from the 22˚C night-time diurnal swing.

See Cathy Huyghe’s wines to try, or other recommendec producers include Beckmen Vineyards and Larner Vineyard & Winery.

  • WineCountryGeographi

    I’d suggest including Beckmen Vineyards on the list of recommended wines.

    One of the most acclaimed and dedicated producers – with 175 acres of Demeter certified Biodynamic vines in Ballard Canyon – they have been making celebrated Syrah and Grenache for years from their site at the top of the hill in Ballard Canyon. Superb wines rated highly year after year in Wine Advocate and Vinous.