Hollywood and Wine

Mission San Diego de Alcalá

Mission San Diego de Alcalá

Southern California might be more famous for sandy beaches than vineyards these days, but it is actually the birthplace of the California wine industry. Back in 1769, long before California was a state, Father Junipero Serra, a Spanish Franciscan missionary, founded the first Catholic mission in California on the site of present-day San Diego.

This new outpost of Christianity, named San Diego de Alcalá, was the first of nine missions Serra would found, stretching from San Diego to modern-day San Francisco.  Up and down the length of what is now the state of California, the Franciscan Fathers gave the area its humble viticultural beginnings by planting the Mission grape for use in sacramental wines.

While many Americans know the story of the California Missions, even dedicated wine lovers might be surprised to learn that commercial winemaking in California also had its origins in the southern end of the state. California’s first commercial wineries were established in what is now Los Angeles as early as the 1820s.

Jean-Louis Vignes, from the Special Collections of the  UCLA Charles E. Young Research Library

Jean-Louis Vignes, from the Special Collections of the
UCLA Charles E. Young Research Library

By 1833, the area was growing Bordeaux varieties brought to the area by Jean-Louis Vignes, a native of the Bordeaux region of France. Vignes named his estate “El Aliso,” in honor of an ancient Sycamore tree growing near the entrance to his property. Known to his neighbors as “Don Luis del Aliso,” Vignes was an adventurer who traveled the world before settling down, planting vineyards, and making wine in southern California.

Many producers following in Vignes’ footsteps, and the area of southern California soon became the largest grape-growing area in the state. However, winemaking in the region was decimated by the dual threats of prohibition and pierce’s disease. Soon, the land in southern California became more valuable to the makers of residential housing, parks, and office buildings than it was to the producers of wine.

However, winemaking still survives in the area today. The South Coast AVA with over 3,000 acres under vine includes parts of the counties of Los Angeles, San Bernadino, San Diego, Orange, and Riverside.  The Temecula Valley AVA, located in Riverside County, currently has over 1,500 acres planted to vine. Smaller plantings are to be found in the Ramona Valley AVA and the San Pasqual Valley AVA (both in San Diego County). The area’s most planted varieties include Zinfandel (including some very old vines), Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah. The area is also becoming increasing known for sturdy Rhône varieties including Petite Sirah and Viognier.

Springtime in the Temecula Valley AVA

Springtime in the Temecula Valley AVA

While not part of the South Coast AVA proper, the area just north of Los Angeles is home to California’s newest (as of mid-2014) AVA, the Malibu Coast AVA, established on July 18, 2014. Upon its approval, the area’s two existing AVAs, Saddle-Rock Malibu and Malibu-Newton Canyon, became sub-appellations of the new Malibu Coast AVA.

Warmer, drier, inland AVAs in Southern California include the Cucamonga Valley AVA, (shared by Riverside and San Bernadino Counties) with just over 1,000 acres of vines. The large Antelope Valley of the High California Dessert AVA, and its tiny neighbors, the Sierra Pelona Valley and the Leona Valley AVAs, are located slightly to the north and east of Los Angeles.

Post authored by Jane A. Nickles, CSS, CWE – your SWE Blog Administrator

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Conference Preview: On the Wine Routes of Europe with Thomas Jefferson

Today we have a guest post from Linda Lawry, CWE, DWS. Linda is always one of the most popular speakers at our SWE Conferences. In this postLinda tells us a bit about her upcoming conference session entitled “On the Wine Routes of Europe with Thomas Jefferson.”

TJWine from long habit has become indispensable to my health.”           – Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson, third President of the United States, was a multi-faceted genius whose numerous areas of expertise ranged from architecture to zoology.  His passion for wine, while largely  neglected by historians, is one of the most fascinating aspects of his persona.

Jefferson’s journals and correspondence contain many references to wine, including detailed critiques of the wines he tasted.  He may, in fact, have been American’s first wine critic.

In 1787, while he was living in France as a representative the Untied States government, Jefferson took a three-month tour of many of the wine regions of France, Italy, and Germany.  He traveled incognito, so that he could learn what life was really like in these regions, and so that he would not have to spend his time in formal dinners with the aristocracy. He sought out vine growers and winemakers as well as the “common man and woman” living in the various wine regions.

Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's Virginia Plantation

Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Plantation

Lucky for us modern-day wine lovers, Jefferson kept an extensive diary of his adventures in the wine regions of Europe, charting his travels as well as his opinions on quality and character of the inns, the food, the architecture, and of course, the wines he tasted. His diaries are a fascinating insight into the wine world of the 18th century, and of the character and persona of this complex and charming man.

At the 2014 SWE conference in Seattle this August, I will give a program on Jefferson’s European wine adventure. We will taste wines from the regions he visited, including some of the very same wines he tasted back then, which (lucky for us), are still being produced today.

Linda Lawry, CWE, DWS, is the Director of the International Wine Center in New York City. She is also on the faculty of New York University, where she has been teaching the Wine and Spirits Studies course in the Department of Nutrition and Food Studies since 1997. She is a member of the Board of Directors of the Society of Wine Educators, a member of Les Dames d’Escoffier, and program co-chair of the Culinary Historians of New York. Linda graduated with honors from the New York Restaurant School, holds the WSET Diploma, and is a Certified Wine Educator.

Linda’s session, “On the Wine Routes of Europe with Thomas Jefferson,” will be held on Thursday, August 14, at 1:15 pm as part of the 38th Annual Conference of the Society of Wine Educators.

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The Winds of Wine: The Roaring 40’s

The Clipper Route - designed to take advantage of "The Roaring 40's"

The Clipper Route – designed to take advantage of “The Roaring 40’s”

They roar across the Indian Ocean and on into the South Pacific, battering any land mass that stands in their way. They were known during the Age of Sail, and helped to speed ships traveling from Europe as they navigated around the horn of Africa and onward to Australia. Even today, round-the-world yacht voyages and high-speed sailing competitions hope to catch a ride on the strong winds known as the Roaring 40’s.

The Roaring 40’s are strong, westerly winds found in the Southern Hemisphere, generally between the latitudes of 40 and 50 degrees. These fierce winds are caused by the combination of air being displaced from the Equator towards the South Pole combined with the force of the earth’s rotation.

As is true with most things in nature, the route and boundaries of the Roaring 40’s are not consistent, as they tend to shift north towards the equator in the southern winter and south towards the South Pole in the southern summer. However, New Zealand is generally sitting right in their path, where the winds can hit the islands on the west side.

The mountain ranges that run down the “spine” of the islands serve as a blockade, and create a rain shadow for much of the eastern coast of the country. For this reason, most of New Zealand’s vineyards are located in the rain shadows created by the Southern Alps on the South Island and various mountains and volcanoes on the North Island.

"Windy Wellington" is located on the Cook Strait on New Zealand's North Island

“Windy Wellington,” located on the Cook Strait on New Zealand’s North Island

The Cook Strait, the band of water that separates the North and South Island of New Zealand, is the only opening for the winds between the two land masses and becomes something of a “wind tunnel” for the blasts. The Cook Strait, only 14 miles wide as its narrowest point, is understandably considered one of the most unpredictable and dangerous waterways in the world.  The Cook Strait is named for James Cook, who, in 1770, became the first European to sail through it. The Maori name is Raukawa or Raukawa Moana.

While the Roaring 40’s are noted as being among the strongest winds in the world, they are, believe it or not, bested by even stronger winds that form closer to the South Pole, known as the “Furious Fifties” (50 to 60 degrees south), and the  “Screaming Sixties” (below 60 degrees south).

For more information on “The Winds of Wine,” see our posts on The Mistral and The Zonda.

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The W.O. Shuffle: 2014

The Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, with Table Mountain in the Background

The Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, with Table Mountain in the Background

As every good wine student knows, the world of wine is constantly changing – and that includes a never-ending shuffle of AOCs, DOCGs, AVAs and W.O.s.

W.O. – as you advanced students know, stands for “Wine of Origin” and is the system of geographically defined wine regions used in South Africa.

The system was first used in 1973 and mirrors the “New World” style of geographical indications in that it defines the boundaries of the geographic origins and requires truth in labeling; however, grape varieties, wine making techniques, or wine styles are not mandated per geographic area.

The basic standards are:

  • Geographic Area:  If a wine uses a geographic area, estate, or vineyard as its place of origin, 100% of the wine must come from that area.
  • Vintage:  If a wine states a particular vintage, 85% of the wine must be front the stated vintage.
  • Variety:  Varietal wines must contain 85% the stated variety.

About those WO changes.  They seemed pretty complicated upon my first reading, so I’ve tried to simplify them. To keep things in context, remember that the defined wine areas of South Africa are known as Geographical Units (largest), Regions, Districts, and Wards (the smallest).  Here goes:

  • A glass of Simonsig Sparkling Wine perched atop Table Mountain

    A glass of Simonsig Sparkling Wine perched atop Table Mountain

    Cape Point Out:  Cape Point is not longer considered a district of the Coastal Region geographical unit.

  • Cape Peninsula In:  Cape Peninsula is a newly created district located within the Coastal Region.  Constantia and Hout Bay, the former wards of the former Cape Point District, are now considered wards of the Cape Peninsula District.
  • Aan de Dorns Out:  Aan de Dorns is no longer considered a ward of the Worcester District. Thus, the remaining three wards of Worcester are Hex River Valley, Nuy, and Scherpenheuvel.
  • Standford Hills In:  Stanford Hills is a new ward, located within the Walker Bay District.
  • Ceres In:  Ceres, located in the Western Cape Geographical Unit, is now a ward of the recently defined Ceres Plateau District (which is not located within a designated region.)

For all of the latest updates in the world of wine, visit our “CSW Update Page.”

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Post authored by Jane A. Nickles, CWE – your SWE Blog Administrator – jnickles@societyofwineeducators.org


Onward to the Okanagan

Mission Hill Winery Overlooking Lake Okanagan

Mission Hill Winery
Overlooking Lake Okanagan

About 12,000 years ago, during the end an ice age, a cycle of flooding rushed through parts of Canada, Washington State, and Oregon.  These floods ran with the force equivalent to 60 Amazon Rivers and eroded large portions of rock and deposited high quality soil as far south as the Willamette Valley.  In British Columbia, these floods helped create the Okanagan Valley, one of the most dynamic wine regions in Canada.

The Okanagan Valley, located east of Vancouver, is a beautiful landscape filled with hills and lakes.  The region benefits from large deposits of fertile soils left behind by the ice sheets, dispersed over time by wind and water.  The area has a continental climate, moderated by Lake Okanagan.  The surrounding mountains help restrict rain, and the southern part of the valley, which borders the Sonora Desert, benefits from the desert’s warm, dry air.  All these factors work together to create a patchwork of unique microclimates capable of producing quality vinifera grapes.

Rocky Hills of the Okanagan Valley

Rocky Hills of the Okanagan Valley

Inhabited originally by the Okanagan Tribe; fur traders, miners, and missionaries moved into the region in the early 19th century.   The first vines were planted in 1859 at the Oblate Mission by Charles Pandosy and were used to produce sacramental wine.  Eventually, the region became known as a fruit growing region, especially once modern irrigation systems were introduced in the 1930s.  It was not until the 1970s that growers begin to experiment with vitis vinifera and the area was planted with small amounts of German varieties, such as Riesling, Ehrenfelser, and Scheurebe.

Since that time wine culture in the Okanagan Valley has expanded dramatically. In 1996 there were about 45 wineries.  Today, there are over 120, most of them family owned and operated.  The vineyards are not limited to a handful of varieties, but dozens.  The diversity of microclimates allows for almost any kind of grape to successfully grow.  Where one winery produces Syrah and Merlot wineries less than forty miles away are growing Pinot Noir or producing ice wines.

Mission Hill Winery

Mission Hill Winery

For now, most of the wine is sold primarily at the wineries with some distribution throughout BC.  This may soon change as regional associations and proponents attempt to ease Canadian laws on wine shipments and distribution.  Although the wines are not yet readily available in the USA or Europe, we have our fingers crossed that this may soon change.

For more information, see the Wines of British Columbia website.

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Post authored by Ben Coffelt  – bcoffelt@societyofwineeducators.org

U.S. Distillery License #1

11932270_ml (1)Applejack, a type of brandy made from apple cider, was one of the most popular beverages in colonial America.  Applejack was historically made by a traditional method known as freeze distillation, involving leaving apple cider outside to freeze, and chipping off chunks of ice in order to concentrate the alcohol content.   The term applejack derives from jacking, a term for freeze distillation.

In 1780, soon after the American Revolution, the new nation’s first distillery permit – U.S. License #1 – was granted to a producer of apple brandy, Laird’s Distillery of Scobeyville, New Jersey.  Laird’s had been producing applejack since 1760 and supplied brandy to George Washington’s troops during the revolutionary war.  Laird’s applejack was later used as currency to pay road construction crews during the colonial period.  1933, Laird & Company was granted a federal license under the Prohibition Act to produce apple brandy for “medicinal purposes”, allowing the company to resume operations prior to repeal.

Applejack is still produced by Laird’s distillery, albeit using modern distillation methods.  The distillery is now located in Virginia near the source of their apples but the historic New Jersey site is still maintained for use in maturing and bottling the spirits. Laird’s Applejack is a blend of 35% apple brandy and 65% neutral spirits.

applejackThe company also produces Old Apple Brandy (aged for 7 ½ years), 12 year old rare apple brandy, and Laird’s Bottled-In-Bond Straight Apple Brandy (100 proof).  For many years Laird’s was the only producer of apple brandy in America, however, several other distillers in the United States, notably the Germain-Robin craft distillery in California, are now producing apple brandy.

Despite the history, the terms applejack and apple brandy are now used synonymously in the United States. Demand for apple brandy declined in the 1960s, but the spirit is seeing a renewed interest among mixologists.  The classic cocktail made with applejack is the “Jack Rose,” a blend of applejack, lemon juice, and grenadine.

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Post authored by Jane A. Nickles, CWE – your SWE Blog Administrator – jnickles@societyofwineeducators.org

The Legacy of Peter Jahant

Map via www.lodiwine.com

Map via www.lodiwine.com

If you are studying for the CSW Exam, you might recall that the Lodi AVA, located in northern California, has seven sub-regions:  Alta Mesa, Borden Ranch, Clements Hills, Cosumes River, Mokelumne River, Sloughhouse, and the smallest of the seven, Jahant.

I’ve always been intrigued by the interesting name of the Jahant AVA, so this morning I decided to do a bit of research. This is a small area and  information is somewhat difficult to come by, but I did find out who the area is named for, as well as quite a few interesting details about the soil and climate of the area.

The area’s namesake is a former gold prospector turned family farmer named Peter Jahant. Peter was born in France in 1827 and moved to Akron, Ohio with his parents when he was six years old. In 1850, lured by gold fever,  23-year-old Peter took off with for Sacramento with three or four friends, intending to prospect for gold. After a few years of variable success in gold mining , he bought a livery stable and settled down. He eventually married and established a family farm in the Acampo area. In 1912, Peter Jahant’s son, Charles, planted 130 acres of grapes on the original family farm and gold prospectoradditional purchased land. The Jahant name is well-entrenched in the area, with Jahant Road, Jahant Stables, and Jahant Slough (a stream) all part of the local landscape.

The Jahant AVA is located in the center area of the larger Lodi AVA, about 7 miles south of the city of Lodi.  The region is bordered by the Dry Creek River in the north and the Mokelumne River in the southwest.  There are currently 8,000 acres of the area’s total 28,000 acres planted to grapes.

While the Jahant sub-region has a slightly cooler, dryer, and windier climate than the surrounding areas, the main difference, and the defining factor in establishing the boundaries of the area, is the soil.  The distinctive pink soil, referred to as “Rocklin-Jahant,” is a mixture of sandy loam and clay left by river flooding within the last 20,000 years. The clay component makes the soil excellent for retaining water  to the point that dry-farming is possible, even during the summer.  These dry-farmed vines produce grapes of great concentration, deep color and firm tannins; the nearby Sacramento Delta provides enough cooling breezes to maintain a good, balancing level of acidity.

Tempranillo,  Petite Sirah, and Zinfandel are among the most widely planted grapes of the Jahant AVA.  The Viaggio Estate Winery and Michael David Vineyards both have vineyards in the area.  White grapes also do well; the Lange Twins Family Winery has a lodi grape vinevineyard in the area planted to Sauvignon Musqué, a clonal variant of Sauvignon Blanc that produces grapes with a more pronounced floral aroma – and less of the herbal/cut green grass character – of a typical Sauvignon Blanc.

For more information about the Jahant AVA, click here. 

Click here for the Lodi-Woodbridge Winegrape Commission

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Post authored by Jane A. Nickles, CWE – your SWE Blog Administrator – jnickles@societyofwineeducators.org

The Wines that Made America

22947164_mlWhat do Lincoln’s top hat, Neil Armstrong’s Space Suit, and Chateau Montelena’s 1973 Chardonnay have in common?

They are all part of a new collection curated at the Smithsonian Institution called “101 Objects That Made America.” Chosen from among the Smithsonian’s collection of over 137 million artefacts by Richard Kurin, the Under Secretary for Art, History, and Culture, these 101 objects tell the cultural history of America.

Other artefacts chosen include the American Buffalo and the Bald Eagle from among “Wild America” and Lewis and Clark’s Compass, representing “Discovery.” Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone and FDR’s microphone were chosen to represent “The American Voice.”

101-Objects-America-vintage-california-wines-88-963Vintage California wines, represented by Chateau Montelena Chardonnay 1973 and Stags Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 1973 were chosen as emblematic of “America in the world. The bottles of wine, which are currently on display at the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History, are accompanied by the story of the 1976 “Judgment of Paris” wine tasting that brought California wines to the world’s stage for the first time, as they won first place in a blind tasting contest featuring California wines vs. French wines, as evaluated by Fench judges on French soil.  Often referred to as “the vinous shot heard ‘round the world,” the event shocked the Old World wine establishment to the core and set the stage for California wines, and other wines of the new world to come into their own.

See the website of the Smithsonian Institution and Smithsonian Magazine for more information.

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Post authored by Jane A. Nickles, CWE – your SWE Blog Administrator – jnickles@societyofwineeducators.org

Message in a (Square) Bottle

California SquaredDry Creek Valley wine producer Truett-Hurst has released a new range of California wines – a red blend, a Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon, and a Russian River Chardonnay – known as “California Square.”  Priced at $20.00 a bottle, the wines are good, but perhaps not particularly newsworthy. However, the company claims to have just launched the “the world’s first range of wines in square bottles!”

The bottles, modeled after old-time spirits bottles, are eye-catching indeed.  Designed by Kevin Shaw of the award-winning drinks packaging design firm “Stranger & Stranger,” the ornate bottles feature embossing, retro graphics, and screen-printed labels.

According to the California Square website, the bottles make for a more sustainable wine, as shipping, storage, and packing are more efficient, compared to round bottles.  They also claim that the square bottles make “lifestyle sense” as they do not require a dedicated wine rack for storage and they won’t roll away – I am sure we can all relate to that one!

The bottle itself can also be re-used in a myriad of ways.  I have to admit, just looking at the bottle I thought of quite a few….olive oil decanter, flower vase, oil torch, water carafe, and soap dispenser. The website has few more creative ideas such as “message in a bottle,” homemade flavored vodka and “ship in a bottle.”

In a world full of gimmicks, of course, the wine inside has to stand up to the glamorous exterior, and thankfully, Truett-Hurst winemaker Ginny Lambrix has crafted the wines, produced with grapes grown using biodynamic principles, with care.  Here is a quick rundown of the three offerings:

  • California Squred Red BlendCabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles, 2012 – A base of Cabernet Sauvignon blended with a touch of Merlot and Cabernet Franc, this structured wine shows typical “Cab” aromas and flavors of blackberry, black plum, cheery, licorice and savory herb. The winemaker calls this wine a “sexy beast.” We can only hope!
  • Red Blend, Paso Robles, 2012 – A blend of 8 different lots and 5 different varieties – Petite Sirah, Syrah, Merlot, Sangiovese and Zinfandel. Each lot was individually fermented to coax maximum flavor and texture from the grapes. The resulting blend is juicy, rich, and complex with flavors of red berries, chocolate, plum and spice.
  • Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, 2012 – Produced with 100% Chardonnay, the grapes for this wine were whole cluster pressed for enhanced texture and extraction of skin flavors.  A portion of the wine (70%) was fermented in French Oak barrels with active lees stirring and MLF; the remaining wine was cold-temperature stainless steel fermented. The resulting wine shows both oaky-vanilla-tropical fruit flavors and a bit of citrus-floral-minerality as well.

“California Square” wines are available throughout the U.S. at Total Wine and More locations.

Click here to visit the California Square Wines website.

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Post authored by Jane A. Nickles, CWE – your SWE Blog Administrator – jnickles@societyofwineeducators.org



A New AVA for Santa Barbara

14956727_lThere’s a new AVA in Santa Barbara County! Officially approved on October 1, 2013, the new Ballard Canyon AVA is located within the existing Santa Ynez AVA.  With this new addition, there are now a total of five AVAs located within Santa Barbara County:  Santa Ynez Valley, Sta. Rita Hills, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara, Santa Maria Valley, and the newest member, Ballard Canyon.

Santa Barbara County, located a 90-minute drive north of Los Angeles, sits on the Southern California coast between San Luis Obispo County to the north and Ventura County to the south. The area is geologically unique in that it is one of the few places on the California Coast where both the coastline and the mountain ranges – including the Santa Ynez Mountain Range (located near the coast) and the San Rafael Mountain Range (further inland) run east-west as opposed to north-south.

The transverse nature of the region creates an east-west flow of ocean breezes off of the Pacific Ocean, as well as a diversity of soils from diatomaceous earth near the shore and chert and limestone further inland.  With such diverse terroir, it makes sense for the region to host five AVAs.

santa barbara vineyardsSanta Maria Valley – The Santa Maria Valley, 35 miles north of Santa Ynez, is the northernmost of Santa Barbara’s five AVAs, and was the first area to be officially recognized as an AVA.  The often foggy and windswept region has complex soil conditions and is known for cool weather grapes including Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The oldest commercial vineyard in Santa Barbara County, the Nielson Vineyard, was planted in 1964 in Santa Maria Valley.

Santa Ynez Valley – The region’s largest AVA, Santa Ynez Valley, is a long, east-west corridor with a diversity of climates; the cool temperatures near the coast become progressively warmer inland. Many types of grapes and wine are produced in this region, from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and botrytis-affected wines in the west to Bordeaux and Rhône varieties in the west.

Sta. Rita Hills – The Sta. Rita Hills AVA sits mostly within the larger Santa Ynez Valley AVA, on its western border, and therefore much cooler than the inland areas. Located just a few miles from the Pacific Ocean, the area generally sits under marine layer clouds and fogs in the morning.  By 10 am, the fogs burns off and gives way to a few hours of calm sunshine.  In the afternoon, the on-shore breezes pick up, giving this region an overall maritime climate well-suited to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Located between the towns of Buellton and Lompoc, the area is intersected by the Santa Ynez River.

Ballard-Canyon-IdentityBallard Canyon – Located in the center of Santa Ynez Valley, with Sta. Rita Hills to the west and Happy Canyon to the east, the area’s newest AVA enjoys the hot, sunny days of its relatively inland position, and the cool nights brought in by post-sunset ocean breezes.  At 7,800 acres (560 of which are planted), Ballard Canyon is by far the smallest AVA in Santa Barbara County.  (By comparison, Sta. Rita Hills is 64,000 acres.) Ballard Canyon is planted heavily towards the Rhône varieties of Syrah, Grenache, Roussanne, and Viognier, as well as Sangiovese, Sauvignon Blanc, and other international varieties.

Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara – First recognized as an AVA in 2009, Happy Canyon is located to the east of the Santa Ynez Valley, making this one of the warmest areas in Santa Barbara County.  Summertime temperatures often reach the low to mid-nineties.  The region specializes in Bordeaux and Rhône varietals.  Local lore suggests that the name of the region comes from the time of Prohibition when bootleg alcohol was produced in the region, prompting folks to “take a trip to Happy Canyon.”

Some beautiful maps of the AVAs of Santa Barbara can be found on the website of the Santa Barbara County Vintners’ Association: http://sbcountywines.com/vineyards/map.html.

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Post authored by Jane A. Nickles, CWE – your SWE Blog Administrator – jnickles@societyofwineeducators.org