The New Rhône Zone

Ballard Canyon may be small, but its ambition is anything but. Look out wine world, here comes Santa Barbara County’s scrappiest AVA yet.


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Ballard Canyon vineyard owners say there's wine gold in these hills and valleys.

With Ballard Canyon set to become an official American Viticultural Area (AVA) this year, its vineyard owners and winemakers are already calling it a Rhône capital.

“We chose to emphasize Rhône varieties because they were the best in the valley, and very different from nearby Santa Rita Hills or Happy Canyon,” says Michael Larner, winemaker and viticulturalist of Larner Vineyard & Winery.

And this isn’t new-AVA chest beating. Its eight wineries—Larner, Rusack, Jonata, Stolpman, Beckmen, Harrison Clarke, Jorian Hills and Windmill Ranch—have a solid track record for Rhône-inspired varieties, both red and white.

Wines from established producers like Rusack, Stolpman and Beckmen have been impressive for years, while newcomers, such as Jonata, are showing great promise.

Thanks to being smack-dab in the middle of the Santa Ynez Valley, the region boasts hot days. But after sunset, cooler Pacific-borne air sweeps in fast and furiously in what Peter Stolpman dubs the “wind tunnel effect.”

“And those cool nights are certainly key,” says Matt Dees, winemaker at Jonata. “Ballard Canyon is tailor-made to grow incredibly concentrated wines with a very intense edge. We’re learning what our little area does best.”


Ballard Canyon’s appellation is expected to be approved this year and will include about 7,800 acres of rolling hills and canyons, of which only 560 acres hold grapevines. The AVA would span elevations ranging from the valley floor to 1,000-foot mesa tops.

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