A Sustainability Leader, Santa Barbara County Is the Wine Region of the Year | Wine Enthusiast’s 2021 Wine Star Awards

Saarloos and Sons Vineyard, Ballard Canyon / Photo by George Rose

With a stunning diversity of microclimates, a thriving culinary scene and a small yet cosmopolitan seaside city as its cultural core, Santa Barbara County is a wine lover’s paradise.

Whether you prefer Chardonnay from the Santa Maria Valley, Pinot Noir from the Sta. Rita Hills, Syrah from Ballard Canyon, Sauvignon Blanc from the Los Olivos District, Cabernet Sauvignon from Happy Canyon or even Gamay Noir from Alisos Canyon, there’s an appellation and grape variety for every palate, thanks to a unique geography of valleys that open directly onto the cold Pacific Ocean.

The same diversity exists for tasting experiences—lavish estates, cozy cottages, urban warehouses and waterfront tables are all within a short drive of each other. 

Santa Barbara County is also a leader in sustainability, as it is home to some of the country’s first organic, biodynamic and regenerative vineyards.

But people count here, too. There’s a higher proportion of female winemakers in this region than anywhere else in California. Additionally, an increasing number of wineries elevate visibility of and opportunities for farm workers through special bottlings and scholarships.

For these reasons and more, Santa Barbara County is the 2021 Wine Star Award winner for Wine Region of the Year.

Wine Enthusiast's 2021 Wine Star Award Winners

“We’re absolutely thrilled to have been selected as the top winemaking region and destination this year, especially among such a brilliant group of regions,” says Alison Laslett, CEO of Santa Barbara Vintners (Santa Barbara County Vintners Association). “Santa Barbara County has always offered incredible options when it comes to growing and creating some of the finest wines in the world. We love seeing our region achieve an international reputation among wine enthusiasts and newcomers alike.”

Tim Snider, board member of Santa Barbara Vintners and president of Fess Parker Winery, believes that the past two decades of learning were critical to Santa Barbara County’s evolution.

“We’ve learned where the best places are to grow specific varietals, our vineyards have matured and our winemakers understand how to work with the fruit,” says Snider. “In my opinion, the overall quality and balanced style of Santa Barbara wines has never been better.”

He also credits the region’s highly regulated zoning for positive results, despite the challenges.

“Our communities have done really well at balancing the growth of tasting rooms, new restaurants and high-end accommodations without compromising our down-to-earth, small-town atmosphere,” he says. “This is a great place to get away and recharge—it is still easy and approachable.”

Nicholas Miller, also a board member for Santa Barbara Vintners as well as vice president of sales and marketing for his family’s brand, The Thornhill Companies, agrees that now is the region’s time to shine. His family has been a part of the Central Coast wine scene for five generations and planted the iconic Bien Nacido Vineyard nearly 50 years ago.

“My family has been farming in the Santa Maria Valley since the early 1970s, and I don’t think we’ve ever seen such an exciting time in the Santa Barbara wine industry as we see today,” he says. “For as closely knit and unified as we are as a region, we are equally diverse.”

Calling the Wine Star Award a “tremendous honor,” Miller says, “we are all aware of what a geographically small region we are in the wine world, so to receive recognition like this certainly is an affirmation for what we are all trying to accomplish across Santa Barbara County.”

Published on November 4, 2021