The year 2013, now winding to a close, was a progressive one for the wine industry in Santa Barbara County.

In three words: climate, terroir and leadership.

  • A growth season of moderate temperatures, minimal rainfall and little-to-no frost damage translated into a second year of above-average yield, and, across the board, optimal grape quality. The winemakers with whom I frequently chat are elated about Vintage 2013.
  • The formalization Oct. 30 of a fifth American Viticultural Area (AVA) within Santa Barbara County is another effort by growers and winemakers to spotlight the climate and soils of a special corner of the region.

From initial research to finalization of its borders by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), Ballard Canyon the AVA was three years in the making. A key player: winemaker Wes Hagen of Clos Pepe Estate, whose talent for terroir research also led to the formation of the Sta. Rita Hills and Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara appellations.

(During an industry and media celebration Nov. 15, Hagen wore a “Three Peat” T-shirt that he encouraged attendees to sign).

Most of the grapevines planted within the new Ballard Canyon AVA are syrah (274 acres); the second most widely planted grape is grenache (61 acres). And while syrah thrives throughout Santa Barbara County, those who cultivate it within Ballard Canyon’s 7,800 acres are convinced they’re onto something special.

Most of the vineyards along and above the winding Ballard Canyon Road cover hillsides. And many of those rolling hills contain soils rich with limestone deposits.

Simply put, limestone is tiny shells and micro-skeletons, and soil full of limestone is worshipped by viticulturists the world over for its excellent drainage, heat retention and natural acidity.

Ballard Canyon joins the country’s other AVAs: Santa Ynez Valley, Sta. Rita Hills, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara and Santa Maria Valley.

  • Winemakers large and small continued to craft award-winning wines from the various grape varietals that flourish in our climate, among them pinot noir, chardonnay, syrah, grenache, malbec, sauvignon blanc, mourvedre and several Italian and German varietals.

Helping those local wines get global recognition is Morgen McLaughlin, new executive director of the county’s largest and oldest industry association, the Santa Barbara County Vintners’ Association (SBCVA).

Under her leadership, the SBCVA is about to debut a new website, and McLaughlin continues to network with other county, state, national and global associations to bring more and more attention — and consumers — to our region.

  • The 40th anniversary of Bien Nacido Vineyards, the 800-acre historic property on Santa Maria Mesa Road east of Santa Maria.
  • And finally, the announcement that Santa Barbara County will host the 2014 Wine Bloggers’ Conference. The event will take place at the Marriott Hotel in Buellton from July 11 to 13, as well as at specific destinations throughout the region.

Coming Dec. 22: Sparklers to welcome 2014.

Freelance writer Laurie Jervis can be reached at winecountrywriter@gmail.com. Her blog is www.centralcoastwinepress.com.

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