The Sta. Rita Hills– a special part of Santa Barbara County Wine Country

It’s been more than a week since I shared about our visit to the Santa Barbara County wine country. It’s easy to show beautiful photos. Everything about this region is beautiful. Aim the camera in any direction and I have something I can say about the endless hills, the coastal fog and spectacular growing regions.

But about the wineries…

The wineries themselves are a more complex story to tell. They are businesses, surely, but businesses built upon a family’s vision and dreams joined with years of hard work. There are family histories, and I feel protective that I not reduce their significance by sharing them in captions.


I’m fairly certain that not everyone who stops by is automatically  attracted to the stories behind the founding of successful California winegrowing enterprises, but I think if you take a moment to consider the risks involved for growers and their families, and the drive and determination to overcome those risks, you can’t help but admire their dedication. And enjoy their end-result.

California’s wine growing regions cover more than 700 miles and include more than 100 American Viticulture Areas.  And the Sta. Rita Hills AVA, part of the larger Santa Ynez Valley AVA, includes the cities of Lompoc and Buellton, which we visited during our Santa Barbara County wine country experience.

Why do I go on with so much detail about the geography? I’m glad you asked!


There’s a French word, new to me within this context, that brings it all together. Terroir. Discussing grapes and wine production in a state the size of California, it’s necessary to distinguish the different geographic features– the soil, weather conditions and growing techniques. Terroir may specifically be referring to the soil, but in viticulture, it also hints at  all the other geographic qualities that are attributed to the grapes.


The Santa Rita Hills, sometimes written Sta. Rita Hills, is a relatively small district with a very distinct microclimate that has contributed to an international reputation for its Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The area is only 12 miles from the Pacific Ocean, and as the cooler ocean air meets the warmer inland areas the resulting fog rolls in and modifies the temperatures. Cooler nights and warm days seem to produce just the perfect microclimate for these particular grapes.


I mentioned in my previous post that this is the region celebrated so uniquely in the movie “Sideways.” In that movie, Paul Giamatti, as Miles, had a wine fixation on Pinot Noir.

I stumbled upon a 2010 on-line Wall Street Journal article written by Jay McInerney that made me smile as he very descriptively mentions his first taste of Chardonnay from the Santa Rita Hills.

“On the one hand, it was very ripe and fleshy, and on the other, it had a bracing acidic slap that I associated with cool-climate whites and even a mineral note, which you seldom find in New World wines. It was a little like meeting Jessica Simpson, only to have her start speaking perfect French in Carla Bruni’s voice.”

Now doesn’t that get your attention?

And we enjoyed our own glass of Chardonnay at Melville Winery, located in the Sta. Rita Hills appellation in Lompoc, California. The Mediterranean-style winery is hospitable, delightfully comfortable and gracious.


I’ll share more about the Melville Vineyards and Winery, as well as the family and team, when I return next time. And then I’ll follow with highlights from Mosby Winery &Vineyard in Buellton, distinguished from the others by its Italian Varietals, and then Alma Rosa, also in Buellton, a family story I find particularly interesting and inspiring.

If you don’t come back for the grapes, do come back for the stories. And maybe just a few more photos from this beautiful area. I am already contemplating our next visit.

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49 thoughts on “The Sta. Rita Hills– a special part of Santa Barbara County Wine Country

  1. That quote is just so clever! I do wish we had better access to the wines of California. They’re not all that common here but that probably has something to do with the dollar and the distance – wines from NZ are much more affordable! I’d love to visit the wineries of California one day xx

  2. This will sound odd….I don’t drink wine but am fascinated with the ‘idea’ of it. I will look forward to the family stories and the dedications and building up their wineries. I love that part!

    1. Your thought that without an interest in drinking wine you have a fascination in the idea of it doesn’t surprise me. I really understand that. I don’t honestly know that much about the wines themselves, but I am very in tune with the land itself and the conditions that create good table wine. So I think it’s the combination of art and science that probably interests you like it does me. I would love to really know more…so I’ll probably be forced to take more trips, don’t you think? LOL!

      1. More trips are a must! Actually I think even more than the stories of land and wine, I would be fascinated with the stories of the families that started these wineries. What made them do it? What did it (land) look like when they saw it and made them think….this is it! This is where we plant our future!!! Who were these families???

    1. The way that wine is distributed across the country is another whole interesting topic. I don’t know that much about it, but I’m quite sure California isn’t eager to introduce too many east coast wines. For one thing, it’s probably to expensive to shop and transport when we have plenty here. That’s my guess…or competition? I would enjoy knowing more about domestic wines from east coast regions. Maybe that will be one of my next quests! 🙂

  3. I can’t say I really know much about your beautiful wine countries, but I would like to get to know them better.
    Your photos really capture the serenity of the area 😀

    Choc Chip Uru

    1. The world is so large and there are so many beautiful places and I just think it’s tremendous that we can share from our own localities. As you can tell, Uru, I’m really crazy about this particular spot…you may end up getting to know it very well. I’ll try to know when to stop talking about it. hahaha!

    1. Thank you, Kathy! All is well here, and I hope for you, too. 🙂 I think it’s not at all necessary to enjoy the wine itself to find a true appreciation for this beautiful region. We traveled with some who are much more knowledgeable than we, and that was fun. I learned a lot from them!

    1. I am certainly not an expert at all on the wine itself, Jo. I appreciate the growing season and the science and art of the different regional wines, but my knowledge is really limited. Maybe if I visit the wine regions more frequently I will learn a little more–I will use that as my excuse! Education! 🙂

    1. I can really see you guys enjoying this area, Andra. You need to come and do nothing but sit, though. Those poor feet need a rest. Thanks for asking about my dad. He is supposed to be out of the hospital tomorrow. Fingers crossed. 🙂

  4. dandyknife

    Allow me to stop listening to the gale-force winds for a moment, and imagine the sunshine on my back and the warm earth below my sandaled feet… ahh…
    Looking forward to your winery family stories.

  5. We are fortunate in Ireland to have wine from all over the world – Australia right across to California. My visits to wineries were when I lived in Germany over forty years ago. I found the stories behind them very interesting. I am now reliving the old memories while enjoying your stories of the Santa Rita Hills.

  6. Pingback: Catalina in a Bottle: Rusack’s Santa Catalina Island Wines Make a Big Splash | LAwonders

  7. Finally doing some catching up, Debra, and here you are, taking me on your journey with my head up in the clouds. I would love to see this region, even more so with your photos and added commentary. You know, my friend, you really bring California history, culture, and regions alive in your posts.

    I’ve had a post simmering for a bit, ripening on the vine, I suppose, about the movie “A Walk in the Clouds”. Your posts, especially this one, have me moving it up the queue to post (and wanting to see it again).

  8. My you live in such a beautiful state! It is so diverse and has so much to offer. You have certainly been a fabulous ambassador too! With every new post I learn a little something new!

  9. Hi Deb! It’s the morning after your earthquake and I hope things are OK. It is so funny how I knew what was going on. I was just getting ready for bed and thought I would quickly run through some tweets to see what was happening. Your tweet was the first one I saw. To confirm things I Googled for info but nothing came up, the evening news was on the television but nothing was said and then I looked for the hashtag earthquake on twitter and there I had it confirmed. I immediately became worried for not only you but also for the state of California. I see now it was a 5.1 but how scary!

    1. Good old Twitter! I’m just now starting to really understand how much fun it can be to explore trending topics. It took me a long time to get onboard! It was really fun, and somehow a little comforting, to hear from you last night. Thank you!

  10. Still chuckling over that quote, Debra. It’s amazing to me how California’s wines have grown in stature over the past 20 years. It really is one of America’s great success stories. BTW, I like hte new layout. Today’s header photo is a real beauty. 🙂

  11. Sounds wonderful. Our only trip to the area was too short for true exploration. From the Santa Barbara airport, we drove to Los Olivos (I think) for wine and lunch. Then to Fess Parker were we sat for some time as we chatted with 2 ladies from your area. A great time …. then it was back in the car to Paso Robles. At the end of the week, we stopped in Solvang and passed through Buelton before going to the airport. All this means reasons for a return trip!

      1. I’m so glad you liked the quote I shared regarding California Chardonnay, John. I also thought it was so funny, and clever. Thank you, also, for noticing the change in the header photo. I have fallen in love with that photo and think I need to see if it will blow up to a nice size for printing. At the time I took the photo I didn’t see the “hippie bus” on the road. I was focused on the valley below, and when I eventually saw all that was going on in that scene I was so thrilled. Thank you for noticing! 🙂

  12. Sounds like a lovely experience. Have you tried Rozak wines from Santa Rosa I believe? I actually tasted a Rozak at a vineyard in Newport Beach and it was quite satisfying. I know not quite the description that Giamatti so beautifully quotes.

    1. I’m so glad you stopped by, Susie. I am also so glad to hear that you know Santa Barbara. It is special and I often wish I could direct more people to go to that part of the coast, bypassing areas that often more publicized. If a person is hoping to relax and recharge, this is where they might best be served! I hope you have the opportunity to visit again. 🙂

  13. The fact that you looked different aspects of wineries and not just go to it, wander around and drink makes it all great. Thanks for the share. You gave wineries a good name. 😉

    1. I am looking forward to sharing a bit more about some of the wineries, Rommel. I know that not everyone finds them as interesting as I do, but the point is, I DO! 🙂 The families who are associated with them have such interesting stories. I’m glad you enjoyed my little introduction. Thank you!

I always enjoy hearing from you!

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