California’s Best-Kept Wine Secrets

From Cabernet Sauvignon to Zinfandel, California’s Napa and Sonoma counties continue to fashion outstanding California wines, but these prized areas are far from the only games in town. Many of California’s most compelling wines now flow from two little-known American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) tucked into the hills of Santa Barbara County: the delightfully named Ballard Canyon and Happy Canyon. Together, these small AVAs are producing compelling Syrahs and Cabernet Sauvignons that outperform many of the better known and more expensive red wines from Napa and Sonoma.

Ballard Canyon - StolpmanBallard Canyon

Ballard Canyon enjoys its own distinctive AVA within Santa Barbara County, thanks to pioneers Tom, Judy, and Steve Beckmen of Beckmen Vineyards, Tom Stolpman of Stolpman Vineyards, and several other like-minded individuals who recognized the unique climate and terroir of Ballard Canyon decades ago and pioneered its planting.

Ballard Canyon enjoys cool maritime influences from the Santa Rita Hills to the west and warmer temperatures from Happy Canyon to the east. With wind, soil, and climate all conducive to the production of great Syrah, Ballard Canyon has become a premier source for exceptional Syrah.

Possessing the finesse and complex aromatic profiles of the finest Syrah from France’s Rhône Valley, as well as the beautiful fruit and physiologically ripe tannins that make California’s red wines so appealing, Ballard Canyon truly shines with Syrah, so much so that Ballard Canyon is becoming synonymous with great Syrah throughout the world. What Napa Valley is to great Cabernet Sauvignon, Ballard Canyon now is to Syrah.

Happy CanyonHappy Canyon

Happy Canyon is emerging as one of California’s most exciting wine regions for the production of Bordeaux varietals. It is one of the smallest and least traveled viticultural areas of California, yet in spite of its diminutive size, Happy Canyon and its splendid hillside vineyards are making big names for themselves among savvy Cabernet drinkers.

Located at the far end of the Santa Ynez Valley, in the easternmost part of Santa Barbara County, Happy Canyon and its pastoral surroundings first gained renown for their premier orchards and sprawling cattle and horse ranches. It wasn’t until 1996 that vineyards first emerged on Happy Canyon’s bucolic hillsides. However, it didn’t take long to realize the canyon’s viticultural potential; with only a handful of vineyards and a tiny production, Happy Canyon gained its own official American Viticultural Area (AVA) designation in 2009.

Happy Canyon enjoys the warmest climate in Santa Barbara County, and the AVA’s unique microclimate and magnesium-rich, serpentine-laced soils provide ideal growing conditions for Cabernet Sauvignon and other high quality Bordeaux varietals – all of which are making cri
tics and wine lovers swoon.

Westerly and parent producer Crown Point Vineyards are two of the most compelling ventures in Happy Canyon. As one would expect, with a growing reputation for outstanding wines and only eight vineyards and three bona fide wineries to its name, Happy Canyon’s hand-crafted wines are highly allocated. Perhaps, the secret is already out?