Clarifying Santa Maria Valley’s Wine Zone

Region Renowned for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay Gets New American Viticultural Area Borders

When the Santa Maria Valley American Viticultural Area, or AVA, was created back in 1981, few realized how renowned the region would become for producing award-winning pinot noirs and chardonnays. As such, the borders were drawn rather haphazardly, using roads and freeways as boundaries rather than the geographical traits that truly made the region special. That will all change in one month, however, when the Santa Maria AVA’s new boundaries — which will adhere to the earth-bound realities rather than manmade markers — become official.

Nicholas Miller
Click to enlarge photo

Chris Leshinsky

Nicholas Miller

“This has been a long process, but very rewarding to see come to fruition,” said Nicholas Miller, whose family owns Bien Nacido and Solomon Hills vineyards and who started working on this change nearly five years ago. “The Santa Maria Valley AVA is the oldest AVA in Santa Barbara County and, when it was put together, no one envisioned the growth that our county would enjoy for vineyards. So the original lines were arbitrarily drawn on lines on a map that coincided with roads and the 101 freeway.” In so doing, numerous vineyards whose grapes benefit from the recognized Santa Maria characteristics were left out of the loop, unable to proclaim the regional affiliation due to federal law.

“It is pretty big news,” confirmed Jim Fiolek of the Santa Barbara County Vintners Association. “It now goes by drainage and geologic/soil/coastal-climatic influence, not Clark Avenue.”

The change — which was announced on December 29, will go into effect on January 28, and adds nearly 19,000 new acres to the appellation’s existing 97,000 acres — allows Miller to now officially include all of his Solomon Hills vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley AVA. “We will now have a geographically correct AVA with boundaries drawn on logical landmarks, such as watersheds,” said Miller. “This will take in a few vineyards that were orphaned in no man’s land outside any AVA and in some cases take in vineyards that were partially in and partially out.” Other vineyards that will now be included in the Santa Maria Valley AVA are Rancho Real, Addamo, Pres’quile, Rancho Ontiveros, Le Bon Climat, part of Louie Lucas’ Goodchild Vineyard, and Foxen’s Ma Mare and Tiniquac vineyards.

Since the move will only bring good tidings for the vineyards involved, it’s not surprising to learn that it was wholeheartedly supported by all. “This is a positive step forward for the whole Santa Maria Valley AVA,” said Miller. “Unlike other areas that have created controversies around adjusting AVA lines, this adjustment was a community effort with 100 percent support and no opposition.”

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