After a nearly two-hour drive up the snaking, seemingly never-ending Highway 33 from Ventura, you hit Ventucopa and the Cuyama Valley, nestled in the far northeastern corner of Santa Barbara County. With an elevation approaching 2,900 feet, this is the high desert in all its glory.
It’s also where you’ll find the aptly named Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard, owned by the Arroyo Grande–based Laetitia Winery (which formerly called it the Barnwood Vineyard). The vines are tended by Lino Bozzano, a Central Valley transplant who doesn’t mind the challenge of growing grapes in arguably Santa Barbara’s most extreme region. There are 13 different varieties nestled within the 747 acres of vines, most of which are planted in an ancient riverbed extending from the usually dry Cuyama River.
The best sites are on the plateaus at about 3,200 feet, on the west side of the river. Unofficially dubbed Alta Mesa, the high elevation, huge diurnal temperature shifts, heavy and dense alluvial clay soils, and steady winds make for a merciless place to grow grapes — but that’s also what makes it incredibly distinct.