The dicing up of the Santa Ynez Valley into distinct wine-growing appellations continues, as a proposal to carve out the Los Olivos District moved forward this week when the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) officially began accepting public comments on the idea.
First conceived of more than 10 years ago by pioneering winemaker Fred Brander, the nearly 23,000-acre Los Olivos District American Viticultural Area (or AVA) would cover the relatively flat landscape between the existing AVAs of Ballard Canyon to the west (which is slightly cooler) and Happy Canyon to the east (slightly warmer), extending south to the Santa Ynez River and north to 1,000 feet in elevation.
“It is fairly flat, with rolling hills,” said Brander. “It’s an alluvial plain, pretty much what you find in Napa around Oakville or Yountville, where, at the base of the mountains, the slopes go flat toward the river. We have that same type of thing.”
Due to that gentle topography, the Los Olivos District features the Positas-Ballard-Santa Ynez soil series almost exclusively, said Brander, explaining, “We have more consistency in the soil and that makes for more uniformity.” He believes those soils and the moderate warmth allows for many types of Mediterranean grapes to thrive, particularly syrah, cabernet sauvignon, sauvignon blanc, sangiovese, and “maybe even some of the Spanish varietals.”
If approved as proposed, the Los Olivos District AVA would include 13 wineries, 47 commercial vineyards, and the four towns of Solvang, Los Olivos, Ballard, and Santa Ynez. With the addition of Los Olivos District to Ballard Canyon, Happy Canyon, and the Sta. Rita Hills on the far west between Buellton and Lompoc, there would only be small pockets of the original Santa Ynez Valley AVA that are not covered by one of the four sub-appellations. Of those pockets, only Foxen Canyon producers have shown any interest in forming their own AVA.
Brander expects his proposal to move forward with relative ease, as all have been supportive in the handful of meetings held over the past five years. “There hasn’t been really any opposition,” said Brander, who believes that’s because the region is already bordered by appellations. “We really don’t have much to argue about.”
The TTB will take comments for 60 days, until May 2. “If there is no significant opposition,” said Brander, “then they can speed it through.”