For years, the Santa Ynez Valley AVA (American Viticultural Area) in California’s Santa Barbara County quietly produced excellent wine while being dwarfed by the imposing shadow of the Napa and Sonoma Valleys to the north. Grapes have been grown in this region for more than 200 years (mostly by Franciscan Friars), but it’s just in the past 25 years that vineyards have become prevalent in this fertile valley.

In the 1970s, Brooks Firestone, heir to the tire-manufacturing fortune and father of Andrew “The Bachelor” Firestone, was one of the first to plant a wide variety of vines in the Santa Ynez Valley. The region is now home to more than 50 wineries, including Au Bon Climat, Babcock Vineyards, Fess Parker Winery, Foley Estates, Gainey Vineyard, Qupe, Sanford Winery, Summerland and Zaca Mesa Winery.

Despite its proximity to sunny Southern California, the Santa Ynez Valley is considered a cool climate grape-growing region similar to regions like Bordeaux in France. The Santa Ynez mountain ranges are transverse (east-west) which means that cool air picked up from the nearby Pacific Ocean creates a constant breeze through the valley, providing a temperate climate and long growing season. This type of environment is ideal for growing grapes like Pinot Noir, Syrah and Chardonnay.

The recent notoriety of this region can be credited in large part to the huge success of the movie “Sideways,” in which the Santa Barbara Wine Country plays a starring role. The movie — which won Golden Globes for Best Picture and Best Screenplay, and is expected to be nominated for an Academy Award — is a funny, poignant tale of two college buddies who embark on a bonding wine-tasting trip down the central California coast. This film will have you cracking up, and longing for the perfect glass of Pinot Noir. Check out the web site at to learn more about the movie, and about wine.

DWO Announces January Wine Down Wednesday
By now you’re probably itching to try some wines from the Santa Ynez Valley AVA, and the DWO is happy to oblige. We will kick off our 2005 Wine Down Wednesday series at the January 26 tasting entitled “A Sideways Trip Through the Santa Ynez Valley” from 6-8 p.m. at Union Street in downtown Detroit.

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