A Profile of Santa Maria's Famous Pinot Noir

Karen Frazier
Pinot Noir Grapes

If you saw the movie Sideways, then you may have at least a passing acquaintance with Santa Maria Pinot Noir. Many people believe that some of the world's best Pinot Noir wines come from this California wine region. What is it that makes the Pinot Noir wines from Santa Maria so special?

About the Santa Maria Valley

The Santa Maria Valley wine region has what many consider to be ideal soil and temperature conditions for growing the finicky Pinot Noir grape. It is an area where the mountains meet the sea, and fog frequently rolls in off the waters to cool the vineyards. Due to moderate temperatures which can fluctuate as much as 40 degrees in a single day, the Pinot Noir grapes grown in the Santa Maria Valley are able to mature on the vine for about 20 percent longer than grapes in other growing regions. This additional 20 percent of growing time allows for a later harvest of grapes, which concentrates flavors and brings a lushness to Santa Maria Pinot Noir that is found in only a few other Pinot Noir growing wine regions in the world.

The soil of the Santa Maria Valley, which sits on California's central coast, is primarily volcanic ash. This imparts a spiciness and complexity to the wines which are created there.

Santa Maria Pinot Noir

While other grapes are grown in Santa Maria, Pinot Noir is the star. The Pinot Noir wines from Santa Maria are redolent with lush dark cherries, spice and more than a hint of earthiness. These are not the elegant and refined Old World style Pinot Noir wines of the Burgundy region. Instead, they are juicy wines which contain a heady and powerful combination of fruit and flavors which include cola nut, dark cherries, smoked meats and earth. While this is due in large part to the conditions under which the fruit is grown, the winemakers in the Santa Maria Valley also contribute largely to the boldness with which the wines are made.

The Santa Maria Valley has a number of younger, edgier winemakers who are willing to try out new techniques for making wines. The result is often a New World style wine that excites the palate and has created a new generation of Pinot Noir lovers.

Santa Maria Wineries

Winemaking is an art that is steeped in tradition. In the Santa Maria Valley, many winemakers are bucking those traditions and producing amazing new wines which are attracting quite a following. Here are just a few of the wineries in the Santa Maria Valley which specialize in Pinot Noir:

  • Kenneth Volk Vineyards has a unique philosophy. The winemaker, Kenneth Volk, believes that the style of the wine should be dictated by the vineyard. Because of this, single vineyard bottlings from this winemaker come in styles which range from elegant and refined to bold and lush. The Pinot Noir wines from Kenneth Volk Vineyards are quite moderately priced from about $20 to $40 per bottle.
  • The Byron Vineyard and Winery produces roughly 13,000 cases of Pinot Noir per year. The vineyard produces just one type of Pinot Noir - the Estate Bottled Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir, which is moderately priced at roughly $30 per bottle.
  • Cambria's estate grown and bottled Pinot Noir wines are primarily single vineyard bottlings which are well-rated by wine critics. The wines are mid-priced wines with a price range spanning from about $25 per bottle to well over $50.

These are just a few of the many makers of Pinot Noir in the Santa Maria Valley. Stop by your local wine retailer to see which Pinot Noir wines they recommend from this up and coming wine region; or, if you're in the Santa Barbara area, take a drive through the verdant vineyards and taste some of the world's tastiest Pinot Noir.

A Profile of Santa Maria's Famous Pinot Noir