Winemakers Celebrate 10 Years of Wine Joy in Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara County
While winemakers have had much success in Santa Barbara County with pinot noir and chardonnay, those making wine from the vineyards of Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara are having their own success.
This small AVA (the smallest of Santa Barbara County) has gathered many accolades for its cabernet sauvignon and Bordeaux blends since the AVA was formally approved in 2009.
Greg Martellotto, whose Martellotto Winery produces several Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara wines, says “10 years on, a small number of producers are very happy indeed.”
Bordeaux Varieties Thrive in this Happy Place
What makes this area different from the rest of Santa Barbara County? Here Bordeaux grape varieties thrive, especially cabernet sauvignon. The location, climate, elevation, aspect, and soils are unique in the County and are perfect for these grape varieties.
Happy Canyon lies in the easternmost part of Santa Barbara County (about 12 miles from the coast) and is the furthest inland. It also sits at higher elevation than elsewhere in the county.
This area is unusual because of a rare intersection of mountain ranges, The Santa Ynez mountain range runs from the Pacific coast to the east. The San Rafael mountain range, on the eastern edge of the county, runs north to south.
What this creates is a channel in-between the two ranges for the cool marine currents and fog to move into the canyon early and late in the day. During the summer, warmer air gets trapped in the canyon keeping it hot and dry.
This distinct geography provides for a greater temperature variation (diurnal temperature swing) between day and night than elsewhere in the county. It also provides for temperatures that are warmer than the rest of the county.
Soil types here are very poor, which is good for grapevines, and include:
- Alluvial soils at lower elevations
- Shale, clays and loams on steeper, well-drained slopes
The unique aspect of the soils is that there is a higher level of magnesium here than elsewhere and less sodium, aiding in nutrient uptake in the vines.
The Multi-layered Wines of Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara Wines
The Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara AVA lies on the western flank of the San Rafael mountains, so the vineyards face south-southwest. Summer is dry and hot with strong sunlight allowing Bordeaux grape varieties to ripen.
Other areas of Santa Barbara are too cool for these varieties, especially cabernet sauvignon, to mature properly.
Bordeaux varieties grown here include: cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, petit verdot, and malbec. Sauvignon blanc grows well here also.
The wines here are distinct for several reasons:
- Low yields and concentrated flavors due to gravely loam and clay soils with few nutrients
- Deeper flavors because the grapes ripen so well here at higher elevation (like the Uco Valley of Argentina)
- Increased complexity because the additional flavor aspect develops before the sugars do
Martellotto Winery Makes the Happiest Wines Around
Wines made from Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara County fruit yield very high-quality Bordeaux style wines. Tasting these intricate wines is an experience to remember. Many of these compare to the best Bordeaux-style wines from around the world.
There are several major vineyards in the area, but no tasting rooms and only one winery. You can try these wines in many places throughout Santa Barbara County though.
Martellotto Winery produces several Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara wines such as Riserva "Il Capoccia" and "La Bomba" Cabernet Sauvignon, both award-winning wines. He also makes “La Rosa” Rose and “My Way” Malbec from Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara fruit.