Key Grape Varieties of Santa Barbara Wine Country


From Chardonnay to Pinot Noir, Syrah to Grenache, Santa Barbara and its relatively diverse sub-AVAs are demonstrating that Santa Barbara is a world-class cool climate growing region and one of the most beautiful places on Earth.


Chardonnay is the most widely planted wine grape (+7,500 acres) in Santa Barbara County. It’s a super-star wine that derives its best expression from the cool cradles of Santa Maria Valley and Sta. Rita Hills yet is often considered reflective of a winemaker’s style.

Chardonnay in Santa Barbara Country covers a huge range of styles and tends to take on the winemaker’s signature easily Chardonnay here can range from a buttery, ripe, rich and oaky profile to a fruit-driven, lean and crisp style. The best Chardonnays in Santa Barbara County display the mineral qualities and racy acidity derived from the cool climate with the complexity and broad texture provided by the long, consistent growing season. This is the style Samsara has harnessed in it’s single-vineyard Chardonnays as well as its Sta. Rita Hills blend.

Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir is the second most widely planted grape variety in Santa Barbara County. Due to climate and geography the most complex and interesting Pinot noirs come out of Sta. Rita Hills, Santa Maria Valley, and the Los Alamos Valley. Pinot noir is able to thrive in marginal, harsh sites with cool temperatures, breezes and poor soils, which occur on hillsides and ridges throughout the Sta. Rita Hills.

While flavor profiles can change from appellation to appellation and even site to site, distinct differences in Pinot Noir can be noted between the Sta. Rita Hills and the Santa Maria Valley Pinots due to the substantially different soils found in these two regions. Santa Maria Valley Pinot noirs tend to be darker both in taste and color – whereas the Sta. Rita Hills Pinot noirs carry a fine-grained tannin that provides structure and a vibrant, earthy spiciness and bright fruit character. These Sta. Rita Hills characteristics are those that SAMsARA is noted for.


Syrah may well be the gem of Santa Barbara County, in terms of high-quality production and great value.

Syrah grows incredibly well in Santa Barbara County, and can be reminiscent of Northern Rhone bottlings due to the cool climate, when produced in a more old-world style. Syrah is the 3rd most widely planted grape varietal behind Pinot and Chardonnay, but still is planted in relatively small amounts. It can be found in nearly every AVA in Santa Barbara with styles varying from vineyard to vineyard. Syrah grown in Sta. Rita Hills is often fermented with high percentages of whole cluster, giving the wines a spiciness, balanced tannin profile and ability to age beautifully. In the warmer AVAs, the Syrah is noticeably more full-bodied and fruit-forward, especially when picked very ripe and de-stemmed before fermentation.

Typical aromas found in Syrah include smoked meats, olives, garrigue and dark fruits, which combine in a complex bouquet and intriguing palate.


Originally grown in the warmer parts of the southern Rhône Valley, Grenache can handle hot temperatures, but becomes infinitely more elegant and supple when grown in a more moderate climate like Santa Barbara County.

Still small in number (484+ acres), Santa Barbara County’s Grenache producers are a proud and dedicated bunch, and the grape is slowly emerging from the shadow of its more popular Rhône sibling, Syrah. A late-ripening varietal, cool-climate Grenache grows incredibly well in Santa Barbara thanks to the fairly dry and long growing season, which tends to produce juicy, not overly tannic wines with savory, berry-rich notes, the best of which only get better with age.

Samsara’s Grenache from Larner Vineyard in Ballard Canyon shows just how elegant cool-climate Grenache can be with fragrant blackberry, red currant fruits and soft, floral notes, opening up to juicy fruits and savory herbs on the palate. These wines can also age beautifully due to their depth and broad texture as youngsters.

Cabernet Sauvignon

With roughly 466+ acres dedicated to it, Cabernet Sauvignon grows well in the warmer areas of Santa Barbara County, including Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara on the eastern side of the Santa Ynez Valley as well as the newly designated Los Olivos District. Warm days and cool nights during the growing season allow for even ripening of the grapes, which tend to produce full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignons with notes of sweet spices and black currant.

With geography and climate that is among the most enviable in the world, it is no wonder that the Santa Barbara County wine industry has earned a growing international reputation for excellent fruit and winemaking.