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Winemaking History of Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara had the good fortune of being the site of one of the numerous California Missions built by the Franciscan Brothers in the late 18th century. The good brothers needed altar wine and a source of reliable drink. Wells and stored water had a habit of becoming contaminated.

Whether by choice or necessity they used a variety, now known as Mission, a variety of uncertain origin, but hardy and productive. It produced a very rough wine, suitable for the altar, but it must have made the more worldly members of the Order long for the wines of Europe.

In the late 19th century Santa Barbara became an important producer for the San Francisco Market. Santa Cruz Island, 20 miles off the coast at Santa Barbara, was one of the principal suppliers. With large vineyards of Zinfandel they grew, made and shipped their wine by boat to San Francisco. This economic model was probably doomed to fail once other vineyards were established closer to the city and in the early 20th century production declined and was finally killed off by prohibition.

There were other wineries, smaller wineries that satisfied the local market. Of these, the Packard winery, although abandoned, the building existed until the late 1950s when it was replaced by a gas station. The gas station has suffered a similar fate but has not engendered the same nostalgia.

The modern era began in 1962 with the establishment of Santa Barbara Winery. At that time there were no vineyards in Santa Barbara County. Grapes needed to be shipped from a county to the north, over 100 miles away. Two Bakersfield expatriates planted the first new vineyard in the county in 1965. Experienced growers, they benefited handsomely from the wine boom of the late 60s, and the rest is history. There are now over 100 wineries and 20,000 acres of grapes in the county.

Santa Barbara with its three appellations, or districts, Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Rita Hills and Santa Maria is now a very big player. The climate ranges from the very cool to the very warm, allowing for a wide selection of grapes. One of these, Pinot Noir, a cool climate variety, was the principal beneficiary of the movie Sideways, a movie that put Pinot Noir from Santa Barbara on the map.

About the Author

In 1962 Pierre Lafond opened the first Santa Barbara winery since Prohibition. In 2001, he opened another California winery
called Lafond Winery. Today, his two vineyards and winemaking operations are some of Santa Barbara's finest. Tours and tastings daily.

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