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Santa Barbara County
As one drives south, and south, and south from San Francisco, logic would follow that the climate would be correspondingly warmer. In general terms this is true, but when you finally make it down to Santa Barbara you find out that the immediate area is, in fact, downright chilly. It has to do with a quirk of nature and California's tortured geology. Between Alaska and the Strait of Juan de Fuca at South America's tip, the coastal mountain ranges have a north-south orientation, effectively blocking the maritime influence of the Pacific, but for the few gaps to be found here and there.

The valleys and mountains around Santa Barbara, however, have an east-west orientation which ushers in the cool Pacific air. Were it not for this, we would be discussing the area's affinity for Port. In several small valleys near the coast in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties, however, the conditions have all come together for the production of world class Pinot Noir. Two vineyards in particular, "Bien Nacido" and "Sanford & Benedict", are among the very finest Pinot Noir sites in the state and supply many of the top producers. Additionally, since there are subtle differences again between fruit from the Edna, Arroyo Grande, and Santa Maria Valleys, it is quite common to see producers blend their Pinot Noirs with a range of sources.

Generally, however, the area produces wines that are exceedingly generous in their fruit characters, from lighter cherry to plum flavors, but rarely if ever with the overripe aspects common to warmer climates. The intriguing varietal characters that are found in Pinot Noir often complement this forcefulness of fruit. It is often described as a subtle stemminess or gamey quality that adds a tremendous amount of complexity to the bouquet and avoids the simple red cherry spectrum of the grape. In very broad terms and specific examples notwithstanding, it is this area which at the moment often produces the state's most complex examples of Pinot Noir. (Wine/Appellations)