Santa Barbara Wine in 2015: 4 Trends to Watch

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 1/1/15

Good news, fellow wine drinkers: 2015 looks to be another dynamic year for the Santa Barbara wine industry.  Ours remains one of the best areas in the world for wine innovation, continuing to draw fresh talent and to inspire high quality at affordable prices.  We are lucky to live at its threshold.
Here are four trends to look for as we raise our wine glasses in 2015.
Small is Big
I recently attended a gathering at the Zotovich wine production facility in Lompoc that brought local writers together with boutique producers.  And one thing was clear: the little guys are ready to carry the torch.  These are small operations – a few hundred cases a year, mostly – that may not have the marketing budget or name recognition of their larger counterparts.  But their love for specific grapes and vineyards is pervasive, and the techniques they’re adopting are leading to bright, clean wines that are as approachable as they are tasty.  Look for labels like Big Tar, Dreamcote, Turiya, Frequency and No Limit.
Norm Yost and his Goat Bubbles (Bob Dickey photo)
Bubbles Galore
You have probably noticed it by now: Santa Barbara’s sparkling wine industry is on fire.  A handful of pioneers have long been dabbling in bubbles, including Norm Yost and the late, great Chris Whitcraft.  But there is a surging number of producers making bubbly now, some even going as far as bringing the laborious, intensive, hands-on production process in house.  Many are also pushing the envelope, going beyond chardonnay and pinot noir as standard ingredients and making bubbles with grapes like syrah and grenache.  We’re entering 2015 with more than 30 local producers making sparkling wine, and that number will likely grow, especially as consumer awareness grows, too.
Snazzy Events
The annual Celebration of Harvest event that I attended this October was one of the best ever.  The new venue – Mission Santa Ines in Solvang – infused a fresh, approachable feel to the annual event that, for decades, has been produced by Santa Barbara Vintners.  It was also just one of a brand new batch of interesting and oft-intimate happenings in 2014 – some designed for consumers, others for media and trade – that effectively heightened interest in local wines.  Kudos to Releve Unlimited, the local destination management company that’s partnered with the local wine industry to give it a shot in the arm with one simple premise: build it and they will come.  Next up: the Vintners Spring Weekend in April.
Santa Barbara's 2014 Celebration of Harvest took place at Mission Santa Ines in Solvang
Vintage 2015
Hands down, last year’s most innovative marketing phenomenon in Santa Barbara was Wil Fernandez’ Vintage 2014.  Time lapse photography, video, intimate interviews, podcasts (which I volunteer-hosted) and pop-up tastings throughout the country converged to capture the 2014 harvest from beginning to end, and to elevate awareness of brands like Byron, Foxen, Carr, Buttonwood, Larner, Riverbench, Clos Pepe and Carucci.  This was a refreshingly unique, hands-on, use of multiple media platforms.  Fernandez is expanding his project with Vintage 2015, aiming to use the same approach to highlight farmers and winemakers across the U.S. and to, as he puts it, “create a permanent archive of American winemaking in 2015.”  Like its predecessor, Vintage 2015 will hinge on Kickstarter crowdsourcing, with an initial $3000 goal set for February 6th.  Donations from as little as $1 can be made at
Happy New Year!


  1. You are so right about the sparkling wines. Sea Smoke Sea Spray is excellent!

  2. Great piece as usual, my friend! But many challenges continue to lie ahead for SBC - most notably marketing from within. As an industry, we have so much to gain by 'pushing' SBC anywhere and everywhere we go - above and beyond our own brand. Our 'challenge' is not to make better wines - yes, we can always 'improve' but the majority of wines made in SBC are truly world class. It is to educate both consumers and the trade about what we have here - right in the back yard of those South of us. And make no mistake - we will not 'succeed' in doing this without working at it . . .