Santa Barbara Wine Country's Newest AVA -- Los Olivos District -- Becomes Official Today

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
photos by Bob Dickey
original story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 1/22/16

Story update:
Monday, February 22, 2016

Fred Brander
Santa Ynez Valley vintners are celebrating today, as the Los Olivos District becomes Santa Barbara wine country's 6th American Viticultural Area, or AVA.

This milestone, which was green-lighted by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, was more than a decade in the making.

The AVA distinction recognizes the district’s unique ability to grow wine grapes and highlights its unique climate and soil conditions, distinctive topography and historical relevance.  It’s a big win, especially, for Fred Brander, who founded his Brander Vineyard in Los Olivos in the mid 1970s.  He submitted the AVA petition in 2013, along with data from research he launched in 2005. 

The feds agreed, among other things, that the geology in the region is special.  “We have broad alluvial sand that goes from north to south, with gentle slopes, not canyons or steep hills, and the soils are consistent throughout,” Mr. Brander said.

Mr. Brander will be hosting an AVA celebration for industry colleagues at his winery this afternoon.

The Brander Vineyard
The Los Olivos District covers close to 23,000 acres, about 1100 of which are planted to wine grapes.  It contains 13 bonded wineries – including legacy labels like Brander, Buttonwood and Gainey.  And there are 47 vineyards here that grow Bordeaux varieties, mainly -- merlot, cabernet sauvignon, sauvignon blanc -- as well as Rhone, Italian and Spanish grapes. 

There are also four towns inside the new AVA, which is unique: Ballard, Solvang, Santa Ynez and Los Olivos.

The AVA designation creates a potential marketing tool for wineries that source fruit from within its borders: the right to use the phrase, “Los Olivos District,” directly on their wine labels.  Until now, they were limited to broader identifiers, like “Santa Ynez Valley” or “Santa Barbara County.”  No doubt, the caché and recognizability of the Santa Barbara name is tough to beat.  But many winemakers see this more defined ID as a way to both denote pedigree as well as better inform the consumer.

Karen Steinwachs leading a vineyard tour through Buttonwoood
“We’ll definitely use it, because it unifies this area,” says vintner Bob Baehner, whose five-acre vineyard lies within the new AVA and whose elevation, at 1000 feet, marks the district’s highest point.  The Baehner Fournier 2015 Rosé of Merlot, made by winemaker Steve Clifton and set for release this spring, will carry the Los Olivos District AVA name.

At Buttonwood, winemaker Karen Steinwachs says no decision’s been made about label language.  But “it’s awesome to see the AVA finally happen,” she says, “because it certainly completes the jigsaw puzzle.”

Los Olivos District joins Santa Barbara County’s five previous AVAs: Santa Maria Valley (established in 1981), Santa Ynez Valley (1983), Sta. Rita Hills (2001), Happy Canyon (2009) and Ballard Canyon (2013). 

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