Santa Maria Valley
Santa Maria Valley is an AVA located in the northernmost part of Santa Barbara County, just east of Santa Maria city and 15 miles (24km) inland from the Pacific Coast. It was the first in the county to receive official AVA approval in 1981, and is renowned for producing some of California's finest Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines – the appellation's two flagship varieties.
A portion of the AVA spills across the Cuyama river into the southernmost corner of San Luis Obispo County. The east–west orientation of the wide, open valley means cool winds and fog flow in freely from the Pacific Ocean, settling most noticeably in lower-lying areas. This climatic effect is significant in several viticultural areas along California's Pacific coast, as the cool maritime influence lengthens the growing season and contributes to the eventual sugar/acid balance in Santa Maria Valley's wines. Indeed, Santa Maria Valley's extended grape-growing season is among the longest in the world.
Low rainfall, mild temperatures and a prolonged growing season are not the only features of the AVA's terroir – the loamy soils are relatively free draining, preventing the vines from becoming waterlogged in almost all conditions. The proportion of sand and/or clay in these loams varies from area to area, depending on the local geology. Limestone is present in some of the region's most exceptional vineyard plots and the soils are typically basic with a low pH.
The dominant grape variety in Santa Maria Valley's vineyards is unquestionably Pinot Noir, with it performing particularly well in the AVA's cooler mesoclimates. Leaner, more elegant styles of Pinot Noir are made from vines planted at higher elevations (more than 600ft) at the eastern end of the valley, in the peripheries of the fog line. Pinot Noir's white Burgundian counterpart, Chardonnay, is also widely planted throughout the AVA and is the grape variety behind roughly one-third of Santa Maria Valley's white wines. Warm-climate varieties, too, are represented in the valley, led by the classic northern Rhône grape varieties of Syrah and Viognier. Grenache and even Marsanne are also cultivated, although only in very small quantities.
Such well-known vineyards as Au Bon Climat and Bien Nacido are located here, just a few miles upriver from Santa Maria city. Further up the valley are Byron, Rancho Sisquoc and Foxen, among others, and beyond these the northernmost vineyards of the Santa Ynez Valley AVA.