Santa Barbara County is not an AVA, but a region just south of San Luis Obispo that includes the Santa Ynez Valley and Santa Maria Valley appellations. Wine has been produced in the area since the 18th century when Spanish missionaries planted vineyards. It wasn’t until the 1990s, however, that producers focused on growing premier grapes for fine wines. During the 1990s more than 10,000 acres of vineyards were planted, and today there are nearly 20,000 acres of vineyards. The region received a big bump in recognition and prestige when the popular film “Sideways” was shot there in 2004. Because the region is affected by maritime weather, it is relatively cool climate makes it ideal for Chardonnay. Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and an increasingly adventuresome number of varietals are also grown successfully in Santa Barbara County.
The Merlot grape is such a deep blue that it is named for the blackbird. It’s an early ripening grape and one of the primary varietals used In Bordeaux. Merlot is also grown in the "International style," which is harvested later to bring out more tannins and body.