September is California Wine Month! 

September is California Wine Month, and we’re celebrating by talking about some of our favorite wine regions in the golden state. In this edition, we’re featuring the delicious Pinot Noirs from Santa Rita Hills.

Santa Rita Hills Produces Outstanding Pinot Noir

When I first began to appreciate wine some 30 years ago, Pinot Noir wasn’t even on my radar. Back then, I was obsessed with Cabernet Sauvignons from Napa Valley – the bigger the better! Years down the line, my palate had changed and I was ready for something different. Thus began my love affair with Pinot Noir. Living in Southern California, the best nearby place to go wine tasting for Pinot Noir was Santa Barbara County, of which the best expressions came from Santa Rita Hills. 

The Santa Rita Hills AVA (American Viticultural Area) was given its status in 2001. It’s a small AVA in southwestern Santa Barbara County, totaling just over 30,000 acres. Of those, 3,000 acres are planted with Pinot Noir spread among 60 different vineyards. In comparison, Napa Valley is over 225,000 acres with 45,000 acres of planted vines in over 450 vineyards.

Santa Rita Hills is the southern-most area in California known for growing world-class Pinot Noir. The geography of this area is what truly makes it unique. For most of the state of California, the coast runs northwest to southeast, parallel to the coastal mountains. In Santa Barbara, the coast curves and instead runs east to west for about 50 miles, with the coastal mountains  standing perpendicular to the coast, creating a wind funnel facing west. As a result, the cool ocean breezes, clouds, and fog are free to run unimpeded down to the valley leading to Santa Rita Hills. This phenomenon, combined with the excellent marine soils, results in a truly wonderful climate for Pinot Noir. 

The Pinot Noir grape is thin-skinned, with wonderful acidity, low tannins, and amazing aromatics. Given its thin skin, the grape doesn’t hold up well to high temperatures, and the wine is lighter in color, as red wine gets its color from the grape skins. 

A glass of Pinot Noir is an almost universal pairing – it goes great with seafood, poultry, pork, or pasta! The overall lighter structure makes the wine approachable, but by no means does it lack flavor. The aromatics in Pinot Noir are truly special – they tend to take on the characteristics of the terroir in which the grapes were grown. In cold areas, you get a lot of earthy, musty funk. In warmer areas, the wines show more red fruit, like raspberry, cherry, and strawberry. 

The Pinot Noirs from Santa Rita Hills tend to exhibit classic red fruit, spice notes, great depth of flavor, complexity, and wonderful acidity. I’ve been wine tasting in this area for almost 30 years now, and it is a constantly changing, but consistently a wonderful experience. If you’re a fan of Pinot Noir, or want to explore it more, Santa Rita Hills is a must-visit destination. But if you can’t quite get away any time soon, bring it home to you with a delicious bottles from our portfolio.


Interested in picking up a Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir? Here are a few of Gary’s favorites:

-Dierberg 2015 Drum Canyon Pinot Noir

– Foley Estate 2015 Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir

– La Barge 2016 Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir

– 2016 Clos Pepe Vineyard Pinot Noir


Gary King is a General Market Merchandiser for Young’s in Sacramento. Gary started his career in the aerospace industry, but soon realized his love for wine, and began working in the wine and spirits industry in 2005. Eventually, he moved to Sonoma to work in a winery, and even dabbled in wine-making on the side. He now lives in Southern California, and has been working at Young’s for the past year.