In celebration of International Grenache Day, be certain–Santa Barbara County wine country has plenty to offer the fans of this varietal. Santa Barbara County has achieved much acclaim over the years for its outstanding Pinot Noir, perhaps to a degree in which many of the other wonderful varietals being produced in this wide and varied grape growing region have been overlooked. Not only does Santa Barbara County produce outstanding Pinot Noir, it also produces superb Rhone varietals including Grenache and Grenache based wines.
From the cool, foggy Sta. Rita Hills AVA (famous for its Pinot Noir), one can travel east through the Santa Ynez Valley, gaining one half to a full degree fahrenheit each mile, and within a 20 minute drive experience superb, estate grown Rhone and Bordeaux varietals. The vast Santa Barbara growing region contains 5 distinct and varied AVA’s (American Viticultural Areas) each representing unique microclimates, terrains and soil composition.
Santa Barbara County: A prime growing region for Grenache
Ballard Canyon AVA, on the far eastern edge of Santa Ynez Valley, and the areas of Santa Ynez Valley nearest to it have a climate and soil reminiscent of French Rhone regions such as Cote Rotie and Chateauneuf du Pape. Of all the regions in the Rhone Valley, Chateauneuf du Pape is known far and wide as producing the world’s finest Grenache based wine.
Ballard Canyon, Limestone and Grenache
The limestone subsoil found in Ballard Canyon is very similar to that found in Chateauneuf du Pape, making it an ideal soil in which to produce Grenache. Limestone creates a high calcium, high pH soil, amongst its many other benefits which are ideal for transferring nutrients to vine roots and maintaining a grape’s acidity. Limestone subsoils are hard to come by in California, being found only in a few select Central Coast wine growing areas. Read more on the research currently being conducted on the benefits of limestone on Tablas Creek’s well written, extremely informative blog.
Characteristics of Grenache
For those unfamiliar with this varietal, Grenache is a thin skinned, black grape that ripens best in a hot climate, producing full bodied wines low in acidity and tannins. Flavors include red fruit, especially berries–cherry, raspberry, strawberry—with hints of white pepper. Perfectly wonderful to drink young, and in finer Rhone blends with some aging, this sexy grape develops alluring aromas of leather, licorice and tobacco, as well as nutty and earthy notes.
Although the wines produced from Grenache are light in color, they are in fact very full bodied. The traditional growing region for Grenache is in the Southern Rhone, France. Priorat, an appellation in Spain, also produces high quality Grenache (called Garnacha in Spain) dominant wines. This flirty grape is often used as a blending grape in Syrah based wines to increase alcohol and lower tannins and acidity. One common blend includes Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre and is colloquially known as GSM. (Many fine GSM wines are produced across Australia, another popular producer of Rhone style wines.)
With its thin skins and resulting light color, Grenache is often the grape of choice to make rosé wines. Leaving the stem on the grape for fermentation and using pump over and punch down methods are some of the techniques employed by winemakers to help extract color and tannin for Grenache based red wines .
Learn more about Grenache and its traditional growing regions here.
Grenache in Santa Barbara County
The styles of Grenache one will find in Santa Barbara County vary from a “Nouveau Grenache”, neither lean nor ripe, but rather a delicate, bright expression of this fruit; to the ripe, concentrated, bold style more reminiscent of Old World Grenache.
For highlights of a few of the many Santa Barbara County wineries producing Grenache be sure to read Celebrate International Grenache Day with Santa Barbara County wine.