Once upon a time, there was a small spot in Northern Santa Barbara County where locals would go to get illegal moonshine. They referred to the area as “Happy Canyon.” Some 76 years after the end of Prohibition, on Thursday, October 8, 2009, winemakers in that tiny little section of the Santa Ynez Valley won a proposal to have the valley registered as an official AVA: Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara. The new AVA currently consists of 23,941 acres, 492 of which are planted for six vineyards and three wineries.
I had the great pleasure of learning all about Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara on a recent trip to Star Lane and Deirberg Vineyards. Vintners Mary and Jim Dierberg – together with winemaker Nick de Luca – strive to produce terroir-driven wines, while also showcasing the individuality of the grapes, themselves.
Some quick facts…
- The vineyard has been farmed organically since 2006
- They eschew tilling and use native groundcovers underneath the vines
- Most of their wines are fermented using native yeasts
- All wines are made with free-run juice
- Whenever possible, they use natural gravity feed instead of pump filtration systems
- Even their caves were dug by hand – all 27,000 ft of them – a process that took over five years to complete
Over 237 acres of vines (half the total acres planted across the entire valley) – including all five of the red Bordeaux varietals and sauvignon blanc – are grown on the Star Lane property. On their cooler-climate Dierberg estate, 160 acres are planted with pinot noir, chardonnay and syrah grapes to produce “burgundy inspired” wines. The former dude ranch-turned-vineyard/winery sits at the highest elevation in the valley, with their sauvignon Blanc vines reigning over all, high up the hills at 1500 feet.
The Dierbergs like to call their philosophy “Old method winemaking using new technology.”
And the result? Incredible balance, amazing acidity. Dynamic, complex wines that can be enjoyed young or cellared for greater finesse. These wines – and the joyful little Valley-turned-AVA from which they hail – are, indeed, something to be Happy about.