“Certain winegrowing regions define themselves.”
The area now known as Ballard Canyon has a rich history and tradition as a farming community. In 1974, Gene Hallock founded the Ballard Canyon Winery, on what is now Rusack Vineyards. In the 90’s, the Stolpman, Beckmen, Harrison, Larner, and Saarloos families planted vineyards, followed by Jonata and Tierra Alta.
After the planting boom of the 1990s, vintners including Kimsey, Jorian Hill, and Rancho Boa Vista planted vineyards focused on Syrah and Rhone varietals. Meanwhile, land to the west became increasingly devoted to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay with the publication of the STA Rita Hills AVA.
In 2010, six Ballard Canyon wineries hosted a sommelier seminar focused on our area’s specialty, Syrah. Preparing for the event, teaching, and tasting each other’s wines brought the group closer together. More than anything, the quality we tasted from our neighbors’ vineyards inspired us, and served as the catalyst to action.
Vintner and winemaker Michael Larner took the lead and hired Wes Hagen to research and write our American Viticultural Area petition. Every Ballard Canyon vintner participated enthusiastically in pouring over maps, collecting weather data, and scouting ridgelines. Our research paid off when the TTB recognized Ballard Canyon as a unique winegrowing area and published our AVA on October 30, 2013.
The greater Santa Ynez Valley AVA is sprawling and unwieldy, covering more than a thirty mile east-west corridor, 77,000 acres of winegrapes and more than 60 different winegrape cultivars (and over 200 different ‘clones’). That AVA was developed at a time when it was important to describe the new winegrowing region in the broadest strokes possible, as viticulture was still in a primitive and ignorant state in the Central Coast of California.
Ballard Canyon, encompassing just 7,700 acres, provides a much tighter focus as it accounts for only 10% of the Santa Ynez Valley AVA. The north-south oriented canyon provides a unique weather pattern of wind, fog, and maritime influence, giving each wine a fingerprint of the specific place.
Today, there are 17* (awaiting final number based on dues received = listed on map) vineyard members of the Ballard Canyon Winegrowers Alliance, nine of which produce and bottle wine.
After experimenting with many different varietals, the growers and producers of Ballard Canyon agree that Syrah is the best-suited varietal throughout Ballard Canyon. Over half of the AVA’s planted acreage is Syrah and an additional 30% of acres are planted to other Rhone varietals including Grenache, Viognier, and Roussanne.
Stylistically, the wines can be defined as cool-climate (Sta. Rita Hills), warm climate (Happy Canyon of SB), and the marginal areas that are influenced by both. The proposed Ballard Canyon AVA represents this critical mixed climate: the greatest wines in the world are grown in areas that are on the edge of where the varietals can get fully ripe.
As the only AVA dedicated to Syrah, Ballard Canyon has emerged as the “home” of Syrah in America.
Ballard Canyon encompasses a small geographical area totaling 7,700 acres, of which only 550 acres are currently planted to vineyards. This leaves a lot of room to grow, and a lot of people excited about the potential for this small but mighty wine region.
Based on the quality being produced, Ballard Canyon’s reputation is continuing to grow within the world of boutique wine. Both our dedication to Syrah, a niche varietal in the global market, and our small scale; removes us from the world of mass-produced wine.
We look forward to many more great vintages to come out of Ballard Canyon. Beginning with the 2012 and 2013 vintages, Ballard Canyon’s Grower-Producers now package estate-grown Syrahs in a custom mold with the words BALLARD CANYON encircling the bottle shoulder, raised in the glass. This bottle will become synonymous with great Syrah.