The secret of the Ballard Canyon AVA is the Syrah. The grapes from this AVA produce spectacular Syrah wines, and very few people seem to know about it. I am a big fan of Syrah. I purchase Syrah regularly from two small family-owned wineries: Montemagiorre in Dry Creek and Cedarville in Fair Play in the Sierra Foothills. Those two have become my standard for judging other California Syrah wines. At the recent Wine Bloggers Conference in Santa Barbara, I attended a seminar sponsored by members of the Ballard Canyon AVA. This was my first opportunity to taste and compare Syrah wines from this region. I came away totally impressed. We tasted 7 wines in a side-by-side comparison, three from the 2012 vintage, the other four all 2010’s. These wines were beautifully balanced Syrahs, with complexity and a rare elegance in the mouth. The 2010s showed that Syrah wines can age gracefully, becoming more intense and polished. These are wines to be savored and enjoyed with good food and friends. My favorite 2012 Syrah wines were the Lerner, the Rusack and the Beckman; for the 2010s, it was the Stoplman. These wines are priced in the mid-thirty-dollar range.
Ballard Canyon is a new AVA in the Santa Barbara wine country. It was approved in October 2013. It is a sub-appellation or AVA of Santa Ynez Valley AVA. The region is very small and the surrounding mountains form a triangle, with the open end facing the Pacific Ocean. This accounts for dramatic diurnal shifts in temperature. Most days in the growing season begin with fog, which burns off in the late morning. As Janelle and I were driving the Ballard Canyon Road, we were surprised that so few acres were planted with vines. I would say that 90% of the land is grassland and oak woodland. There seems to be so much room to grow. There are only nine producers making Ballard Canyon AVA wines, and only one of these wineries has an actual tasting room located in the AVA. It is Rusack Vineyards, one of the most beautiful wineries found in any wine country. Picnicking at Rusack is as about as peaceful and serene as it gets.
The growers and winemakers are very passionate about this AVA. In our seminar, they bemoaned the notion that Syrah sales are bleak and that consumers are shying away from this wonderful wine. They blame it on the fact that many wine regions produce Syrah wines that are too fruit forward, too high in alcohol, or unbalanced, all because the Syrah is not growing in the proper terroir. I also got the feeling that they might be a little envious of the “wine press” that a few winemakers and wineries in Paso Robles are receiving. It is like, “Hey, you guys, we make great wine too. Come and taste!” These Ballard AVA folks are so convinced that this AVA is producing a unique Syrah that they officially unveiled a specific wine bottle for Syrah wines produced solely from the Ballard Canyon AVA. They believe that there are no other Syrah wines in the world like the Ballard Canyon Syrahs. The wines of the Rhone region in France all have unique bottles that specify their appellation.
If you are in the Santa Barbara wine country, you should take the time to drive the scenic seven miles or so on Ballard Canyon Road and stop in at Rusack and taste the Syrah. The Ballard Canyon AVA Association has a complete list of growers and wineries and other places where you can taste these delicious Syrah wines.