In the minds of most casual wine lovers, California’s Santa Barbara County is a relative newcomer to the viticultural game—certainly in comparison to Napa Valley, which, in the 1970s, set the gold standard for all things grape in the Golden State. But the county’s wine culture traces its beginnings back more than two centuries to 1782, when Father Junípero Serra planted vines in what is now the Milpas section of downtown Santa Barbara. The first dedicated winery was built (of adobe) in Goleta in 1802, and by the middle of the 19th century, 260 acres of vineyards thrived in this coastal climate.
Prohibition, of course, put an end to production, but by the 1960s, vines began to grow once more in the county. Today, if you ask wine experts which are the most exciting, up-and-coming appellations, the top wine-producing districts of Santa Barbara are certain to make their lists. Indeed, a handful of producers have achieved the cult-like status once enjoyed only by the Cabernet Sauvignons of Oakville, Rutherford, and Stags Leap. Here are the labels that offer the most collectible (and delectable) wines from this Central Coast hot spot.