Planted in 1964, Nielson Vineyard is the oldest commercial vineyard in Santa Barbara County. It is farmed to an average
yield of less than three tons per acre. Ranked as a Climate Region I — the coolest of the five grape-growing regions on the
U.C. Davis scale — Nielson Vineyard enjoys soils that are lean and well drained. These conditions are ideal for minimizing
plant vigor, thereby creating low yields, small berries, and intensity of flavor in the fruit. After a decade of experimentation, Byron is able to pinpoint the
ideal clones, rootstock, and planting density to provide the highest quality Pinot Noir.
This wine is complex and richly layered, displaying aromas of dark cherry and rose petals with hints of brown spice and
earthiness. The flavors are bold and reveal remarkable extraction and concentration with nuances of red and dark cherry,
plum and brown spice.
Byron was founded in 1984 by winemaker Ken Brown. With years of experience as a winemaker in Santa Barbara County, Ken recognized the Santa Maria Valley's potential for great wines in the Burgundian style, and was the first winemaker to introduce Rhone-style grape varieties to the area. The first crush at Byron Vineyard & Winery produced 7,600 cases, and Byron soon gained national recognition for high quality Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
In 1990, the Robert Mondavi family purchased Byron, and Ken Brown became Winemaker and General Manager. He and Tim Mondavi, Robert's son, set about designing the new Byron Winery as an expression of their shared belief in natural farming, experimental viticulture and gentle grape handling. They wanted to eliminate pumping, which shears grape stems, skin and seeds, allows tannins and other harsh elements into the juice and can make wine bitter.
With the aid of noted architect R. Scott Johnson, who designed the Opus One winery in Napa Valley and San Francisco's Transamerica building, Ken designed a multi-level winery that replaces pumping with gravity flow, resulting in more complex, dynamic wines. Byron's vineyards were also expanded and replanted as Ken Brown experimented with trellising systems, new rootstocks and clones, row orientation, and planting density in his quest for the perfect grape.
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Situated near the ocean in the larger Santa Barbara district, the Santa Maria Valley appellation runs east to west. Pacific Ocean air funnels in to cool the vineyards, allowing the grapes to evenly ripen and reach their full potential. This unique climate paired with the region's well-drained soils helps create some sought-after grapes.
Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are the most planted varieties in the AVA, which covers over 7,000 acres of land. Syrah is gaining more ground as it consistantly produces outstanding wines. Many vineyards are owned by growers and sold to wineries, so seeing a vineyard name on multiple producer's bottles is common. One of the better known vineyards, Bien Nacido, is found on the labels of some of the most prestigious wines of the area.
It's not rare to see a wine's country of origin listed as "California." A country into itself in the wine world, California makes enough varieties and styles to match many European wine countries. It produces a diverse range of wines that span the quality spectrum.
The most famous of the California wine regions is Napa Valley, and these wines are certainly outstanding – but it's not as broad and diverse as its larger neighbor, Sonoma County. Down south, Santa Barbara's Santa Maria Valley is well-known for its Rhône blends, as well as cool-climate varieties like Pinot and Chardonnay. The Central Coast, the largest California AVA, has many different microclimates that lead to a wide range of wines with many sub-AVAs.
Most wine ranges from 10-16% alcohol by volume. Some varietals tend to have higher (for example Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon) or lower alcohol levels (Pinot Noir and many white varietals), but there is always some variation from producer to producer. Some wine falls outside of this range, for instance Port weighs in closer to 20%, while Muscat and Riesling are usually a bit below 10%.
Wine Style Guide
Light & Crisp
Light to medium bodied wines that are high in acid and light to medium fruit. Typically no oak.
Fruity & Smooth
Light to medium bodied wines with lots of juicy fruit, typically medium acid and medium oak.
Rich & Creamy
Full bodied wines that have typically undergone malo-lactic fermentation and/or spent time in oak.