Back when I lived in Lompoc, I would ride my bicycle down nearby Santa Rosa Road. It meandered past bean fields and pumpkin patches, looking out toward chalky bluffs on the opposite side of the Santa Ynez River.
On a few slopes of the Santa Rita Hills, the low range just east of Lompoc, I noticed small vineyards but never gave them much thought.
As it turns out, those scattered vineyards in the early 1980s were a harbinger of what was to come. Today the Santa Rita Hills constitute one of California's most exciting wine areas.
Until receiving designation as an appellation in 2001, this compact region was largely overshadowed by the neighboring Santa Maria and Santa Ynez Valleys. But no more.
Easily explored via a 34-mile loop linking Santa Rosa Road and State 246, the Santa Rita Hills have become a destination for visitors looking for distinctive Pinot Noirs or a lazy drive through the unspoiled country of western Santa Barbara County.
Just what distinguishes Sta. Rita Hills wine (as the appellation is officially named after a legal challenge by Chilean winery Viña Santa Rita)?