France, as is its wise wont, holds tight to its names. They get Cognac, the rest of the world gets brandy, they get Champagne, we get sparkling wine. That's all about location, national pride, clever marketing; but it doesn't mean a "mere" sparkling wine can't drink as fine. Alas, even in the United States, if people think bubbly, they tend to think northern California: Roederer Estate in Anderson Valley, Mumm in Napa, Piper Sonoma, etc. (All with French roots/ties too.)
Welcome, then, to Santa Barbara's Sparkling Wine Guide, created by Liz Dodder, the woman behind Cali Coast Wine Country. This handy map/guide, designed by Michelle of Bottle Branding, introduces you to the 29 (right now) producers of bubbly in Santa Barbara, including Casa Dumetz, Flying Goat, and Riverbench. "I've always loved sparkling wine and Santa Barbara wine country had became my wine destination of choice (starting in 2003), so any time I found bubbles being made by SB county producers I would go try it or buy a bottle," Dodder writes in response to some email questions. "I kept a running list over the years, adding new ones as I found out about them. Articles I read, locals mentioning new bubbles or seeing them in wine shops: they all made my list. Only recently was there a comprehensive article about sparklers in SB, and there was no guide or map with all that information. And not all SB sparkling wines are open for regular tasting at the wineries; so I decided to make a map showing all the wineries that make bubbles for sale, as well as where you can taste them."
Unlike so many wine stories that look longingly back to some precious, life-changing bottle, Dodder doesn't "remember my first taste of bubbles: I probably hated it. I'm not from a wine family (nor city, nor state for that matter). In Oklahoma, 3.2 beer is the drink of choice. But after growing up, leaving OK for CA and visiting Napa, I began loving wine. It wasn't until I lived in Europe for two years, and then returned to the U.S. that I really got into wine and sparkling wine. I really missed the food and wine culture that permeated life there and I began seeking it out here. Santa Barbara was the closest wine country to L.A., and I began visiting about once a month. So, it wasn't a bottle that did it; it was the absence of a bottle!"
Of course, not everyone who falls sway to the allure of the life of the table and all its charms (aren't we all more delectable after a lovely, conversation-filled, a-bit-boozy meal?), feels the need to put together a guide for others. That's where Dodder's enthusiasm becomes clear. "Sparkling wine is special; it's the only wine/drink that goes perfectly with any dish. It turns an ordinary day into a celebration," she explains. "It really falls into the category of enjoying life's little moments and enhancing daily life. We use the word effervescent to describe people that are alive and happy, and that other people are drawn to; sparkling wine is the same. Santa Barbara makes so many world-class wines that folks don't know about, and once I found out there were at least 29 producers, I had to make a map. Plus, any place you can get great chardonnay and pinot noir, you can get great sparkling wine."
That sums up Santa Barbara County pretty well, so bring on the bubbles. And now you have a map to help. If that's not enough, there's going to be a first-ever BubblyFest By the Sea in Pismo Beach, October 24-26 featuring wines from both Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo, no doubt a fine opportunity to see the delight of southern California sparkling wine.
Click here to see Santa Barbara's Sparkling Wine Guide.