Vines & Vision The WineMakers of Santa Barbara County book cover

No wine library in the world would be complete without this book which is lovingly written and precisely researched by wine writer Matthew Dennis Kettmann. Vines & Vision documents, with Matt’s beautiful prose and MacDuff’s breathtaking photography, the wine history of one of the most beautiful places in the world. Santa Barbara County is home to over 200 wineries producing more than 400 brands of wine, including first and foremost, Chardonnay. Pinot Noir is the second major wine produced followed by Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Grenache.

Matthew describes a year in the vineyard or what happens to the vines before becoming wines. Over 40 grape varieties are grown in Santa Barbara County. Uriel Nielson and Bill DeMattei, table grape growers from the Central Valley, were the first to plant commercial vineyards in the Santa Maria Valley in 1964. Today there are over 20,000 acres of vineyards. You will follow the development of the vineyards from pruning to veraison with photos of vineyard managers working at every task. My favorite phrases in this chapter are by Jeff Newton: “pruning is a very precise activity. It’s akin to creating a sculpture.” Matthew captures the art and the science in the vineyard.

In his introduction to the book, “The Honest Vintner”, Matthew states, “the viticultural voyage is the destination, and these mysteries do not require explanation, just appreciation. Like true students of any discipline, the stewards of San Barbara County wine realize that the more they learn, the less they know. Not only is that an acceptable awareness, it’s what makes wine such a dynamic world. That is why we’ve decided to tell their stories.”

The stories of each winemaker starting with Alma Rosa Winery, the Life and Legacy of Richard Sanford, will engage you. Their experiences are unforgettable, often filled with heartbreak, courage, sweat, and inspiration. The accompanying photos provide a “sense of place” by showing the grower and winemaker at work in the vineyard or the winery, highlighting the AVAs, geology, and geography that Santa Barbara is famous for.

I turned first to the story of Au Bon Climat and the Game-Changing Legacy of the late Jim Clendenen who is the godfather of Santa Barbara County wine. Matthew captured the history and boisterous personality of this great winemaker who learned his gentle winemaking style in Burgundy. Jim was making award-winning Chardonnay, placing seventh out of 500 in a global tasting in Switzerland, four years after launching Au Bon Climat in 1982.

Many describe Santa Barbara County as the most dynamic wine country in the world right now. Matthew describes the grape growers and winemakers with diverse winemaking styles and fierce independent personalities. He defines the geography, geology, and climate that shape the vineyards from which their grapes are sourced. It is a must-read for every wine lover.

Matthew is a fifth-generation California who appreciates the importance of documenting the history of a region on the Pacific Coast of California that has both an early wine history starting with Mission Grapes grown by padres and local residents in the 19th Century which ended with the onset of Prohibition in 1920, and a 20th Century history beginning with new pioneer winegrowers in the 1960s. He has been a wine writer for over 20 years. He is a senior editor at the Santa Barbara Independent and is a contributing editor and critic with Wine Enthusiast Magazine where he reviews over 200 wines a month.

The book was published by Tixcacalcupul Press in Santa Barbara in 2020. It is sold in tasting rooms throughout Santa Barbara County. You can also contact Matthew directly at the Santa Barbara Independent or online.