The Wandering Wino Blog

 Happy Canyon Street Sing

If you've had the pleasure of touring Santa Barbara's wine country, you likely visited some combination of Santa Maria Valley, Foxen Trail, Los Olivos, Sta Rita Hills, downtown "funk-zone," or Santa Ynez Valley. These fantastic wine trails are posted clearly on most wine maps. Not all of the great spots are included on the maps for mainstream wine travelers to visit, and not all spots are open to the public. Today's Santa Barbara wine business has grown over the years, including new discoveries and AVA's. One of the younger AVA's (2001) in California, and more specifically Santa Barbara, is Happy Canyon.

Three Creek Vineyard

(Above - Three Creek Vineyard in Happy Canyon)


(Above - serpentine rocks)

Situated about 30 miles northwest of downtown Santa Barbara, or the east side of Santa Ynez Valley sits a pocket one of the hottest growing areas in the county, Happy Canyon. This region is a wide-open space studded with oak trees and littered with horse ranches and is nearly 40 miles wide. This is the smallest AVA in Santa Barbara County. With the high mineral terroir (loam/clay with red/yellow chert, magnesium and serpentine cobbles) low nutrients, and hotter temperatures (low 90's), this location primarily boasts Bordeaux varietals like Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec, and Petit Verdot.  

During prohibition, alcohol was produced in the region. The story is said that people would take a trip up Happy Canyon to make their purchases, and the name was born. Recently, I took my own "Happy trip."

Cimarone Sign

As no tasting rooms are permitted in Happy Canyon, fewer wine enthusiasts are able to learn about this great region's wine. Happy Canyon is home to just six vineyards and three wineries. I was fortunate enough to visit one of them, Cimarone.  Cimarone's name is derived from a combination of the first two letters of their family's first names (Cilla, Mark, Roger, and Neil).

Three Creek Sing

Roger Higgens Cimarone Barrels

(Above - Roger Higgens Three Creek/Cimarone/3CV owner)

Husband and wife team Roger and Cilla Higgins describe "The dream of Cimarone Estate Wines started on a dreary London morning in 2000 when Roger revealed that he’d been dreaming of a little vineyard; the sun shone on verdant grape leaves and a tractor motored through the vines with a perfect puff of dust behind it.  It wasn’t difficult to convince Cilla that a small vineyard in a sunny part of the world would be an ideal retirement plan; her childhood had been spent in Africa in the care of an ecologist father – the climate of a wine-growing region elicited feelings of home."

'61 Austin Healy & Roger Higgens

(Above - Roger Higgens, Kali, Max, and his 1961 Austin Healy) 

After Roger and Cilla Higgins visited a few locations for their move, the 100-acre Happy Canyon property was selected and purchased in 2000. Three Creek Vineyard was soon born in 2001 with 26 acres of vines planted. The first vintage for the winery label arrived in 2006. Grown on the estate are Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, and Sangiovese. They produce small artisan lots, just around 3,000 cases. The Cimarone label is their higher end wines that include "Gran Premio," a nice Sangiovese, and "Le Clos Secret" that is a Bordeaux-style blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, and Petit Verdot. On a personal note, the Le Clos Secret was my favoirte. They also offer the "3CV" label that  represents more value-based wines. The 2010 3CV "Bank" is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and small amounts of Syrah, Malbec, Merlot and Petit Verdot. Buy this wine at $19 and you'll feel like you just robbed a bank as the quality to price ratio is in the buyer's favor.

Bank Bottle

Dogs & '61 Austin Healy

Taking a closer look at the wine labels, one might notice a dog in a vineyard. Seems wineries just aren't complete without a good dog on the property.In the Higgins' case, they have two, Kali and Mac. Shortly after the vineyard's birth, these two lovable dogs joined the family. Mac is a long-haired Border Collie. The more "label-famed" Kali which means "fierce" in Swahili, and he is not. Kali loves to run in the vineyards; he landed in some photos and became the logo. 

steep vineyard  

(Above - Three Creek Vineyards Sangiovese Vines)

The well known and highly respected Doug Margerum has been making the wines from the beginning, and has recently handed off the winemaking reins to the extremly talented Andrew Murray. Andrew's first vintage for Cimarone/3CV will be the 2011 vintage, and the Sauvignon Blanc will be the first wine released with his fingerprint. While there is no tasting room currently, there is a hunt underway in Santa Barbara's Los Olivos area. 

 Until a tasting room is opened, these great wines can be found locally at: 


Santa Ynez: Brother's Restaurant, The Ballard Inn, Los Olivos Wine Merchant, Figueroa Mtn Brewing Co, El Rancho Market, and R Country Market.  

Santa Barbara: Olio e Limone and Pizzeria, Opal Restaurant and Bar, Whole Foods, Vino Divino, Tri-County Produce, Carpinteria Wine Co., and Lazy Acres.   

LA: Akasha Restaurant, Porta Via Cafe, The Village Idiot, Morel's French Steakhouse, Whole Foods, Wally's, Trattoria Trulli, Colorado Wine Co., and Jar Restaurant.


Wine Glass Cimarone