According to the Department of Agriculture, Chardonnay is the most planted wine grape in California, with more than 93,000 acres in 2017, as opposed to cabernet sauvignon, with around 92,000 acres.

Santa Barbara County plays no small role in boosting these figures for Chardonnay. The fog and wind-swept Santa Maria Valley boasts the longest grape growing season in California. With cool ocean breezes pouring into this area, Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs, two varietals especially amenable to this coastal influence, are the flagship wines of this region. Both these areas are unique in that the Coastal Ranges traverse in an east/west direction as opposed to the typical north/south traverse. This allows the marine layer to play a more significant role in the production of these grapes, allowing for a longer “hang time.”

As the summer heat brings the fresh vegetables to maturity here in the north county, I can think of nothing better to pair with a refreshing Chardonnay than summer squash. Yellow crooknecks are my favorite, but use whatever you can find in your garden, the farmers market, or your local grocer.

Baked Summer Squash

2lb summer squash (zucchini, patty pan, and/or yellow crookneck)

1/4c olive oil

1/2c grated Parmesan cheese (or Nutritional Yeast Flakes)

1/3c breadcrumbs

1/2tsp salt

1/4tsp freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Remove the stem ends and slice the squash crosswise in 1/4-inch-thick rounds. Toss with the olive oil.

In a small bowl, combine the breadcrumbs, Parmesan, salt and pepper. Arrange the squash rounds in a 9-x12-inch rectangular baking dish, or 10-inch pie plate. Sprinkle the bread crumb mixture over.

Cover the baking dish with foil and bake in the oven for 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake another five minutes until the top is bubbling and crispy.

Pair this dish with Lafond’s 2017 SRH Chardonnay. I can usually find it at CVS. The Santa Rita Hills (SRH) is a small appellation at the western end of the Santa Ynez Valley that has gained national recognition for its Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

8 different lots from 6 different clones were picked over a 3-1/2 week period, providing a multi-faceted expression of SRH Chardonnay. Ripe, bright and tropical. The 100%-barrel fermentation adds richness which frames the fruit. Double Gold Medal: 2019 Toast of the Coast. Gold Medals: 2019 San Joaquin, and the 2019 Central coast Wine Competition.

Or try Nielson’s 2017 Santa Barbara County Chardonnay with aromas of white citrus blossoms followed by flavors of tropical pineapple, citrus fruit, and a hint of salinity. This wine comes from three growing regions within Santa Barbara County: Santa Maria Valley - one of California’s coolest AVAs with one of the longest growing seasons in the world, slightly warmer in climate, the Los Alamos area with sandy loam soils, and Santa Rita Hills - characterized by a distinct gravel minerality. Enjoy!

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John David Finley is a free-lance writer and author of the cookbook, Sacred Meals from our Family Table, which features Santa Barbara County wines. He can be reached at jdfinley@outlook.com