“If God forbade drinking, would He have made wine so good?” —Cardinal Richelieu
Our area’s many benefits include its proximity to Santa Barbara County, some 90 minutes away. Those who enjoy excellent Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah will find the Santa Ynez Valley to be a world-class wine aficionado destination. In fact, the Pinots from the Sta. Rita Hills AVA are so distinctive, you know where they come from the moment you taste them.
During a mid-week vacation (hotel rates are 25-50% lower than on weekends), we stayed at the classy Santa Ynez Inn. Enjoying the world’s greatest Prime Rib served at Brothers Restaurant at the Red Barn also topped our to-do list, but the main purpose of our trip was to visit some very special wineries in our “backyard wine country.”
We met some of the pioneers and founders of Santa Barbara wines, as well as a relative newcomer with roots in Pacific Palisades: Richard Sanford, Rick Longoria, Chad Melville, Steve Beckmen and Aaron Walker. Passionate about their chosen path in the wine industry, they all strive—and succeed—to produce the best wine possible. They are also organic and even biodynamic farmers.
All but one winery is located in the Sta. Rita Hills AVA, a small appellation on the Western portion of the Santa Ynez Valley closest to the ocean and its cooling influence. Cool-weather varieties dominate: 78% of Sta. Rita Hills vineyards are planted in Pinot Noir and 20% in Chardonnay. My preference is on the red wine varietals… Pinot Noir and Syrah. White wine goes with finger food or the rare occasion of being served real Dover Sole.
Alma Rosa Winery
181 Industrial Way C, Buellton
805.691.9395 | AlmaRosaWinery.com
Richard Sanford is the founder of Alma Rosa Winery and he continues to work with the current owners, Bob and Barb Zorich. You may also know him as the original founder, along with his wife, Thekla, of Sanford Winery. We visited their new tasting room in Buellton, where he was a gracious and welcoming host.
Richard is a visionary who 40+ years ago looked at bean fields and flower farms and really saw the future of the wine industry. He dreamed of discovering a local climate zone similar to France’s Burgundy region, growing Pinot Noir in California, and producing wine that rivals the best in the world. Using his background in geography and studying the climates of California since 1900, Richard identified a remarkable geographic anomaly where the valleys open to the west, allowing cool maritime air to blow in and moderate the growing climate.
After locating acreage with well-drained soils in his chosen climate zone, Richard organized a partnership to purchase a ranch, where he planted the first Pinot Noir vineyard in the region in 1970. The rest is not only history, it’s happening today. The 2014 La Encantata is full bodied and at the same time sublime. I can say the same for the 2014 Pinot Noir El Jabali, Mount Eden Clone. Both offer that signature Sta. Rita Hills spice.
415 E Chestnut Ave, Lompoc
866.759.4637 | LongoriaWine.com
We were invited to attend a wine industry reception at Rick Longoria’s new tasting room a few blocks from the popular Lompoc “Wine Ghetto.” The historic JM Club building next door to their production facility was very relaxed, cozy and welcoming.
Rick is also a pioneer and visionary. After being encouraged to explore the potential of Santa Barbara as a wine region by the famed Andre Tchelistcheff, Rick saw the future. He said he felt Santa Barbara County had the potential to produce world-class wines. It became his passion over the past 30+ years and he is honored to have his wines contribute to the area’s acclaim. Longoria Fa Ciega Vineyard Pinot Noir has consistently scored 90+ points. The 2013 scored a 93 in Wine Enthusiast as did the Bien Nacido Block N. Rick has also mentored many winemakers who followed him, sharing his knowledge and dedication to producing the best wines. Lucky is the man who gets to live his passion and remain humble.
5185 East Hwy 246, Lompoc
805.735.7030 | MelvilleWinery.com
Let’s start with their mission statement: “We are wine growers. Not wine makers.” It is with that same spirit that we were greeted by Chad Melville, another man who is living his passion. Chad considers himself a farmer, and runs their family-owned winery with his father, Ron. The duo are dedicated to producing cool climate Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah exclusively on their estate vineyards in the Sta. Rita Hills AVA.
Chad says, “at the time of harvest, we consider the wines already made,” which makes sense when it comes to Melville wines. There’s no engineering or trickery to enhance a particular characteristic or another, but into the barrel it’s poured, and that is what ends up in the bottle. Among them are a selection of our favorite Pinot Noirs. We brought home a few bottles of the 2014 Block M Pinot Noir. Texturally, the wine is crisp and fresh on the palate, with an intense tannin profile that finishes with gorgeous purity and length—in other words, it’s wonderful!
2670 Ontiveros Road, Los Olivos
805.688.8664 | BeckmenVineyards.com
The Beckmen family established their Santa Ynez Valley vineyard in 1994. Named for the ranch to which it formerly belonged, Purisima Mountain Vineyard was established in 1996. Beckmen Vineyards wines are composed exclusively from the 150 acres of grapevine grown in these two vineyards, crafted with care in the original Los Olivos winery. Steve Beckmen and his Marketing Manager Taylor Hart were gracious hosts as we toured their vineyards, tasted some remarkable Syrahs and Rhone-style blends, met the winery cat and ended the stay feeling euphoric.
Located in a part of the Santa Ynez Valley wine region where the micro- climate is different, Beckmen Vineyards switches the focus from Burgundian wines to Rhone varietals. Their wines come exclusively from Ballard Canyon and Purisima Mountain Vineyard. The reds range from the very reasonably priced Cuvee Le Bec ($25), a Rhone-style blend, to the 2014 PMV Block 6 ($60), which rates a 95 on my personal rating scale.
Pali Wine Company
116. E Yanonali Street, Santa Barbara
805.560.7254 | PaliWineCo.com
Pali is named after Pacific Palisades (Pali for short), the home town of Tim Perr and Scott Knight, winery founders dedicated to producing small lots of artisanal Pinot Noir, their favorite varietal. Many of the wines bear names of Pacific Palisades neighborhoods (Huntington, Riviera, Bluffs) and streets (Charm Acres).
We were greeted by Pali Wine Company’s Winemaker Aaron Walker, whose youthful enthusiasm is augmented by a wine-making philosophy that forms the foundation of the Pali style. It’s darn good because Pali’s wines have consistently gained 90+ scores for very reasonably priced Pinot Noir. The 2014 Huntington Pinot Noir, for example, was a 91 Wine Enthusiast “Editors’ Choice” and only $24! Aaron wants his wines to taste true to their character and source rather than be dwarfed by too much oak or improper blending. Everything needs to be in balance.
Support Pali, your local winery, at its friendly tasting room located in Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone. Pay it a visit soon.