Late this past November a select group of wine aficionados gathered at the exclusive Farallon Restaurant in San Francisco to enjoy Pinot Fest 2013, the 15th annual celebration of fine Pinot wines from 50 of California’s and Oregon’s top Pinot producers. Pinot Noir is considered among critics to be somewhat of a sexy wine. You could even say the event at San Francisco’s original all pinot noir bacchanalia was a real shindig. Much fun was had all around and sumptuous hors d’oeuvres were served to complement the wines and everyone had an opportunity to the meet the winemakers on hand for this special event.
Among the wineries represented were Alma Rosa from Santa Barbara County. Alma Rosa, a family owned and run winery is a boutique operation that is becoming well known for its wonderful Pinot Noir wines, helping develop this variety as a real speciality from Santa Barbara County. The founders and visionaries of the Alma Rosa Winery are Richard and Thekla Sanford, going strong after 30 years in the business and serial entrepreneurs in the wine business. They are perhaps best known for their namesake winery Sanford Winery, which they left in the early 2000’s to focus on creating a new and more personal label, Alma Rosa in the Santa Rita Hills viticultural area which is now one the best regarded wine appellations in United States.
The Sanfords are passionate about creating high quality wines and also for setting a benchmark for organic farming in the wine business, dedicated to sustainable agricultural methods and for promoting ‘green’ commerce in the industry. In fact, the Sanfords are an important part of the story of the success of the Santa Rita Hills appellation as Richard Sanford was a true pioneer in the region of the country. After coming to the Santa Ynez Valley over 40 years with a burning desire to create wines that would compete with the best of the French wines. And they succeeded in spades! Sanford’s reputation is now well established as a winemaker who strives for excellence.
The core of the Alma Rosa product line are the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes that are well suited to the cooler growing varietals. One of the great aspects of this winery is the that Richard has found it to be a near perfect site for growing these particular grapes. When he found his site over 40 year ago, the north-facing slopes along Santa Rosa Road along the Santa Rita Hills, it provided just the right amount of sunlight and cooling breezes. The area is part of the only transverse mountain range in California, running east to west and therefore it provides for the onshore Pacific maritime air to cool what would normally be a hot inland valley. Another interesting fact about the land is its historic nature, being a part of the original 15,000 + acre Rancho Santa Rosa Land Grant given out when this land was still part of Mexico.
In addition to their wonderful wines the Sanford’s have really distinguished themselves and their wine label in the industry with their environmental stewardship. They have dedicated their work towards organic farming and sustainable agriculture. Their two vineyard plots, El Jabali and La Encantada were the very first vineyards in Santa Barbara County to be organically certified by the California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) organization. That means no chemical herbicides, pesticides or fertilizers are allowed. All of their weeding is done mechanically or by hand, the old fashioned way. They also make use of beneficial insects and cover crops to protect the vines. They also use eco-friendly packaging and green business practices, minimizing waste and the use of other harmful products.
I think one of their most unique achievements has been their efforts to protect local wildlife and endangered birds, which is very altruistic because although it does align themselves more closely with their personal and customer’s values, it is done purely for the benefit of the animals and not because it’s supposed to benefit the winery in some way. The winery maintains hack boxes for The UC Santa Cruz Predatory Bird Research Group, which has helped the group rebuild the once extremely endangered California Peregrine Falcon Population over the past few decades. These habitats allow the group to rehabilitate birds that are trapped in urban environments and reintroduces their young to a more wild environment. Owls and bluebirds have also taken up residence in the sanctuary which benefits their species and also helps with rodent control.
So a visit to the Alma Rosa winery is well worth it, not only to sample their delectable wines and check out their sustainable farming practices, but also for the incredible natural beauty Santa Ynez Valley and the Santa Rita Hills. Of course one won’t come all this way just to visit one winery! Alma Rosa has many wonderful neighboring wineries that should be on the agenda too. Nearby gems include Sunstone Vineyards, which has beautiful landscaping and a great picnic area, Beckman Vineyards, and Carhartt Vineyards.
Another factor to consider when putting together a winery tour is the transportation. Personally I enjoy going with a group of friends and getting the most of the wine tastings. For me that means finding someone else to drive. Certainly it’s not as fun when everyone is going in their own car; it’s not green and you miss out on valuable socializing time when everyone has to hop back into their own car to go to the next place. And of course the major issue of drinking and driving can be avoided altogether! Instead of designating a friend to be the driver, I would prefer to hire a chauffeur. A little luxury never hurt anyone after all, I like being in the larger vehicles because everyone can sit together.
Here are a couple of recommendation for tour guides and transportation: for a fun, adventurous kind of tour, you have a couple great option, including Cloud Climbers Jeep & Wine Tours, Dee Tours of Santa Barbara and Santa Barbara Backroads Hummer Tours.
If you’re coming all the way from Los Angeles, where I live, you could get a lift and a tour all in one using Brilliant Transportation, which specializes in luxurious Mercedes Benz Sprinter vans. They are perfect if you are traveling with high-end or corporate guests, their level of service is hard to beat.
By Ryan Scott
Article written by Stepen Chapek; a Los Angeles native who enjoys everything his hometown in California can offer. Stephen is a seasoned writer with professional writing experience with the Times.