Filed under: Wine travel, Winemaking | Tags: Alma Rosa, La Encantada, Organic wine, Richard Sanford, Santa Rita Hills
We took off for an extended Labor Day weekend on Thursday and are staying in San Luis Obispo. The agenda for the weekend is pretty open, except for a couple of wine-related stops, of course. Knowing that we would be staying relatively close to Santa Barbara County, we wanted to stop by and visit one of the vineyards from which we are sourcing Pinot Noir grapes – La Encantada vineyard in the Santa Rita Hills AVA, near the town of Lompoc.
Harvest is fast-approaching, so we were anxious to see how the grapes were doing. I arranged a meeting with the vineyard owner, Richard Sanford of Alma Rosa Winery. Richard and his wife Thekla own the winery and the three surrounding vineyards. Richard was a Pinot pioneer in Santa Barbara County, combing the region almost forty years ago looking for ideal growing conditions for the Burgundian grape. He literally drove around with his thermometer, trying to identify cooler regions where Pinot Noir would thrive. He identified a prime region where the valleys run east-west and the cooling influence of the ocean breezes would temper the heat of the day. And thus began the wave of grape-growing and winemaking in Santa Rita Hills.
Richard was nice enough to take time out of a busy Labor Day weekend and drive us around the vineyards. It was hot – in the 90s down at the winery. We made three different stops, each one providing a perspective on the vineyard and the careful planning behind its design as well as a perspective on the entire region. He pointed to Sanford & Benedict vineyard, the first vineyard he planted in 1970. At the next stop, towards the top of the hill, where it was beginning to cool off, he motioned towards the gap where the ocean breezes and fog rolls in. We looked right and saw where Sea Smoke and Fiddlehead have their vineyards.
Throughout the tour, Richard highlighted his longtime passion for organic farming. He had this philosophy back when he first started, long before it became popular. Along with his other vineyards, La Encantada was one of the first vineyards in Santa Barbara County to be certified organic by the California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF). We were able to see first-hand the influence of a chemical-free approach and listen to Richard describe the differences in the impact on the vine and the environment. Their website describes it well:
“Alma Rosa Winery & Vineyards employs only sustainable farming practices, which include mechanical weed control by plowing and hand hoeing, the planting of cover crops for weed abatement, and the use of beneficial insects and sticky tape for insect control. No chemical herbicides or pesticides are used. Operating without conventional pesticides or fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients is not the easiest or least expensive way to farm, but the Sanfords believe it is the right thing to do – to live in a way where nature and agriculture work together in sustainable harmony.”
The results are impressive. We tasted the grapes and they are coming along quite well. The clusters are small, due to the low-vigor conditions. Great flavor, acidity and tannins – it looks like the 2008s will have similar structure and flavor profiles. The 2007 growing season produced similarly small clusters. Even our two-year old loved the grapes. She kept on asking Richard for “more grapes, please!” He even pulled out a tiny little cluster for her to pick from.
Richard explained some of the basic growing techniques – north-south rows and leaf-pruning around the clusters to provide maximum exposure to the sun, with a high vertical trellising to provide a nice canopy as well. While dry-farming would align well with the organic philosophy, the region doesn’t get enough rain throughout the year to support that method, so they use drip irrigation.
It was an honor and a pleasure to get a personal tour from Richard and experience his passion first-hand. We’re even more inspired about our own winemaking dreams and thrilled to be able to make wine from the Sanfords’ grapes. We hope to be creating our own take on La Encantada Pinot Noir for years to come.
5 Comments so far
Leave a comment