La Rinconada Vineyard

Tonight we’re enjoying a beautiful wine from Lutum: a balanced pinot noir that Gavin Chanin sourced from La Rinconada vineyard on the southern corridor of Sta. Rita Hills. Rinc5 The vineyard sits between Sanford & Benedict and La Encantada vineyards on the south side of Santa Rosa Road, eight miles east of Lompoc.

This stunning vineyard, planted in 1995 by Richard Sanford, is on a 436-acre ranch with 130 acres under vine, including 60 acres of pinot noir and 70 acres of chardonnay. The thick Pacific fog that rolls through between the Santa Rita Hills and the Santa Rosa Hills makes for ideal conditions for these two varietals.Screen Shot 2016-04-24 at 11.09.47 AM

We asked Richard Sanford a couple questions about La Rinconada (meaning “the corner” in Spanish).

Can you tell us about how you obtained the land?

“The vineyard was planted in 1995. I negotiated a lease/option on the ranch from the elderly sisters of the original owner. The 436 acre Rancho Rinconada was a 1913 subdivision of the original 1839 Rancho Santa Rosa Land Grant.”

How would you describe the soil?

“Approximately 40 acres of vineyard are on the same soils as the adjoining Sanford & Benedict Vineyard. The deep soils are a clay loam well intermixed with shards of Chert, a hard angular stone which promotes good drainage. These soils are from a decomposition of the Monterey Shale, a Miocene seabed deposit. 60 acres of vineyard are on a Pleistocene riverbed deposit from the Santa Ynez River. This sandy, gravelly, silty loam is excellent for Chardonnay and is limited by a shallow water table of an ancient lake bottom.”

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From La Rinconada, the views to the north are stunning hills and beautiful vineyards like Fiddlestix, Sea Smoke, Wenzlau, Mt. Carmel, and Rita’s Crown.

Among the fine wines sourced from the vineyard are Lutum, Chanin, Tyler, Sanford, Ken Brown, and Testarossa.

(For a photo tour of Santa Rosa road, check the three installments on this blog, beginning here.)

A view of La Rinconada from the southern slope of the Sta. Rita Hills
A view of La Rinconada from the southern slope of the Sta. Rita Hills
Another shot from Rita's Crown
Another shot from Rita’s Crown

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A toast with Richard Sanford, who planted La Rinconada in 1995
A toast with Richard Sanford, who planted La Rinconada in 1995
Chanin and Lutum wines sources from La Rinconada
Chanin and Lutum wines sources from La Rinconada

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An Interview With James Sparks of Liquid Farm

There are more expensive chardonnays than Liquid Farm. But it would be hard to find better chardonnay coming from California!James #5

Owned by Jeff and Nikki Nelson, LF has received top scores for its Sta. Rita Hills blends, “Four,” “Golden Slope” and “White Hill”  — and more recently for the chards sourced from famous Santa Maria vineyards, “Bien Bien” and “La Hermana.” In addition, their rose—AKA “pink crack”—has become a passion of wine fanatics.

Just this spring, the first Liquid Farm pinot noir, sourced from the SRH Radian Vineyard, has come out.

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We had a chance to interview their personable, skilled winemaker, James Sparks, about his philosophy.

Tell us about your winemaking style. What are you looking for with the chardonnays you’ve made? What are you trying to achieve?

James: I think my winemaking style is all about observation—from the vineyards to the winery. My goal is always to let the vineyards shine through. I do my best to watch the vineyards and the fruit from start to finish. Listening to what it wants to say and then pick when I believe the fruit to be at its best. Then in the winery allowing each vineyard to express itself in each individual barrel. Observing each barrel and allowing it to develop in its own time and space. Which then brings us to the wines I’m creating. Burgundy is the inspiration. So the goal is to make beautifully expressed wines with inspiration to Chablis and and Meursault, but keeping it rooted in California. So each year fine tuning, making the absolute best possible, most expressed wines, with balance and complexity, age-worthy wines that I can from that year.

James #1
You’ve just come out with your first pinot at LF. How did you try to achieve the balance you wound up with?
James: For me it was again all about flavors. Starting with a great vineyard allows me to keep it simple in the winery. Each year is different, but with the 2014 Radian I was able to keep it very simple. The goal is to do as little as possible to the wine and the 2014 Radian allowed me to do just that. I think it’s a great start to a wonderful move in making pinot. As with the chardonnay, the pinot will continue to improve as I observe the vineyards that I’m pulling the fruit from. By observing each vineyard it allows me to understand how each vineyard will want to express its character in the wine. Observation is the key for me in making the picking decisions and understanding what each wine will do. Looking for more structure in each wine goes back to understanding how each vineyard wants to express itself and how it’s responding to the growing year.
James #2
I’ve noticed that your rose sells out pretty quickly. What is unique about your rose wine?
James: Mourvedre being the main grape and Vogelzang Vineyard. It’s also made specifically for rose. Vogelzang Vineyard is in Happy Canyon, the warmest part of the valley, which seems to share a similar likeness to Bandol: sun-soaked with an ocean breeze. You add that we are in California and you have the rose. The earthy, fruity, mineral driven mourvedre that makes a beautiful drinking rose.

Tell us about your job. What are your favorite and least favorite parts of making wine?

James: Winemaking is cleaning and then more cleaning. It stresses me out when things are dirty and unorganized. So the job works well for my personality. I think one of the most challenging aspects of making wine is the space issue. It seems that you can never have enough. Right now Liquid Farm is in too small of a space for the amount of wine being made. Logistically it makes it very challenging. I’m dreaming of the day that we have space that is closer to 4000 to 6000 sq. ft. One day at a time.

You’ve had an interest in baking, too. How do the skill sets overlap for baking and winemaking?

James: Baking and winemaking both take time. Obviously winemaking is a little longer process. Still both things require time and observation. Watch and don’t rush. At the same time don’t take too long. Alway use the best ingredients possible. Better sourced flour, better bread. Better sourced fruit, the better the wine. Theres a fine balance between under-proofing and over-proofing—just as there’s a fine balance between aging wine too long in barrel and not long enough. From a warm ferment to a cold ferment, using native yeast to commercial yeast, both will change the outcome of the bread and wine. Both go great together when consuming!

James #4
Your wines have already achieved some of the highest honors and scores. What’s the next goal?

James: My goal is to always make the best wines possible each year. So I will continue to do that and hope that they continue to please those that drink the wines. I’m very grateful that the wines are being well received and getting a lot of recognition in a very positive way. I will continue to do my best in capturing that year and still staying true to the style of the wines.

Western Gate Wines from SRH

Recently we invited some wine-loving friends to join us in tasting the new Western Gate wines from John Faulkner, the young assistant winemaker for Stolpman wines.aa

In short, these are beautiful Sta. Rita Hills wines!

Named for Point Conception—which the Chumash Indians believed was the “western gate” through which souls must pass to enter the afterlife—they are excellent examples of the fruit coming from both the northern and southern valleys of SRH (between the La Purisma hills and Santa Rita Hills, and between the Santa Rita Hills and the Santa Rosa Hills, respectively).

Fruit for the Western Gate 2013 chardonnay comes from the sandy soil of the Zotovich vineyard on the 246 corridor. We noticed that this straw-colored, chablis-like wine has good acidity, balanced minerality, and tastes of lemongrass, pineapple, and strawberry. We loved drinking it alone and then later with fish. Our score: 91

Screen Shot 2016-03-16 at 11.06.09 AMThe Western Gate 2013 pinot noir comes from one of the oldest vineyards in the region, Sanford & Benedict, planted in 1971. It’s already a remarkable wine, with hints of cherry and strawberry. There are distinct tannins on the front end, though nothing overwhelming. We thought it finished soft and lingered. Our score: 92

Some of the best wines coming out of California are coming from the highway 246 and Santa Ynez River chutes of the Sta. Rita Hills. These excellent wines are no exception.

They are available through the Stolpman Vineyards website.


Cargasacchi Vineyard Tasting

Again this year, we are celebrating the holidays with a wine dinner for some of our close West Texas friends. And the wines will feature (of course!) another of our favorite Sta. Rita Hills vineyards, Cargasacchi.carg

You can catch a glimpse of the vineyard from Santa Rosa Road; but the best bet is to take Sweeney Road, just east of Lompoc, as far as you’re permitted to go. You can see with all the limestone and diatomaceous rock why a leading characteristic of this wonderful vineyard is its minerality.

For a taste of the Cargasacchi/Point Conception Wines, visit their tasting room—carg7which they share with Loring Wine Company—right on hwy 246 in Buellton. It’s one of the most fun tasting rooms in Santa Barbara Country.


Tonight we’re going to drink four pinots from the 2011 vintage:

Peter Cargasacchi’s own pinot noir (from the winemaker’s notes: “The saturated purple hue is opaque with distinctive pinot noir perfume of red and purple berries and violets. In the mouth this is a luscious, richly textured wine that balances fruit, hints of soy, spice and tannin. Exhibiting layers of blackberry and small dark fruit flavors woven with firm, ripe, tannins for a fruit driven, persistent, mouthwatering finish.”)

Loring Wine Company (given a 94 score by Pinot Report)


Brewer-Clifton (check out this insightful video clip from Greg Brewer and Steve Clifton)


I thought I’d held onto a 2012 Siduri “Cargasacchi,” but it’s nowhere to be found. If a fifth bottle is needed, we’ll move to a 2012 Loring “Cargasacchi.” It’s being paired with my buddy Tod’s bolognese and pasta.

Peter Cargassachi speaking at the old Sanford Barn
Peter Cargassachi speaking at the old Sanford Barn
Peter Cargasacchi
Peter Cargasacchi

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Santa Rosa Road – part 3

(For part two in this series, visit here.)


As you continue driving ocean-ward on the Santa Rosa Road, soak in the effects of the tectonic plate movements from millions of years ago that left these IMG_4987transverse (west-to-east) mountain ranges. It’s this unique formation that leaves the two valleys—one between La Purisma hills and Santa Rita Hills; and the other between Santa Rita Hills and Santa Rosa hills—cooled by coastal fog and wind, conditions ideal for pinot noir and chardonnay.

From the second section of La Encantada, we continue west to D’alfonso-Curren and Arcadian wineries (at 11.13).


Quickly up are Rancho La Vina (at 11.20, 4435 Santa Rosa Road) and the 3700-acre Rancho Salsipuedes—meaning “get out if you can!”—with almost 200 acres devoted to its Radian, Bentrock, and Puerta del Mar vineyards (the latter being outside the SRH AVA).

More stunning views lie ahead, especially around 14.30 where the valley spreads wide between the limestone cliffs to the north and the Santa Rosa hills.



Finally, at 16.41 from the starting point (see the first post in this series for the beginning mark), Santa Rosa Road meets highway 1.

What an amazing stretch: world-class vineyards, rich agriculture in the diatomaceous earth, looming hills to north and south, and—if you keep your eyes open!—plenty of wildlife. (On a recent morning, I spotted a deer, two small bobcats, and a coyote.)

If you can’t get there, then keep an eye out for the vineyards with some of your favorite wines. Watch for Rita’s Crown, Wenzlau, Sanford & Benedict, La Rinconada, La Encantada, Fiddlestix, Mount Carmel, Sea Smoke, etc.


Richard Sanford, who in 1971 planted the first pinot noir vines in Santa Barbara County.
Richard Sanford, who in 1971 planted the first pinot noir vines in Santa Barbara County.


Note: Future posts will focus on Mail Road and Sweeney Road.

Santa Rosa Road – part 2

(For part one, visit the previous post.)

After a brief glimpse of the beautiful vineyards ahead (at 6.60) and after passing Santa Rosa Park (7.60), the most impressive views on Santa Rosa Road occur starting around 7.95. Off to the north are the vineyards of Sea Smoke, Mount Carmel, Rita’s Crown, and Wenzlau. You can pull off the road at 8.26 (at 512′ elevation), and walk just a couple hundred feet for a stunning view.


At 8.72, you are flanked by renowned Sanford & Benedict and then La Rinconada vineyards (south) and Fiddlestix vineyard (north). Be sure to notice the old Sanford barn up above S&B (at 8.78). And watch for the 7.28 road sign just to your right—marking the distance from hwy 1 to the west. 

The Sanford & Benedict barn (from the early 1970's)
The Sanford & Benedict barn (from the early 1970’s)

S&B Vineyard

Looking over Sanford & Benedict, Fiddlestix, and Sea Smoke vineyards
Looking over Sanford & Benedict, Fiddlestix, and Sea Smoke vineyards
Mileage Marker 7.28, commemorated by Fiddlehead's 728 pinot
Mileage Marker 7.28, commemorated by Fiddlehead’s 728 pinot
A glimpse of the never-completed monastery (subject of future post)
A glimpse of the never-completed monastery (subject of future post)
Sea Smoke Vineyard have 170 planted acres on the southern slope of the SR Hills
Sea Smoke Vineyard has 170 planted acres on the southern slope of the SR Hills
A glimpse of Fe Ciega ("blind faith"), planted by Richard Longoria in 1978.
A glimpse of Fe Ciega (“blind faith”), planted by Richard Longoria in 1978.

Continuing west, the Sanford tasting room is located at 5010 Santa Rosa Road (9.57).

Sanford Tasting Room


Shortly after this (at 9.75 and then at 10.90), you’ll see signs for La Encantada vineyard, planted by the Sanfords in 1995. It produces grapes sourced by Lutum, Chanin, Ken Brown, Foxen, Deovlet, Testarossa, and several others.

The two plots of La Encantada have 100 acres—almost all pinot noir
The two plots of La Encantada have 100 acres—almost all pinot noir

Between the two sections of La Encantada vineyard, watch (around 10.62) for friendly faces on the south and views of the Sweeney Road cliffs to the north!

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(Part three of this series will follow in the next post.)


Santa Rosa Road – part 1

To view the amazing vineyards of Sta. Rita Hills, there are two main arteries from Buellton to Lompoc: highway 246 and Santa Rosa Road. The latter is one of my favorite 16-mile stretches anywhere. I’ve driven it, ridden it on my road bike, run it, and walked on it countless times—and there is always new beauty to soak in.IMG_5212

To get perspective on SRH, it helps to remember that you’re mostly talking about three ranges of hills (La Purisma to the north; Santa Rita Hills in the middle; and the Santa Rosa hills to the south) and the two valleys between them. Santa Rosa Road runs between the latter two, with the Santa Ynez river meandering just to its north.

For my mileage markers, I’m beginning on the eastern end of the road, marking it from where the pavement changes right by Moseby Wines. (To get there, turn south off hwy 246 onto Avenue of Flags.) Especially in the morning you’ll notice the layer of fog rolling through the valley, thanks to the East/West direction of the hills.

SRH fog

From our beginning point (see above), you can first see the Santa Rita Hills at about 2.70 miles. Until then, Santa Rosa Road and hwy 246 are parallel, and you can often spot the highway. But all of a sudden Santa Rosa Road bends south while hwy 246 turns northwest—because between them is this middle range of hills.

At around 3.20, you hit the official boundary of the Sta. Rita Hills AVA. The first vineyards are Thorne’s Rio Vista, including their north vineyard and a south vineyard (at 4.18).

Rio Vista

At 4.63, el Jabali vineyard is on the left, where until recently Richard Sanford’s Alma Rosa tasting room was located. (Their new tasting room is on Industrial Way in Buellton.)

Richard Sanford planted the first pinot noir vineyard in SRH in 1970.
Richard Sanford planted the first pinot noir vineyard in SRH in 1970.

In the next mile, watch for Lafond’s Arita Hills vineyard (5.10), Burning Creek Ranch (5.45), and Lafond’s tasting room (5.52).

Arita Hills

Burning Ranch


Just past Lafond, notice the break in the Santa Rita Hills. Through this valley to the north are wonderful vineyards like 3D (think: Brewer-Clifton!), Ampelos, Lafond, and the one-acre La Lomita.


At this point, elevation is only about 250′, but it is about to rise, driving or riding toward Santa Rosa Park and a view of the gorgeous southern slopes of the highest peaks of the Santa Rita Hills.

(Part 2 to follow)

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