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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Siduri 2012 Clos Pepe

I have three reasonssid for posting about Siduri Clos Pepe today:

(1) We’re heading to Sonoma next weekend, and will get to visit during Winter Wineland.  It’s always a favorite stop during these special events—with tastings from Oregon to Sta. Rita Hills.

Named for the greatest Cowboy of all
Named for the greatest Cowboy of all

(2) We’re cheering on the Dallas Cowboys, who haven’t won a division playoff game since 1995. It’s about time. Adam and Dianna Lee, displaced Texans, have remained passionate about the Cowboys, naming their stainless steel tanks for famous members of the Cowboys Hall of Fame.

(3) The wine is just consistently, incredibly good. And besides that—and this is important for this blog—they manage to keep it affordable for average wine lovers. A modest budget doesn’t mean you can’t drink great wine.

Since we’re primarily about drinking wine from fruit grown in the Sta. Rita Hills region, this focus is on their 2012 Clos Pepe pinot noir. (Be sure to try their Cargasacchi and Sta. Rita Hills AVA pinots, too.)

Who do you name the tallest tank after? Too Tall Jones, of course.
Who do you name the tallest tank after? Too Tall Jones, of course.

Here’s how International Wine Cellar described the wine: “Vibrant ruby. A powerfully scented bouquet evokes raspberry and boysenberry preserves, cola, licorice and potpourri. Lush and creamy in texture, offering sweet red and dark berry preserve and cherry-cola flavors, with notes of rose pastille and tangy minerals adding vibrancy. Silky tannins frame the powerful fruit and carry through a long, precise, floral-driven finish.”

I’m sure that’s right. Here’s how I describe it: more, please. Yes, we keep ordering more. It’s big, fruity, and ready to go. There are so many lovely “versions” of the pinot from Clos Pepe vineyard: Ken Brown, Loring (reviewed later), Walt, Longoria, and Clos Pepe’s own wine—among several others (that I still need to drink through!) This one certainly holds its own with that beautiful fruit.

Fun bonus: google “Siduri” and “banned in Alabama.”


Wenzlau 2011 Estate Pinot Noir

So how to follow up a great New Year’s Day chardonnay: the Liquid Farm “Four”?FullSizeRender-4

How about a 2011 Wenzlau pinot? We have a very limited supply in our cellar, so we have to ration these carefully. But hey, we’re launching 2015 in style.

First, a word about the “pursuit of balance.” This wonderful wine obviously belongs in that style. Grapes picked early, low alcohol, built for the long haul, made to drink with food. We love these wines.

But we also love the Loring-style wines where the fruit hits you up front and where the alcohol is more noticeable. (My wife leans toward the former; I prefer the latter; but we both like both styles.) In my humble opinion, both styles can be balanced.

Start here: I love this vineyard. I love biking down Santa Rosa Road, turning the bend, and then seeing the amazing vineyards (Sea Smoke, Mt. Carmel, Rita’s Crown, Wenzlau, etc.) on the mountainside and mountaintop. Wenzlau has 12.5 breezy, chilly acres of pinot and chardonnay on a 100-acre parcel.

Screen Shot 2015-01-02 at 11.07.59 PMAdd to that—amazing fruit—a notable winemaker, Justin Willett (of Tyler wines). And you have this: a low alcohol (13.0%) treat full of . . . ok, here’s the part I’m not good at . . . earth, floral, dark fruit. Maybe floral. Have to find someone who knows what they’re talking about. You could talk me into “tobacco.”

What I know is that it’s wonderful. Although, for me (but not for my wife), it’s still a bit young. In other words, our next bottle won’t be opened for quite a while. Ok, we don’t have a huge cellar, so I’m not talking 2025. But at least another year.

This pinot is great; but wait until I tell you about their chardonnay.