Alma Rosa Winery is known for producing site-specific, cool-climate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir that expresses the unique terroir of the Sta. Rita Hills appellation. But you can’t really talk about Alma Rosa without first talking about Richard Sanford.
Richard Sanford was one of the Pioneers of the Santa Barbara wine industry and certainly one of the first to discover the unique land of the Sta. Rita Hills, one of Santa Barbara’s premier wine-growing regions. After returning home from the Vietnam war, Sanford set out to find a spot to make Burgundian style wines in California. Though no vines had been planted in Santa Barbara County since pre-prohibition times, Sanford set his sights on the region. Going so far as to outfit his car with a wand-like agricultural thermometer, he drove the country roads between Lompoc and Solvang looking for the perfect location and documenting temperature variations by season and time of day.
He finally settled on a site in the Santa Rita Hills and in 1971 planted the first vineyard in the region. Sanford also spearheaded the movement, along with other pioneer winemakers from the area, to get the region declared an American Viticultural Area (AVA). A status which was officially granted in 2001. The unique east-west orientation of the mountains is key to what makes the region ideal for growing cool-climate varietals like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The mountains pull the fog in from the Pacific Ocean on the eastern edge of the AVA's border straight in the valley. This fog and ocean breeze helps moderate the summer heat, lengthening the growing season and allowing the grapes to ripen slowly without developing mold.
From his very first vintage in the early 1970s, Sanford has pursued lighter, lower alcohol, European style of wine. A style that certainly carries through to the wines of Alma Rosa which Sanford founded with his wife Thekla back in 2005. El Jabali, Alma Rosa’s estate vineyard, was originally planted in 1983 and became the first certified organic vineyard in Santa Barbara County. Today the vineyard is 45 acres planted mainly to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, with some small amounts of cool-climate Syrah and Grenache. It retains its certified organic status and continues to be farmed sustainably.
In 2015 Alma Rosa sold to Bob and Bard Zorich, the couple is committed to continuing the sustainable farming practices and winemaking established by the Sanfords decades ago. And Richard and Thekla are still involved with the winery. They continue to live on the El Jabali Ranch property and Richard now represents the winery around the country, describing his new role as “cheerleader”.
Alma Rosa Sta. Rita Hills Chardonnay
Fruit: 43% from El Jabali vineyard and 57% from a sandy site on the warmer, eastern edge of Highway 246.
Winemaking: El Jabali fruit was 100% barrel fermented in small, used oak, with a partial malolactic fermentation. The balance of the fruit was fermented in stainless steel at elevated temperatures for both mouthfeel and citrus aromatics.
Aging: 14 months in used French oak
Tasting Notes: This rich white wine shows notes of Meyer Lemon, key lime, wet gravel and fig
Alma Rosa Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir
Fruit: Burning Creep Vineyard, La Encantada Vineyard, Rancho La Vina Vineyard
Winemaking: 95% destemmed, 5% whole cluster fermentation
Aging: 14 months in 33% new French oak
Tasting Notes: This medium-bodied red wine shows notes of blackberry, plum, pencil lead, and bright acid.
Alma Rosa La Encantada Vineyard Pinot Noir
Winemaking: 100% destemmed Fruit: La Encantada Vineyard
Aging: 16 months in 50% new French oak
Tasting Notes: This balanced and refined medium-bodied red wine shows notes of rose hips, cranberry, strawberry, clay, and white flowers.
Author: Allie Grant is the Owner and Founder of Crush It Wine Education. Crush It's mission is to make learning about wine fun, easy, and ultimately unpretentious.