By Nancy Ransohoff
Richard Sanford might be called an elder statesman of Santa Barbara County winemaking if he weren’t so darned youthful. The boyish-faced affable Sanford notes with a smile, “this is my 40th year as a winegrower.”
It all started in 1970 after Sanford’s college years at UC Berkeley and UCSB and tours of duty as a naval officer in Vietnam. “I had studied geography in college and was interested in the geography of wine. Obviously, Burgundy grapes have been growing in Burgundy quite well for a long time. I was looking for a similar place in California. I felt that Pinot Noir was being grown in California climates that were too warm…the beautiful raspberry fruit was being burned out of the Pinot.”
It struck Sanford that Santa Barbara County’s unique transverse mountain range, with the Santa Ynez Mountains running east-west, was “a remarkable geographical anomaly that opens the valleys to the ocean’s cooling effects. I began driving up and down the valleys with a thermometer, checking temperatures and looking at soil.” After doing his homework, Sanford gathered some investors and established Sanford & Benedict Vineyard in what is now the Sta. Rita Hills appellation, renowned for its world-class Pinot Noir.
These days Sanford and his wife Thekla make highly acclaimed wines at their Alma Rosa Winery & Vineyards, also in the Sta. Rita Hills appellation, just outside Buellton. They started farming organically ahead of the trend, about 30 years ago. Says Sanford, “Thekla and I were eating organic fruits and vegetables from our garden and Thekla asked, ‘Why don’t you just grow the grapes organically?’ I knew it would be a challenge, but we are totally committed to sustainable agriculture, environmental responsibility, ecologically responsible packaging and green building.” And it doesn’t get much greener than the charming Alma Rosa tasting room, located in a rustic converted dairy barn.
For more information and tasting room directions, go to www.almarosawinery.com.