Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Sideways, The Organic Sequel: Organically Grown Wines from Santa Barbara County Vintners, Part 1

Blame it on the Rhone Rangers event for finally getting me down to the likes of Lompoc for the Santa Barbara County Vintners annual spring festival, a gathering of more than a 100 wineries in a park along the river - a park with extremely uneven ground, which can make you walk like a drunk even if you haven't imbibed. The day of the festival was also quite windy. It was not relaxing.

But the Rangers event - where I'd seen the Green Rangers panel that Bob Lindquist was part of - had introduced me to a few great wines that made me want to know more about the territory and the terroir.

Of course it's a region made famous by the movie Sideways, which changed the course of Pinot Noir (and Merlot) and Santa Barbara County wine tourism, viticulture, and real estate values forever, but the Rhone varietals (not mentioned in the movie) and now Spanish varietals (courtesy of Verdad) are part of the mix.

The April vintners festival was a great way to get introduced to and connect with the region's organic vintners, most of whom were there in person pouring. That's the great thing about festivals - the real people often show up.

Renowned winemakers Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat and Bob Lindquist of Qupe/Verdad were pouring at their respective booths. I also tasted biodynamically grown wines from Ampelos Cellars (BD), Beckmen Vineyards (BD) and Demetria (not certified). (Presidio is another local certified organic producer, but I didn't get a chance to taste their wines since they weren't at the event).

Organically grown wines in the region started with the pioneer of the Sta. Rita Hills, Dick Sanford, now of Alma Rosa, who famously drove down Santa Rosa Road (between Lompoc and Buellton), west of 101, in an old VW van until he found the spot where the temperature gauge he was holding out the window told him what he wanted to know. That was the beginning of the now historic Sanford Benedict Vineyard (sadly, the entire vineyard , taken over by his former business partners, is no longer organic).

Today Sanford, who famously made the Pinot Noirs so beloved in the film Sideways, continues to make wines at his winery Alma Rosa. (He lost his original Sanford Winery to the former business partner). Here's a great overview of Alma Rosa and its wines. Alma Rosa is the premier organic producer in the Sta. Rita Hills:

In the next post (#2 of this series), I'll introduce the biodynamic pioneers of the Sta. Maria region to the north of the Sta. Rita Hills.

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