Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Overdue for His Close Up: Pioneering Santa Barbara County Winemaker Richard Sanford Inducted Into the Vintner's Hall of Fame

Richard Sanford in Buellton
Dick Sanford's story is so against-all-odds, it's hard to believe it hasn't been done as an HBO documentary.

Trained as a geologist at U.C. Berkeley, Sanford returned home from the Vietnam War looking for his next life, a life he hoped would be lived in harmony with nature.

He scoured the countryside looking for likely Pinot Noir country. He understood the significance of the unique east-west orientation of the Santa Rita Hills in Santa Barbara County, which let cool maritime breezes into the hot valley, creating high contrasting temperatures between day and night - a plus for growing wine grapes.

He famously drove down Santa Rosa Road, in the center of the valley in the Santa Rita Hills, with his temperature gauge hanging out the window of his VW van - to see whether the conditions were as favorable as he thought for growing Burgundian varieties. They were - but only he had the foresight to recognize it. It took more than two decades for others to follow his lead.

His "hunch" paid off, launching what is now a $360 million wine industry for the region that employs close to 4,000 people.

Last Monday Sanford was inducted in the Vintner's Hall of Fame at the Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley, alongside Peter Mondavi, Sr., Joe Heitz and 4 others. They bring the total number of inductees to 40.

Other organic vintners on the list include:
• Andy Beckstoffer
• Randall Grahm
• Mike Grgich

All of the historic, early pioneers in the Hall of Fame (pre WW2) - Gustav Niebaum, Charles Krug, Georges de la Tour, Andre Tchelistcheff, were organic as well.

It's fitting that Sanford was awarded this honor. He is the only vintner from the southern part of the state to be included in this illustrious lineup. It's a reward richly deserved. I might have to break open a bottle of  an Alma Rosa Pinot Noir from El Jabali (the vineyard he planted in 1982) to celebrate.

You can read more of his story here in this interview with Michael Cervin.

And enjoy my earlier post (with a video of him) here.

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