Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Alma Rosa Expanding Organic Program with 37 New Acres of Vines in Sta. Rita Hills

At Pinotfest
Nick De Luca, who became Alma Rosa's winemaker
in 2015; he also oversees the vineyards 
At the recent Pinotfest in downtown San Francisco - held at the charming Farallon room - I had a chance to meet the newest member of the Alma Rosa team, Nick De Luca, and learn about the latest developments at the Santa Barbara County's first Pinot Noir winery, started in 1974.

Alma Rosa has been through so many changes, but it seems like things are moving in a very positive and exciting direction - planting 37 new acres of vines on its El Jabali vineyard in the Sta. Rita Hills. 

The winery's founder - Richard Sanford (and his partner Michale Benedict) - transformed the region from a sleepy outpost to a world class wine appellation famous for Pinot Noir.

In turn, Sanford's career and his wineries have undergone several metamorphoses - business relationships that turned out badly, the loss of his original estate vineyards (Sanford and Benedict and La Encantada), and other financial calamities - to emerge once again, like a snake, with a new skin and a new life.

Throughout these changing times, Sanford and his Alma Rosa winery have always made superlative Pinot Noir wines. In fact, it is his winery's former tasting room that holds the ultimate trophy in Pinot Noir - it's the one featured in the epic, 2004, we-love-Pinot movie Sideways - marking yet another turning point in wine history.

Alma Rosa's fortunes have been transformed once again, starting with Robert Zurich purchasing it in 2013, keeping the Sanfords in place and the winery (which had filed for bankruptcy) afloat. Sanford sold off his La Encantada vineyard to the Grunau family, but held on to the El Jabali vineyard. Under Zurich's ownership, Alma Rosa opened a new tasting room in 2015 in Buellton.

Organic Vineyard Expansion

The winery is now expanding its remaining estate vineyard - El Jabali. The 6.5 acre vineyard, in the Sta. Rita Hills AVA was planted in 1983, to the Mt. Eden clone. It was certified organic in 2000.

In 2016, De Luca planted 37 new acres - 60% to the winery's most acclaimed varietal, Pinot Noir, and 30% to Chardonnay. The clones for Pinot will be more varied and will include 115, 667, 828 and 943.

The winery is also expanding to try new varietals that have done well in the Sta. Rita Hills. "We've planted some Rhones," De Luca told me, "adding Syrah and Grenache." The new Rhone plantings are head trained, in the traditional fashion, at 8 x 8 spacing and planted on a drought resistance rootstock. "We're hoping to dry farm them," De Luca said.

The new plantings will bring El Jabali up from 6.5 acres to 42 acres total.

Look for new vintages starting in 2019.

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