Friday, November 30, 2007

Winery Watch: Alma Rosa Winery and Vineyards

An ongoing series of Friday posts highlighting California family wineries. You might not be familiar with all of these vineyards and winemakers--yet--but they produce wines that speak with the voices of this state's people, places, and history. They are worth seeking out. These posts will be longer than most posts on the blog, but I hope you will find them perfect for leisurely weekend reading and internet browsing. To read previous posts in the series, click here.

Sometimes, old friends can be hiding behind new names. Take Alma Rosa Winery. Ring any bells?

OK, how about Sanford? As in Pinot Noir? As in Sideways?

There is a new/old family winery in the Santa Rita Hills. Owned by Richard and Thekla Sanford (that's the old part) and named Alma Rosa (the new part), this winery is producing some great wines (the best part!). The first Santa Barbara Pinot Noir I ever had was back in the late 90s--and it was made by the Sanfords. I'm so glad that I get to enjoy wines that they've crafted once again. (photo of Thekla and Richard from the Alma Rosa Winery and Vineyards website).

The Sanfords are inextricably bound to the history of the Santa Barbara wine region, and deservedly so. In 1970, Richard Sanford planted the very first pinot noir grapes in the Santa Rita Hills in what would become the legendary Sanford and Benedict Vineyard. At the time, most were skeptical about pinot noir's chances in this region. But the vines thrived, and in 1981, Richard and his wife, Thekla, started a little winery called Sanford and set up their tasting room in a tin-roofed shack. There, the Sanfords began to turn the wine world on its head with their pinot. A little movie called Sideways, some of which was shot in their very own tin-roofed shack, didn't hurt either. No merlot here, thank you very much. They grow Pinot Noir in them there hills.

In 2005 the Sanfords left the company that had been their namesake, and began Alma Rosa Winery and Vineyards. With Alma Rosa, the Sanfords have rededicated themselves to the practice of organic, sustainable agriculture in the vineyard. Over 100 acres of vineyards are under certified, organic cultivation, and the Sanfords are also supporters of efforts to reintroduce Peregrine falcons into the wild. Recovered falcons find their wings again in the La Encantada Vineyard, and do their bit to keep pests out of there without chemical pesticides. (photo of Thekla Sanford from the Alma Rosa website)

This fall, I got a chance to visit the new/old tasting room for Alma Rosa Winery and Vineyards, which is once again located in that old tin-roofed barn down the gravel path and over the winter creek just past the El Jabali vineyard. They took up residence there again in July 2007 after a brief hiatus. The tasting room staff is friendly and welcoming, the wines are superb, and the atmosphere is laid-back. If you find yourself in the Santa Rita Hills one day, make sure you stop in there.

What follows are my notes and impressions of the wines I enjoyed at Alma Rosa Winery this fall. The prices indicated here are the suggested retail prices at the winery; as always the price you pay may be higher or lower at your local merchant. Clicking on a wine's name takes you either to a list of merchants who stock the wine, or to the online order form that will enable you to get some of the wine into your own private tasting room.

2006 Alma Rosa Pinot Gris ($16). Juicy white peach and citrus aromas and flavors, with a note of almond on the palate that extends into the finish. This excellent wine was perfectly balanced between the flavorful fruit and the bright acidity. A versatile, food-friendly wine with excellent QPR.

2005 Alma Rosa Pinot Noir Vin Gris El Jabali Vineyard ($20). This is not a rosy rose. Pale salmon in color, this dry wine tends slightly towards copper. The aromas were of field-fresh, slightly under-ripe strawberries, or those little French wild strawberries called frais des bois. Tart strawberry flavors, too, with no hint of watermelon. Very distinctive, and very good QPR.

2005 Alma Rosa Pinot Blanc ($18). This creamy pinot blanc spent seven months in neutral oak barrels, which produced rich aromas of melon and pear. Very nice, and a good wine for richer fish and chicken dishes. Very good QPR.

2005 Alma Rosa Pinot Noir La Encantada Vineyard ($49). This was fantastic. Aromas and flavors of brown sugar, cherry, eucalyptus, and pine. Lots of complexity in the finish, with earth and spice notes added. Expensive, but good QPR nevertheless for a classic Santa Barbara pinot noir.

2005 Alma Rosa Pinot Noir ($36). Fresh raspberry, rhubarb, and spice aromas are all found in the flavors, which turn a touch candied on the finish. Nice balance and complexity, and it would be great with food (especially mushroom dishes). Good QPR.

2005 Alma Rosa Chardonnay El Jabali Vineyard ($30) This is one wild chardonnay, which is full and round despite the fact that the wine didn't go through malolactic fermentation. The aromas and flavors are reminiscent of a freshly cut pineapple, and there is a twist of lime on the finish. Another distinctive wine, with good QPR.

When you spot a new label, like Alma Rosa, be sure to look behind it and find the people who are making that wine. They may be old friends, and when you open up your "new" bottle you may feel like you've come home.


SB Wine Advocate said...

We were just up there Thanksgiving weekend.I picked the Alma Rosa SB county Pinot Gris as my What to drink on Monday night. Great price and lovely wine. This place is stunning! The edelswicker coincidence and now this :) we must have similar palates:)

Dr. Debs said...

We must have similar palates, SBWA, which is always a good thing to know when reading wine recommendations. I'd never been there in fall and there was something extra-special about being there with the leaves turning on the vines.