The Sta. Rita Hills AVA is significantly impacted by its proximity to the ocean (10 miles), consistent morning/evening fog, and steady afternoon winds. These cooling trends are not only perfectly suited to growing Pinot Noir, Grenache, and Syrah, but also serve to prolong the growing season, allowing for heightened varietal flavor intensity. Additionally, the area’s cool climate and vineyards’ calcareous rock and sand help produce grapes with natural acidity and flavor balance.
At SAMsARA, we believe that all of the important work should be done in the vineyard, with little handling or manipulation of the fruit once it reaches the winery. Winegrowing at SAMsARA starts with selecting special sections within each vineyard where soils, altitudes, slopes, and elevations will bring the best out of the vine. With each section, the aim is to have “healthy vines in extreme conditions”.
As there is a direct, inverse relationship between the quantity of grapes a vine produces and their quality, all of the SAMsARA sections are purchased by the acre – SAMsARA pays the same price no matter how little fruit is produced.
Optimal winegrowing begins with soil management and spring time irrigation to ensure that vines have the nutrients and water they need to grow. Once flowering occurs in mid-summer, irrigation is stopped, forcing the vines to stop growing and focus on ripening their fruit. Leaves are removed by hand, exposing the grapes and their stems to sunlight, and moving air through the canopy. Grape clusters are then thinned by hand, further increasing the intensity of the remaining fruit.
John Sebastiano Vineyard is a picturesque site, planted to steep hillsides and rolling hills on the eastern end of Sta. Rita Hills. Both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir thrive in this sandy, windy site, and the cool-climate Syrah we produce here just barely achieves ripeness and is always the final pick of the vintage. The elevation and exposed hillsides of the vineyard lead to low-yields and fruit with balance, depth, and complexity.
Bentrock Vineyard is the westernmost planting along Santa Rosa Road on the old Salsipuedes Ranch (The ranch was broken into two vineyards, Radian and Bentrock). The vineyard is about 92 acres of rolling hills on the very western edge of Santa Rita Hills, very extreme. Mostly planted pinot noir but has a bit of Chardonnay out there.
Even on warm days in the valley, it is still breezy and cold at Bentrock. The soils are complex. The soils are sandy but there is some variability with some richer parts as well lots of interesting limestone and sandstone, even a little bit of shale. Bentrock is one of those cool climate sites where the style works really well for SAMsARA because we’re able to make an acid-driven style where fruit is picked on the early side; fresh and bright. We look more at pH and acidity as opposed to sugar ripeness and Bentrock delivers. This is one of those sites where you can pick at the right pH and you still get so much physiological ripeness because of how cool it is. We get these big, complex, dense flavors and that rippin’ acid that just keeps the wine bright, focused and really provides the backbone for that wine.
Raidan Vineyard is the sister vineyard to Bentrock, both located on the old Salsipuedes ranch. Radian is the western part of the ranch and butts up against the western perimeter of the Santa Rita Hills AVA along Santa Rosa Road. Whereas Bentrock Vineyard is more gentle rolling hills, Radian has really steep vineyard blocks. We have pinot noir there planted at the top of the hill where it’s most exposed to the wind and the cold and the fog. Often we’ll go out there during harvest, up to the top of the hill where our block is and it feels like a “fog hurricane” because the wind and fog are so intense! You can’t see six feet ahead of you in those conditions.
Because of those extreme conditions we rarely get a cluster of grapes the size of your fist. Radian produces the tiniest berries, the tiniest clusters. Yields are right around a ton and a half an acre.
When you look at that pinot noir in a glass, you might not even think it’s pinot noir because it’s just so dark, so powerful. And because it’s such a cool site, it comes in with a lot of power, a lot of structure, a lot of density but also a lot of acidity. We are really proud of the 2018 and the 2019 vintages and we think the wines, much like the vineyard, are just kind of a notch above the rest. It’s really special stuff and we’re really honored to be working with them.
La Encantada is one of the famed Sandford Vineyards along with Sandford and Benedict, Rinconada, and La Encantada. This site reflects historic Santa Barbara winemaking right here. And, naturally, this is another vineyard that we were really honored and fortunate to be able to work with.
Our block in particular is one of the older blocks, planted in the back of the vineyard. The soil is super sandy. The vines are 20 years plus years old.
2018 is the first vintage that we worked with La Encantada and we got less than one ton per acre out of our block, which is good for a winemaker, bad for a farmer. The farmer’s objective is for bigger yields so they can make it all economically viable. But for a winemaker, the low yields really translate to really special powerful concentrated fruit.
The La Encantada wines for both 2018 and 2019 have been standouts and it’s a site that we really want us to explore further and maybe pick up some additional clones and some additional blocks moving forward.
Rancho La Viña Vineyard was planted in 2005 at the far southwestern edge of the Sta. Rita Hills. Situated on a gently-sloped mesa several hundred feet above the valley floor and fully exposed to the cool winds coming off the Pacific Ocean, this site is one of the coldest Pinot Noir vineyards in California. Along with the region’s marine influence, the site’s low fertility sandy loam soils yield very small berries, which give the wines remarkably deep, dark color and intense flavors. Learn more about Rancho La Viña.
Planted in 1999, Larner Vineyard is situated amongst the beautiful rolling hills of Ballard Canyon in the Santa Ynez Valley. At approximately 680 feet in elevation, this organically-farmed vineyard is planted to almost all Rhone varieties, including six acres of Grenache (4 blocks, 4 clones). The soil is composed of Marina sand roughly four feet shallow on top of a chalk bedrock, intermixed with conglomerate hardpan.
An optimal growing site for Syrah and other varieties, Zotovich Vineyard is comprised of 35 acres in the northern part of the Sta. Rita Hills between Buellton and Lompoc. The vineyard is made up of mostly diatomaceous earth and sandy loam soils that create intense, mineral-driven wines.
We added Colson Canyon to our lineup in 2017. Owner Joey Tensley was gracious enough to allow us to work with some of his fruit. We get both grenache and syrah out of this vineyard located east of Santa Maria. Despite being a bit inland, it is still a really cool site, getting especially cold at night but it’s a little warmer during the day. Hands down it’s the most remote vineyard we’ve worked with in Santa Barbara County because it’s WAY out. You go down Tepusquet Canyon and then go down Colson Canyon. The last couple miles are all on dirt roads. It’s one of those vineyards where you got to take a left at the horse and you always think you’re lost on the way there.
But the vineyard is really special. It’s isolated. The soils are a little bit richer, and you get a little bit more of that fruit-driven quality because it’s a warmer site during the day. But because of the cold nights, you get really thick skins, good structure, high acid, and lots of color. Colson Canyon has been a very nice addition to our lineup because it’s a little bit different stylistically than the cooler climate syrahs out of Santa Rita Hills, with a little more fruit and a little more power. But, like with our other wines, we use heavy stem inclusion and neutral oak. Like all of our vineyards, the wines out of Colson are just very distinct and really special.
Planted in 2005, Kessler-Haak Vineyard sits on 29 acres of east-facing rolling hillsides in the cooler northwestern portion of the Sta. Rita Hills. The soils vary from sandy to sandy loam with patches of clay loam. Seven Pinot Noir clones are planted on 3 different rootstocks with low yields averaging 1.2 – 1.5 ton/acre. Although not certified, vineyard practices are strictly organic. No pesticides or herbicides are used and weed control is done mechanically. Pest control is done through natural predators, such as hawks, badgers, and coyotes.
Rio Vista is also on Santa Rosa Road. However, it is on the east end of Santa Rita Hills closer to Highway 101. The particular block that we have at Rio Vista is the very last block of pinot to ripen. It is a block that Ken Brown worked with for years and years. When Ken mentioned that he wasn’t going to be working with Rio Vista anymore, we made sure to hop on it. Ken didn’t like it because it ripens so late and was ripening so long after all of his other pinot noir that it was a logistical nightmare. But for us, late ripening is a real positive because we really like vineyard sites that have super long hang time and physiological maturity without getting over-ripe.
The block at Rio Vista is the last block in the vineyard to get picked. It’s not our latest pinot pick but it’s close. So even though it’s in a warmer site on the east end of Santa Rita, it still ripens really slow. And it’s been a major component for our Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir in the last couple vintages. But in 2018 iit was a real standout so we made a last minute decision to pull two of the best barrels aside and do a small 50-case lot or Rio Vista single vineyard Pinot Noir just for the wine club and for our tasting room customers. It will be the first vintage of Rio Vista Pinot Noir for us
But it’s funny how you start to think some vineyards are just maybe not as distinctive or unique, for whatever reason, and get your head turned around like we did with Rio Vista. At the end of the day we’re here to make a tasty beverage. So when you’ve got a couple special barrels, it’s nice to be able to be dynamic and say hey, let’s do this instead of that and offer our customers and our club members something special.
Las Hermanas Vineyard sits to the west of the Melville Estate Vineyard, just 8 miles from the ocean. It is planted on over six different soil types, all of marine origin. SAMsARA’s four rows of clone 115 Pinot Noir are located towards the top of the vineyard, where it is well-drained and aggressively sloped.
Overlooking the western Santa Ynez River, Cargasacchi Vineyard was planted in 1998 on a south-facing slope of the Sta. Rita Hills range. The vineyard is comprised of a mere twelve acres, all of which are Pinot Noir Clone 115. In Burgundy, this particular clonal selection is looked upon as the whole package because of its ability to produce wines of both intense aromatics and flavor.
Cargasacchi’s low-nutrient and lean soils evolved from a weathered Miocene period seabed, which forms the dorsal spine of the Sta. Rita Hills. Over millions of years, the upslope weathering and erosion have created an ancient alluvial fan on which the Cargasacchi Vineyard is planted. The site’s “argilo-calcaire” soils, with their moderate water holding capacity and excellent drainage, are perfectly suited to growing Pinot Noir.
Melville Vineyard sits in the cool-climate Sta. Rita Hills AVA. SAMsARA’s sections are located just behind the winery, planted in deep, light-textured sandy loam soil at an 8′ x 3′ spacing (1,815 vines/acre). The vineyard is predominantly north/south-facing and the vines are all vertically shoot positioned with aggressive canopy management to ensure proper ripening and varietal development.
The SAMsARA Syrah section – 8 rows of vines in the only remaining Syrah block on the estate – was planted in 1998. The vines are 100% Estrella clone on two different low-vigor rootstocks and produce 2.5 to 2.75 lbs per vine.
The 6-row SAMsARA Pinot Noir section is nearby. The soil is a darker, textured clay-based soil with slightly more vigor and more minerals, which produces more complex fruit. There are four rows of Pinot Noir clone 667 and two rows of the Pommard clone, producing 2.25 to 2.5 lbs per vine.
Turner Vineyard sits on 21 acres adjacent to Melville’s Estate Vineyard in the northern part of the Sta. Rita Hills. The site is planted to three acres of Syrah and fifteen acres of Pinot Noir, amongst other varieties. SAMsARA’s Pinot Noir section is located beside Carrie’s Block and has the same dark, clay-based soil with calcareous chunks. It has a high elevation and is very exposed to the Sta. Rita Hills wind.
The four rows of vines are comprised of clones 777 and Pommard, which produce approximately 2.25 to 2.5lbs per vine. This site benefits from an incredible landscape comprised of a valley floor, gentle hills facing both north and south, and a mesa.
For 2019, we got the great opportunity to lease this small vineyard, with only three and a half acres planted, and we jumped at the chance. It’s either the westernmost or the second westernmost vineyard in Ballard Canyon, right on that western edge. It feels like you could lob a softball over the 101 into Santa Rita Hills because it is so close. Jorian Hill gets really exposed to a lot of that maritime influence that defines Santa Rita Hills so it’s a cooler site than most of Ballard Canyon. The vineyard is planted to all Rhone varietals: mostly Syrah but also some Grenache, some Viognier, a little bit of Mourvedre. It’s an older vineyard, planted in the late 1990’s.
The syrah block is particularly special because it’s planted on a super steep, terraced hill. It’s planted in a way that is really uncommon. We are not sure that we’ve seen platings like that anywhere else in Santa Barbara County. It really reminds us of being in Hermitage in the Northern Rhone and walking up to La Chapelle at the top of the mountain. It’s absurdly steep.
The vines are organically farmed and have been since they were planted. The fruit is really dense and complex and speaks to the place. It’s a cool climate site and we’re really excited to start producing Viognier, most of our Rosé fruit comes from there as well and the Syrahs coming soon. It is a very special and really interesting site.