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.
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.
Radian stands out as the most rugged among the three vineyards within The Hilt, exposed to intense wind, sun, cool air, and the low temperatures from the Pacific Ocean that characterize the extreme nature of Sta. Rita Hills. Spanning just over 100 acres, the vineyard is intricately divided into around 65 micro-blocks, highlighting the remarkable diversity of the terrain. While Pinot Noir dominates the majority of Radian, there are smaller sections devoted to Chardonnay. The Hilt produces vineyard-designate wines from Radian, and a significant portion of its fruit is also supplied to external wineries. This presents consumers with an excellent opportunity to savor a variety of wines originating from the vineyard and discover its numerous nuances.
Situated just beyond the Sta. Rita Hills AVA, Puerta del Mar, meaning “Door to the Ocean” in Spanish, is a part of the original Rancho Salsipuedes, alongside Radian and Bentrock. Encompassing a flat six-acre site, it hosts an equal distribution of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay plantings. Noteworthy is the use of Riparia Gloire rootstock for the Pinot Noir, a rare choice in the Sta. Rita Hills known for its low yield and resistance to Phylloxera. Home to the new Hilt winery, Puerta del Mar provides captivating views of prominent vineyards in the western reaches of the Sta. Rita Hills AVA. While the majority of its fruit goes to the Ojai Vineyard winery, The Hilt also bottles a small quantity for its own production.
Zotovich stands as a benchmark vineyard in the Sta. Rita Hills, renowned for its sandy soils that impart unique and strongly aromatic characteristics to the wines produced. Encompassing 35 acres, the vineyard is strategically planted with Viognier, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Syrah. While the Zotovich family produces a limited quantity of wine under their label, the majority of their crop is supplied to external wineries. For readers seeking insight into the Highway 246 Corridor’s character and the distinct wine style shaped by sandy soils in the Sta. Rita Hills, Zotovich offers a diverse array of examples.
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.
A trailblazer in the Sta. Rita Hills, Melville began its journey when Ron Melville acquired his initial property in 1996 and proceeded to plant it the following year. The site, housing the Melville winery, comprises Melville East and Melville West, boasting around 40 acres each of predominantly Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Syrah vineyards. While sandy soils dominate, certain sections feature Botella clay, notably in the terraced blocks.
Situated on an elevated plateau with an elevation of approximately 650 feet, Melville’s core estate may seem deceptively flat due to its open layout. Melville offers single-block wines from this estate, allowing enthusiasts to delve into the intricacies within a singular property. In 2008, Melville extended its vineyard footprint with the Rancho Nuevo property, characterized by alluvial and loamy terrain encompassing 36 acres of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, contributing to the larger estate bottlings.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Nestled just west of Pence, John Sebastiano vineyard, named after its owners John Wagner and Sebastiano Sterpa, is a vast and sprawling ranch. Established in 2007, this expansive property is segmented into numerous small parcels, featuring diverse exposures and elevations. Characterized by rugged terrain and persistent winds, John Sebastiano produces rich and complex wines that mirror the dramatic nature of the vineyard itself.
Despite its elite status in the Sta. Rita Hills, John Sebastiano distinguishes itself by not having an estate project. Instead, all its exceptional fruit is exclusively sold to outside wineries, contributing to the broader winemaking landscape of the region.
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.
Spear represents a newer addition to the Sta. Rita Hills, situated on a former dairy property. The vineyard consists of two main clusters of blocks, with the first running alongside Highway 246 and the second set further back, featuring visually striking steep contours, especially in the upper blocks reaching elevations of 1,100 feet. Spanning 35 acres, Spear is planted with a diverse array of varietals, including Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Syrah, Grenache Noir, and Grüner Veltliner.
Owned by Ofer Shepher, Spear’s fruit is utilized for the Spear label, while the remaining harvest is sold to various external wineries, contributing to the vibrant winemaking community in the region.
In 1996, Lee Gnesa established his intimate four-acre vineyard, a north-facing site at elevation. Dedicated to own-rooted Clone Chardonnay, the vineyard boasts wide row spacing, providing it with a charmingly old-school appearance. The soil composition, a mix of clay and sand, contributes to the unique character of the site. Notably, the distinct personality of the Chardonnay is enhanced by the own-rooted vines.
Originally brought into the spotlight by Brewer-Clifton through their vineyard-designate Chardonnay, the site gained prominence. Since 2014, all the exceptional fruit from this vineyard has been exclusively utilized by Spear, further solidifying its reputation in the winemaking landscape.