My trip into the wine country today was set up by Sustain-able Vine Wine Tours of Santa Barbara County. Our driver was Brian Hope, its owner.
Hope promised a six-hour, behind-the-scenes look at organic winemaking and drives through some of the most beautiful parts of Santa Ynez Valley. And, he delivered, big time!
Sharing the experience were seven California-based travel writers — two males and five other females.
The first stop was the Alma Rosa Winery & Vineyards, owned by the husband/wife team of Richard and Thekla Sanford who strongly believe nature and agriculture should co-exist in sustainable harmony.
Richard came to the Santa Ynez Valley more than 40 years ago to create wines that would rival the best of France. He was the first to recognize the potential of the Santa Rita Hills — now an officially accredited AVA (American Viticultural Area) as Sta. Rita Hills. He was also the first to plant Pinot Noir vines here.
The Sanfords founded Sanford Wines in 1981 and for 27 years produced award-winning wines sold in 50 states and 16 countries. (It was this wine that the characters in the movie, Sideways, tried first on their wine-tasting adventure.)
In 1983, the Sanfords planted their first 100% organic vineyard at Rancho El Jabali. The Rinconada and La Encantada vineyards followed, and in the year 2000, all Sanford estate vineyards were the first in Santa Barbara County to be certified organic by the California Certified Organic Farmers.
It was an unexpected delight this morning to get to meet and taste wines with Richard.
The first thing a woman like me noticed about Richard was his appearance. Tall and tan with light hair and a face that could only be described as "very handsome." The next thing about Richard that made a strong and very positive impression on me was his great smile and friendliness. The third? How much he loves planting grapes and producing wine!
It was great hearing Richard talk about each wine as I sipped my way through six or seven varieties. It was great too to hear him say, "Alma Rosa Wines are now available at Spec's in Houston."