Tama Takahashi
March 27, 2012 | MIscellaneous Wine Fun! , Wine & Food Pairings, Wine Country Travel | Tama Takahashi

Handcrafted Pinot Noir in the windswept hills of Sta. Rita AVA

Wesley Anderegg sculpture

Here's a great food/wine pairing: a young, light bodied Pinot Noir served with three-cheese quesadillas, corn salsa and spicy red pepper sauce. Pinot noir paired with quesadillaWe had this lunch in the adobe house of Wesley and Donna Anderegg: ceramic artists who also happen to be gourmet cooks and home winemakers. They produce around two barrels of Pinot on their farm which is in the windswept rolling hills of the Sta. Rita AVA, wine that is not for sale, but for personal consumption. The lunch was just one of the delights of a ceramic workshop in their huge, light-filled studio. Wesley's work is in numerous museums around the country; he makes sometimes whimsical, sometimes macabre but always visually arresting sculptures and paintings. Donna throws, paints and carves beautiful dinnerware.

Sta. Rita HillsThe Sta. Rita AVA is unique in the transverse (meaning east-to-west, rather than north-south) mountain ranges that funnel ocean air into the sunny interior of Santa Barbara County. Locals call it the "maritime throat" as it blows cooling fog, combining with the rocky soil to make perfect conditions for growing Pinot Noir, as evidenced by the high scores and acclaim won by many wineries such as Sanford, Longoria and Sea Smoke.

One of the pioneers in viticulture was Richard Sanford who planted the first Pinot Noir vineyard in the area in 1970. Armed with a degree in Geography, he researched land and climate across the state and discovered the Santa Rita Hills had similar terroir as Burgundy, France. He and his wife founded the eponymous winery, with partner Michael Benedict, and produced award-winning wines for 27 years before leaving Sanford and creating the sustainably-farmed and organic Alma Rosa Winery & Vineyards in the same AVA. The Sanfords were instrumental in establishing the tiny (about 48 square mile) AVA. Alma Rosa consistently wins medals and acclaim for their wines: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Pinot Gris.

Sanford WineryCurrent majority partners in Sanford Winery & Vineyards, Anthony Terlato and his sons Bill and John, continue the legacy of producing highly-rated wines: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Sanford Winery is on the picturesque Santa Rita Hills wine trail. Stop in and taste wines in their showcase tasting room and winery, built mostly from recycled materials, including 15,000 handmade adobe bricks.

You may wonder why the proper name for the AVA is "Sta. Rita" instead of "Santa Rita" when the location is the Santa Rita Hills. This came about because a Chilean wine producer, Viña Santa Rita, which has been making wine in that country for 130 years, filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Treasury (which overses the Bureau of Tobacco, Alcohol, Firearms and Explosives, and threatened to sue any winery that used the Santa Rita name. Richard Sanford met with the Chilean producer and was able to broker a compromise where the Santa Barbara County region would use the abbreviation "Sta." -- and abbreviation that has historical precedence, since it was used for Mexican land grants in California's early years.

History, fine wine, good food and art make the Santa Rita Hills a great touring & tasting destination!


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