The Sta. Rita Hills appellation is in Santa Barbara County, California. This cool-climate winegrape-growing region is defined by two valleys on either side of the actual Santa Rita Hills and what it makes it such a great place for growing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir is that Sta. Rita Hills runs east-west to the Pacific Ocean (most valleys on the West Coast run north-south). And this part of the coast is still influenced by Arctic currents, so the ocean is cold! This has a huge influence on the climate in the vineyards.
A typical Sta. Rita Hills day starts with morning sea fog that burns off around 10am, letting the sunshine reach the vines and the temperatures to increase. Then, early in the afternoon the ocean “breeze” arrives, cooling the vines. It is this daily moderation that keeps the region so cool, allowing a long, slow and even ripening while preserving the grape’s natural acidity.
The Sta. Rita Hills vineyards that supply grapes to Seagrape Wine Company are run by friends of ours, making business just that more enjoyable! In some cases, we get most of the grapes from the vineyard and in others, the vineyard supplies several other Sta. Rita Hills wineries, which make comparisons interesting.
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The Hibbits family has farmed their ranch for generations and it is rightly known for great walnuts and row crops. A few years back, Art Hibbits planted a small vineyard on the mesa overlooking the ranch, with a great view of Lompoc and an ocean peek. The vineyard is planted with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, with a huge variety of clones of each. The vineyard is farmed by the family.
The Hibbits Ranch Vineyard is right on the western boundary of the Sta. Rita Hills appellation and is perhaps the one under the most influence of the Pacific Ocean. Frost is rarely a problem here, but afternoon on-shore breezes bring lower temperatures and cloud cover that give the grapes an extremely long ripening period. The cooler temperatures also produce a spiciness in the wines.
The vineyard is on a fairly-steep, west-facing slope, which means the Hibbits family gets together at least three times during harvest – first to the Pinot from the oldest vines on the upper-slope, then the lower-slope Pinot Noir and finally the Chardonnay.
The Rancho La Viña Vineyard is part of a 2,800-acre ranch of the same name, also famed for its walnuts. The vineyard is planted to several different clones of Pinot Noir.
Rancho La Viña is on a mesa above Santa Rosa Road, in the southern part of the Sta. Rita Hills appellation. The vineyard is on a gentle slope, facing north-west.
With the 2013 harvest, we will have two one-acre blocks for Pinot Noir – one with clone 115 and one with 777.
The Zotovich family purchased the existing vineyard in 2004 and what a difference they have made! Back then the vineyard had all kind of grape varieties growing there – Dolcetto and Barbera for example – but these have now been grafted to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. New blocks of Pinot Noir have been established, and there are plans for hillside plantings.
The Zotovich Vineyard is a fairly flat property next to Rte 246 in the north-east of the Sta. Rita Hills appellation. We love the clone 76 Chardonnay we get from Zoti!