We have been writing, traveling and interviewing wine makers in the beautiful Sta Rita Hills AVA for many years. In our opinion this unique AVA produces some of the finest Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in the country if not the world. Now a Santa Barbara County grape grower wants to expand the Sta. Rita Hills appellation to include his vineyards, but has met with opposition from those already in the appellation. Blair Pence, owner of Pence Ranch vineyard, filed a petition with the Alcohol and Tobacco, Tax and Trade Bureau to change the eastern boundary of the AVA. The expansion would extend the eastern boundaries to include three vineyards, John Sebastiano Vineyards, Rio Vista Vineyard and his Pence Ranch Vineyard. He owns 40 acres of vines selling grapes to local wineries for years however, because his land falls outside of the Sta. Rita Hills appellation he gets less value per ton.
This renegade grower filed a petition, stating that his land’s soil and climate is similar to the established AVA. As expected the Sta Rita Hills Winegrower Alliance disagrees with Pence’s arguments. Wes Hagen of Clos Pepe who is the original petitioner who crafted the AVA boundaries points out in numerous interviews the new border would extend into a distinct landmass called the Buellton Flats, which has a north-south orientation, while the current AVA has an east-west orientation. In addition, the proposed areas lack the maritime influence that make the region ideal for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
The Sta Rita Hills is a very special place and we have watched it grow first hand having walked many of the renowned vineyards in the area. If you spend any amount of time in the area, meet the winemakers who are still farmers and taste the wines from the region you will understand why the Sta Rita Hills current boundaries are where they are. Recently new AVAs have been established in the area such as nearby Happy Canyon AVA. Why it was not added to the Sta Hills AVA? The answer is simple. It’s different. There are many micro climates and soil compositions that make up distinct terroir and that of course influences the grapes thus making them different from the same varietal literally grown just a few miles or less away. The Sta Rita Hills boundaries are there for a reason, founded by nature itself and should not be modified.