The Immutable Sta. Rita Hills Appellation
The founding of our family winery, by my father, Ron, was based upon a very purposeful decision. After searching up and down California for a piece of land ideally suited to the cultivation of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, he decided upon the Sta. Rita Hills growing region. Painstakingly drawn by regional pioneers like Richard Sanford and Bryan Babcock, the boundaries of this special place were set forth and clearly delineated to highlight its superlative combination of climate and soils. Its close proximity to the Pacific, as well as the east-west orientation of our transverse mountain range, nearly defines this unquestionably singular growing region.
Recently, the eastern boundary of the appellation was expanded following a petition spearheaded by a Los Angeles-based real estate developer. The appellation’s expansion, at least according to the TTB (Alcohol Tax and Trade Bureau) decision, was arrived at not by the TTB coming to our area to walk the boundary lines and assess the situation in person. Instead, it was made academically and administratively, at a remove, by reviewing a lot of data. Farmers understand, though, that the true nature of a piece of land and its surrounding climes cannot be arrived at by staring at reams of paperwork.
The new AVA boundary now includes the Buellton Flats, which ought to belong in the always much-warmer Santa Ynez Valley appellation. It’s pretty obvious to most of us working the land here daily that, beyond the eastern boundary of this appellation, the terrain and climate change dramatically. Data from weather stations used in this petition, located in Cebada Canyon and Ballard Canyon, are not actually located within the Sta. Rita Hills growing region. Moreover, if you simply drive in your car and head east from Lompoc towards Buellton, it’s very apparent, even in the air, how much warmer it is where the new boundaries now exist.
On a personal level, the original appellation boundary lines will always define for me the true Sta. Rita Hills growing region. Those boundary lines are as immutable to us as are the boundaries around Chablis or Cote de Nuits.
While I am all for progress and change, I am also a traditionalist and a romantic. Truly legendary places and institutions are built upon strong foundations. If a foundation is ever-shifting, how can permanence and true greatness ever emerge there?