Sanford Winery’s Sta. Rita Hills vineyards lie in an area that is unique for its climate, its geography and its geology.
The Sta. Rita Hills are situated in a transverse maritime throat, a pure east-west series of rolling hills that have no barriers between the hillside vineyards and the adjacent Pacific Ocean. This unusual occurrence provides strong winds, morning fog and cool temperatures. Together, these conditions lengthen the growing season, limit vine yields, and provide grapes with a rare combination of full ripeness, concentration, excellent structure, minerality and acidity.
Located on the western end of the Santa Ynez Valley, the soils in the Sta. Rita Hills contain less clay and more calcium than those in the eastern end of the valley, and because the area is nearer to the Pacific, temperatures are also cooler. As a result, the classic cool-climate varietals Pinot Noir and Chardonnay thrive in the Sta. Rita Hills, while to the east Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah, Grenache and Sauvignon predominate.
In 1998, Sanford Winery and Vineyards was among a group of winemakers and growers who petitioned the U.S. Government to recognize the Sta. Rita Hills as an American Viticultural Area (AVA). An AVA is a precisely defined geographical area that has demonstrably distinctive soil, climate and other growing conditions.
In 2001, the Sta. Rita Hills received official certification as an AVA, distinct from the larger Santa Ynez Valley AVA that has existed since 1977.
The certification officially acknowledged what the wine world had understood for years. As early as 1977 the famed wine critic Robert Lawrence Balzer touted the 1976 Pinot Noir produced from the Sanford and Benedict Vineyard as the finest he had tasted yet from California.
The Sta. Rita Hills AVA covers approximately 100 square miles extending from four miles west of Highway 101 at Buellton to two miles east of Lompoc on both sides of the Santa Ynez River. The northern boundaries are formed by the south-facing slopes of the Purisima Hills and the southern boundaries are formed by the north-facing slopes of the Santa Rosa Hills.