The Tasting Panel magazine

Nov 09

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Page 67 of 92

t he Santa Rita Hills AVA in Santa Barbara County—now known as Sta. Rita Hills for le- gal reasons—was certified in 2001, although its reputation for stylized versions of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay was cemented a few decades earlier. The area's most notable name—recognized not only as an area pioneer but also for its acclaimed land—is Sanford Winery. Tony Terlato and his sons Bill and John first took a majority ownership stake in the winery in 2005. In fall 2007 the Terlatos purchased the adjoining Sanford & Benedict Vineyard and launched a major revitalization project on the historic parcel, under the guidance of VP of Winemaking Doug Fletcher and winemaker Steve Fennell. According to Tony Terlato, in the Sanford & Benedict Vineyard "greatness is possible," as the soil historically produces wines that many consider to be as close as one can get to Burgundian in style. And within the legendary Sanford & Benedict vineyard, first planted in 1971, the original 12-foot rows have been redesigned on a new pattern: six feet of space between rows and five feet between vines to maximize the potential of the site. Steve Fennell points out, "We're expecting a 60 percent increase in yield and a higher quality Pinot Noir." In the works is an additional 12 acres of vines. As one of the most desirable sources for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the appellation, the San- ford & Benedict and La Rinconada vineyards con- tinue to offer stunning wines. "We're going to grow better fruit than ever on these sites," insists Fennell. "Our choices of rootstocks and clones have also improved, although we may not see the ultimate results for another two to five years." Focus on Individual Blocks Fennell adds, "There are big changes on board for both vineyards; we are keeping everything separate—from water and nutrition to vineyard practice, from fermentation to aging—from 14 different blocks of Pinot Noir at La Rinconada and 12 at Sanford & Benedict. And because we harvest separately, there may be as much as three weeks or more between harvesting these blocks." The state-of-the-art winery uses a unique gravity racking system. Powerful hydraulic lifts raise and lower vats, minimizing handling and preserving the esters that give Sanford's wines complexity and delicacy. Sanford's white wine fermentation takes place in both 60 gallon French oak barrels and stainless steel tanks, while the Pinot Noir is fermented in open-top stainless steel tanks and then finished in French oak barrels. "The major reason I came on board at Sanford," admits Fennell, a former Napa winemaker (Trefethen and Voss) who is working his fourth vintage at Sanford, "is that I tasted the wines. I thought the Pinot Noirs were too ex- tracted, with pronounced tannins. The beauty of Pinot Noir is a silky quality, and I was up for the challenge." "Changing the dimension of tanks and adding more stain- less steel—ultimately making them taller, with a one-to-one ratio of height to width—offers a greater surface area to the cap," the winemaker explains. "This equates to more juice- to-skin contact, and that all-important balance." The Sanford 2007 La Rincona- da Vineyard Chardonnay, Sta. Rita Hills ($38) is lean, lemony and youthful. A kiwi and cucum- ber zing meshes with a minerality that, according to Fennell, "is the hallmark of our cool-climate Char- donnay, and when done right, will age well. This wine, aged in 40% new French oak, is as similar to white Burgundy as you may find from this region." The Sanford 2007 Sanford & Benedict Vineyard Pinot Noir, Sta. Rita Hills ($60) Meaty and teeth-coating; intense candied fruits offer an old-vine character. A kirsch-like liqueur quality strikes depth and intensity with ripe, if not big, tannins; structure is key in this exciting, world-class red. november 2009 / the tasting panel / 67 Overlooking La Rinconada Vineyard and the Sanford winemaking facility. Remarkable Vineyards, Side by Side

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