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Sanford Winery a Captivating Experience


Rancho La Rinconada has everything for the wine connoisseur to the novice — and spectacular views, too.


So, when it does stop raining, when it is nice enough outside to do something fun, Sanford Winery & Vineyards is one place in Santa Barbara County that should not be overlooked.

Last fall, Sanford opened a brand-new tasting room next to its beautiful stone-and-adobe winery and estate vineyards at Rancho La Rinconada.  The new tasting room, at 5010 Santa Rosa Road, is about 10 miles west of Highway 101, in the heart of the Santa Rita Hills.

Sanford can now provide visitors with a complete winery experience, all in one location, including tours of the winery and vineyards, a tasting room and wine retail sales.

While an intimate setting, the tasting room includes a private room for small groups or educational tastings, a kitchen, and spacious front and back covered terraces to better accommodate groups and special events, all offering a 360-degree view of the winery and vineyards. The tasting room features a two-sided fireplace, with exposure inside and on the back patio.

Sanford’s facility is state-of-the-art in energy efficiency, and gorgeous in appearance. You’ll want to savor the ambience of the tasting room almost as much you will the spirits.

Tasting room manager Frank DeJohn says he enjoys his work.


“You get to meet all kinds of folks here,” he said recently. “And I enjoy telling people about wines.”

DeJohn’s approach, casual and easygoing, makes you relax and enjoy the experience — whether you are a beginner or a connoisseur of wines.

“I like it when people enjoy themselves,” DeJohn said.

The complete winery experience can be enjoyed at Sanford’s new tasting room, and it won’t cost you too much, either.

The place is open daily, with the exception of a few holidays, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the weekends.

The $5 tasting fee covers the tasting of all Sanford wines the group is pouring, and you even get to keep your souvenir wine glass.

The construction of the California mission-style building began in 2006.  It was designed by Santa Ynez architect Robert Mehl, who also designed La Rinconada’s winery, and constructed by Costal Builders, also of Santa Ynez, according to a company brochure. The building material includes 100-year-old reclaimed barn wood from Washington, timbers that was also used to build the adjacent winery.


The building façade was made of native California stone, and more than 15,000 handmade adobe bricks — that’s right, handmade — the same bricks used for La Rinconada winery, which Wine & Spirits magazine cited as one of the top examples of winery architectural design in the United States in 2006.

As with the winery, the tasting room roof is made of ceramic Spanish tiles.

Sanford History

The story and timeline of Sanford Winery & Vineyards parallels those of Santa Barbara wine country. In fact, Sanford was a pioneer in the Santa Rita Hills, planting the first Pinot Noir vines in a region now heralded for that varietal. That was 1971, and five years later, the winery released its first wine, startling critics with the quality of its inaugural release. With the 1976 vintage, Sanford gave the world its first taste of the great wines to come from the Santa Rita Hills. By 1981, Sanford had outgrown the converted hay barn that had served as its winery. It moved to larger, more modern facilities, previously operated by another producer.

In 1996, Sanford Winery found a vineyard site with soil qualities nearly identical to those in its Sanford & Benedict parcel, the site where it first planted Pinot. That year, it planted both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay at La Rinconada vineyard.

Two years later, Sanford Winery helped lead efforts to certify the Santa Rita Hills as an American Viticultural Area, or AVA. In 2001, Santa Rita Hills became an AVA. That same year, Sanford opened a new, state-of-the art winery at the La Rinconada site. By 2002, Sanford Winery & Vineyards faced its next challenge: bringing its wines to a growing and more sophisticated market. To achieve that goal, the company said, the winery turned to Terlato Wines International, the leading marketer of luxury wines in the United States.


Owned by the Terlato family — Anthony and his sons, Bill and John — TWI was the perfect partner for Sanford. Anthony Terlato brought 50 years of experience in the wine business, having succeeded in every aspect of the industry. He and his sons represented the finest wines from the world’s most important regions. The Terlatos believed deeply in Sanford’s wines and in its future, and they took an ownership interest in 2002.  Since then, with the Terlatos’ expertise as a driving force, Sanford Winery’s reputation as a world-class producer has grown, and awareness of the Sanford brand has exploded.

With the enormous success of Sideways, the Academy Award-winning movie from 2004, millions of filmgoers discovered Sanford along with the movie’s lead characters, which made Sanford Winery their first stop on their Santa Barbara wine country tour.

In 2005, the Terlato family assumed a majority ownership interest in Sanford Winery, laying the groundwork for a future every bit as successful as its past, including the opening of a new tasting room in 2007, adjacent to its vineyards and landmark winery.

For Steve Fennell, becoming the winemaker and general manager at Sanford in February 2006 marked a return to his wine roots. As an undergraduate at UCSB, Fennell pedaled his bicycle through the area’s vineyards, taking in the sights, smells and the famous cooling breezes. It was on those rides that Fennell found his calling.

After studying enology at UC Davis, he began his career as an assistant winemaker at Trefethen Vineyards, where he honed his skills helping to improve fruit quality, managing the cellar and making blends.


From 1999 to the present, Fennell was at Voss vineyards as head winemaker. His attention in the vineyards produced a range of innovative and highly acclaimed wines, from an Australian-styled Syrah to a distinctive and bold Sauvignon Blanc that earned raves for four consecutive vintages.

“I bring an integrated approach that draws on my expertise in the vineyard as well as in winemaking,” Fennell said.

“For me, it’s about treating the soil with respect, achieving consistent and high-quality grapes and crafting elegant, fruit-forward wines that are the finest expression of the Santa Rita Hills.”

The Santa Rita Hills American Viticultural Area

Sanford Winery’s Santa Rita Hills vineyards lie in an area that is unique for its climate, its geography and its geology.

The 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.

According to the experts, 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.

On the western end of the Santa Ynez Valley, the soils in the Santa 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 Ocean, temperatures are also cooler. As a result, the classic cool-climate varietals Pinot Noir and Chardonnay thrive, while to the east Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah, Grenache and Sauvignon Blanc dominate.

In 1998, Sanford Winery & Vineyards was among a group of winemakers and growers that petitioned the federal government to recognize the Santa Rita Hills as an American Viticultural Area, or AVA.

An AVA is a precisely defined geographical area that has demonstrably distinctive soil, climate and other growing conditions.


In 2001, the region 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, Sanford said. As early as 1977, renowned wine critic Robert Lawrence Balzer touted the 1976 Pinot Noir produced from the Sanford & Benedict Vineyard as the finest he had tasted yet from California.

The Santa 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.

The Sanford Vineyards:

The Sanford & Benedict Vineyard —

(Talinda Oaks Ranch, nine miles west of Highway 101, Lompoc)

This is, literally, where it all started for Sanford Winery and for the Santa Rita Hills. The traditions of both the winery and the region were born when Sanford planted Santa Barbara County’s first Pinot Noir in the Sanford & Benedict vineyard in 1971, according to a Sanford brochure. With a mantle of hard, siliceous chert-gravel covering deep, well-drained soils, it is a perfect medium for Pinot.
In all, 135 acres of the 500-acre ranch are under vine. Sanford & Benedict is primarily planted with Pinot Noir (68 acres) and Chardonnay (52 acres), with 15 acres of other grape varieties. The Pinot Noir is from the Mount Eden clone.

Rancho La Rinconada Vineyard —

(10 miles west of Highway 101, Lompoc)

Recognizing the same ideal soil conditions found in the Sanford & Benedict vineyards, Sanford first planted at La Rinconada in 1997.

The 438-acre ranch has 130 acres under vine, primarily Pinot Noir (60 acres) and Chardonnay (70 acres). The Pinot Noir comprises three Pinot Noir clones: 115, 667, 777 and Mount Eden.

The Wines

• Chardonnay — Santa Barbara County

•  Chardonnay — La Rinconada Vineyard – Santa Rita Hills

•  Pinot Noir — La Rinconada Vineyard – Santa Rita Hills

•  Pinot Noir — Sanford & Benedict Vineyard – Santa Rita Hills

•  Pinot Noir — Santa Rita Hills

•  Rosé of Pinot Noir Vin Gris – Santa Rita Hills

•  Sauvignon Blanc – Santa Barbara County


1971 In the Santa Rita Hills, the Sanford & Benedict vineyard is planted with the first Pinot Noir in Santa Barbara County.

1976 Handcrafted in a former hay barn, the first Pinot Noir from the Sanford & Benedict vineyard is released to enthusiastic reviews.

1981 Sanford Winery establishes a new winery operation in San Luis Obispo.

1983 Sanford winemaking production is moved to larger facilities in Buellton.

1987 Sanford Winery’s production reaches 25,000 cases.

1993 Sanford Winery’s production reaches 30,000 cases (Chardonnay 20,000; Sauvignon Blanc 5,000; Pinot Noir 4,000; Pinot Noir Vin Gris 1,000)

1996 La Rinconada vineyards are planted with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

1998 Sanford Winery takes leadership role in petitioning to certify the Santa Rita Hills as an American Viticultural Area.

1999 First vintage of Pinot Noir from La Rinconada vineyard is released and heralded as one of California’s finest examples of the varietal. Work begins on new winery at La Rinconada vineyard site. Using adobe blocks handmade on-site, the energy-efficient facility employs an innovative hydraulic racking system to minimize handling.

2000    Production reaches 40, 000 cases (Chardonnay 22,000; Sauvignon Blanc 7,000; Pinot Noir 10,000; Pinot Noir Vin Gris 1,000).

2001    Sanford Winery makes its first crush at its new winery at La Rinconada Vineyard; the Santa Rita Hills region gains official recognition as an American Viticultural Area.

2002    TWI representation of Sanford Winery begins and the Terlato family — Anthony and sons Bill and John — take an ownership interest in Sanford.

2003 Sideways filmed at Sanford Winery and throughout the Santa Ynez Valley.

2004  “Sideways” brings new attention to Sanford, Pinot Noir and Santa Barbara County wine country.

2005    The Terlato family assumes majority ownership interest in Sanford Winery, bringing more than 50 years of experience and an enduring commitment to putting quality first.

2006    Steve Fennell joins Sanford as its winemaker and general manager.

2007    New Tasting Room opens at Rancho La Rinconada.


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