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Saturday, February 23 , 2019, 4:21 am | Fair 39º


Feds Approve Controversial Expansion of Sta. Rita Hills Viticultural Area

The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau on Friday announced its approval of a petition to expand the eastern border of the Sta. Rita Hills American Viticultural Area by approximately 2,296 acres.

The U.S. agency designates viticultural areas to allow winemakers to better describe the origin of their wines, and allow consumers to better identify wines they may purchase.

The petition to expand the eastern border of the AVA was submitted by Patrick L.​ Shabram on behalf of the owners of John Sebastiano and Pence Ranch vineyards.

The ​TTB published the owners’ petition, Notice 145, in the federal register on Aug. 7, 2014. 

The original eastern boundary of the Sta. Rita Hills split Sebastiano and Rio Vista vineyards. Pence Ranch, owned by Blair Pence, was planted outside the eastern border of the AVA.

The Sta. Rita Hills Winegrowers’ Alliance describes the boundaries of the existing AVA as follows: On the east, about 4 miles west of Highway 101 in Buellton, and on the west, about 2 miles east of Highway 1 in Lompoc. The southern boundary is the north side of the Santa Rosa Hills, with the northern boundary the south side of the Purisima Hills.

“We are disappointed with the TTB ruling to expand the boundaries of our AVA,” said Barbara Satterfield, executive director of the Sta. Rita Hills Winegrowers' Alliance.

“The majority of growers in the Sta. Rita Hills hold the belief that the expansion area should not be included due to geographical and climate differences, but the decision has been made, and we will continue to promote our region by sharing the message of our world-class vineyards and wines.”

The expansion will move the eastern border approximately 1/2-mile eastward, and mark it by a road within a north-south canyon named Cañada de los Palos Blancos, located west of the city of Buellton, according to TTB documents.

J. Wilkes Wines’ winemaker and brand ambassador Wes Hagen — former vineyard manager and winemaker for Clos Pepe Estate in the Sta. Rita Hills and one of several opponents of the expansion petition — extended his kudos to Pence on Saturday afternoon.

“It’s exciting to be working in a region that brings out so much excitement and that has a reputation that warrants this kind of attention” on a matter such as broadening the scope of an AVA, Hagen said.

The petition to expand the Sta. Rita Hills American Viticultural Area was filed by the owners of John Sebastiano and Pence Ranch vineyards. Pence Ranch, seen here, was planted outside the eastern border of the AVA. Click to view larger
The petition to expand the Sta. Rita Hills American Viticultural Area was filed by the owners of John Sebastiano and Pence Ranch vineyards. Pence Ranch, seen here, was planted outside the eastern border of the AVA. (Laurie Jervis / Noozhawk photo)

“I extend a congratulations to Blair Pence and Pence Ranch and hope that the quality of Pence wines will help elevate the quality of the AVA. After all, we’re all in this together, trying to accomplish the same thing: To make delicious wines and then sell them.”

Hagen and many other winemakers within the Sta. Rita Hills and elsewhere in Santa Barbara County voiced opposition to the proposed expansion via blogs, petitions and videos, arguing that climatic data shows temperatures outside the existing eastern border to be inconsistent with those found within the original boundaries.

The research that led to the formation of the Sta. Rita Hills began in late 1997 when several of Santa Barbara County’s pioneering winemakers, among them Richard Sanford, Bryan Babcock, Hagen and Rick Longoria, researched soil, geography and climate before submitting a petition to the TTB. The agency granted AVA status to the Sta. Rita Hills in May 2001.

The established Sta. Rita Hills’ AVA and the expansion area are both located entirely with the larger Santa Ynez Valley and Central Coast viticultural areas.

The expansion approval will be finalized Sept. 21. 

— Laurie Jervis blogs about wine at www.centralcoastwinepress.com, tweets at @lauriejervis and can be reached via [email protected]. The opinions expressed are her own.

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