Napa Valley Wine Tasting / Wineries

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Pinots from Heaven:

Tasting in the Santa Rita Hills

By Thom Elkjer, Wine Editor

Looking for next great Pinot Noir? The Santa Barbara County's Santa Rita Hills are quickly becoming a favorite growing spot for Southern California Pinot Noir. With cool ocean breezes, warm afternoons and mineral-rich soil, the hills just north of Santa Barbara are producing some of California's most sought-after Pinots.

Here are some of the wineries to watch for:

AP Vin: Watch for this young, upstart Pinot-only label. Grapes from a number of Santa Rita Hills growers including Clos Pepe go into these emerging wines. No tasting room.

Alma Rosa Winery and Vineyards : One of the newest wineries in the hills, Alma Rosa was born of fireā€”that being the departure of Richard and Thekla Sanford from their eponymous winery. Though exactly what happened depends on who you ask, Alma Rosa will release their first vintage in 2005, using a combination of purchased grapes and grapes from about 115 acres of vineyards the family retained from their original winery. No tasting room.

Lafond Winery and Vineyard : Award-winning Pinot Noirs. Owner Pierre Lafond was the first post-Prohibition winemaker in the valley, setting up shop in 1962. The Santa Rita Hills winery is his second estate, completed in 1996. 6855 Santa Rosa Road, Buellton California, 805.688.7921. Open daily 10am to 5pm.

Babcock Vineyards : Another highly respected producer of Pinot Noirs, winemaker Bryan Babcock is a rising superstar of the wine world, chosen by the James Beard Foundation as one of the "Top Ten Small Production Winemakers in the World," the only American chosen for this oenological dream team and 5175 East Highway 246
Lompoc, California, 805.736.1455 . Open Friday-Sunday, 10:30am to 4pm.

Melville: Next door neighbors to Babcock, Melville is tiny producer, but already gaining big notoriety. Winemaker Greg Brewer holds down the fort, moonlighting at with his partners at the equally notable Brewer-Clifton, which also produces Pinot Noir from the region. 5185 East Hwy 246 , Lompoc, California, 805-735-7030. Open 11am to 4pm daily.

Clos Pepe Estate: Super-low yields make for concentrated, luscious Pinots from winemaker Wes Hagen. Vineyard Tours/Tasting By Appointment Only, 4777 East Highway 246, Lompoc, California, 805.735.2196.

Sanford Winery : Though it's going through a bit of an awkward stage after ownership changes and a disastrous 2003 vintage for its Pinot Noir, this award-winning winery has long been one of the most consistently outstanding wineries in the appellation. 7250 Santa Rosa Rd., Buellton, California, 805.688.3300. Open 11am to 4pm daily.

Sea Smoke Cellars : If you stumble upon a bottle, snatch it up. Sea Smoke Pinots are made in limited quantities and are among the most sought-after wines in the region. No tasting room.

Fiddlehead Cellars : Best known for their Sauvignon Blanc, aged in French oak, this Santa Rita Hills winemaker also does Pinot Noir. No tasting room.


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