Wine Tasting Trip: Sanford Winery in Santa Ynez Valley, California

People who love wine often talk about how wine is just as much about the experience as it is about the wine itself. They’re sometimes referring to the process of uncorking a bottle, who they’ve shared the wine with, or the time they visited the winery. In my case, when I wax poetic about Sanford Winery, it’s 1/3 because of how I discovered it, 1/3 because of how beautiful it is there, and 1/3 because I like the wines.

A couple of years ago on my first trip to the Santa Ynez area with Mitch, we got lost looking for the Wine Ghetto in Lompoc. We’d never been and Google Maps is dreadful at understanding the addresses in this area so we had to attack the problem the old-fashioned way–drive around aimlessly until we stumble on it, or give up and try it again next time. We did NOT find the wine ghetto on that trip (but we did on the next one with much more assiduous research). We did, however, take a detour down Santa Rosa Rd (which we didn’t know the name of) through a beautiful valley, part of the Santa Rita Hills AVA. On our way, we encountered what appeared to be a brand new, and open, tasting room… so we went. We’d never heard of Sanford before that moment, but we’re glad our adventure went that way.

Chardonnay grapes growing on the flat land at the Sanford-Benedict Vineyard

Chardonnay grapes growing on the flat land at the Sanford-Benedict Vineyard

On this past trip, honoring the discovery of the winery on our last trip and the several bottles of Sanford Chardonnay we’ve consumed since then, we popped in on our way to a scheduled wine-tasting charity event. Boy are we glad we did!

We came at the winery from the opposite side of Santa Rosa Rd (exiting 101E instead of 246W) and drove through the gorgeous valley in late-afternoon sunlight which–yes it’s cheesy–danced on the grapevines showing their new fall colors. We passed by Mosby and Alma Rosa, making note to come back this way next time, and pulled into the parking lot at Sanford to find only four cars. Sweet!

In we went to the familiar tasting room. We later learned that the beautiful architecture is made from reclaimed Douglas Fir and local adobe hand cut by the vineyard workers themselves. Because it was empty we were served immediately and we shared our first tasting of the day.

Mitch isn’t crazy about Chardonnays in general, but really likes the Sanford Chardonnay (probably because there’s no oak). We both remembered not being crazy about their red wines a couple of years ago, but we know our palates have matured and each vintage is different, so we had open minds as we began the discovery process all over again.

The door to the barrel room

The door to the barrel room

The Sanford Winery Tasting Room does public tours of their winery every Saturday at 12pm and 2pm. We were the only folks around so we took a private tour of the winery with the new tasting room manager’s inaugural tour. If he hadn’t told us, we wouldn’t have known!

It was our first time in the “employees only” area of a winery so it was great fun to see all the wine as it ages, to learn about the equipment and methods of their winemaking, to hear about the investments a winery makes, and just to soak in what daily life might be like if we lived there (one can dream). As our careful tour guide removed the lock and the stellar old-fashioned door “knob” from the West Barrel Room, we knew we were in for a treat. The room requires no HVAC to remain a constant 60-something degrees and walking into the quiet room filled with barrels which each hold 300 bottles of wine was serene.


Where the Chardonnay Ferments

We also saw the different types of equipment to start extracting juice from the grapes, the massive open-topped fermentation tanks, and views of the vineyard which included an explanation of how the Pinot Noir grapes grow up on the hill and the Chardonnay grapes grow in the lower flat areas. There were also, as I somewhat expected, various clones the winemakers are “fooling around with” as they craft their next wines.

The Pinot Noir grapes growing up the hill with the Chardonnay grapes in front

The Pinot Noir grapes growing up the hill with the Chardonnay grapes in front

Of course, let’s not forget about the reason it’s all here looking so luscious… the wines! Here’s a rundown of what we tasted and what we thought about it.

Sunlight shining into the Sanford Winery Tasting Room

Sunlight shining into the Sanford Winery Tasting Room

2007 Sanford Chardonnay, Santa Barbara County, $22 per bottle

What they say: Our 2007 Santa Barbara County Chardonnay comes from four great vineyards. Our estate vineyards in the Santa Rita Hills, La Rinconada and Sanford & Bendict, along with the El Camino Vineyard in Los Alamos and the Bien Nacido Vineyard east of Santa Maria, combine to give this wine aromatic complexity and layers of flavor. The 2007 vintage was low yielding and produced wines of great intensity and structure. This barrel fermented Chardonnay shows all of the exotic tropical fruit and citrus that Santa Barbara is renowned for, along with the minerality that is a signature of wines from the Santa Rita Hills. This full bodied wine has nice acidity to keep it in balance and makes a nice complement to most seafood, poultry, and pasta with lighter sauces.

What Jess says: Apple & oak on the nose, with a smoky, astringent quality to it. It’s initially strong on the front of the palate with a bit of pineapple in the mid-palate. A lingering finish that fades gracefully.

Also known as “The Flower Label” Chardonnay, it’s a fairly large-production wine that can be found at Vons/Pavillions/Safeway/etc. and other stores, too. Santa Monica Seafood retails it for $17 and it goes on sale at the Safeway stores for as low as $14.99. At $14.99 it’s a FANTASTIC Chardonnay.

Buy it at K&L Wines

2006 Sanford La Rinconada Vineyard Chardonnay, Santa Rita Hills, $34 per bottle

What they say: The 2006 La Rinconada Chardonnay comes exclusively from our estate vineyard in the Santa Rita Hills. It is sourced from our two best lbocks (Wente and Clone 15), whole cluster pressed and barrel fermented. With the traditional Burgundian technique of lees stirring and barrel aging, this wine has developed richness and elegance sought after in fine Chardonnay. Intense by balanced, our flagship Chardonnay is bursting with citrus and tropical fruit, with hints of creme brulee.

What Jess says: On the nose: detectable minerality, earthy, smells like a Chardonnay and not like overdone winemaking. In the mouth, light, acidic/bright, and smooth with notes of oak and, believe it or not, that creme brulee.

2006 Sanford La Entrada Chardonnay, $45 per bottle

What they say: A stunning Chardonnay from our most prized block of Clone 15. This intense but balanced barrel fermented wine is called “La Entrada” because it comes from the parcel at the entrance to the Rinconada Vineyard. From its lifted citrus and tropical aromatics, to its rich but well structured palate, this barrel fermented Chardonnay has impressed all who have tasted it.

What Jess says: Yum. I, too, was impressed. A delicate vanilla nose. Smooth and silky mouthfeel with hints of citrus and pineapple. I’d be happy to drink some more of this one.

2007 Sanford Flor de Campo White Blend, $48 per bottle

What they say: The 2007 vintage marks the second bottling of this exotic white wine. Inspired by the great wines of France’s Northern Rhone Valley, this wine from Santa Ynez Valley is called “Flor de Campo” which is Spanish for wildflower. To preserve the exotic spicy floral character of this Roussanne/Viognier blend, we barrel fermented in neutral French Oak barrels. The resulting full-bodied wine offers aromas of peach and nectarine, with hints of jasmine. The full palate is balanced by crisp acid and minerality.

What Jess says: Also blended with less than 1% Chardonnay, these grapes hail from Happy Canyon, happy indeed. The nose was sweet, green apple and honeysuckle for me. It was smooth but tasted heavily of the Viognier. As much as I’m a Rhone nut (or at least a Rhone Ranger Sidekick), I’m notsomuch a fan of the Viognier unless it’s been cut by something heavier or sweeter. In this case, the more delicate Roussane could have used more mmph than the 60%/40% blend gave it… at least for me.

2008 Sanford Pinot Noir Rose – Vin Gris, $18 per bottle

What they say: Our 2008 Vin Gris of Pinot Noir is from the La Rinconada Vineyard and the historic Sanford and Benedict Vineyard. After de-stemming our Pinot Noir, we allow 3-5 hours of contact time before draining off the lightly colored juice for our Vin Gris. This wine is then tank-fermented to dryness before aging in neutral French Oak barrels for 4 months. This wine has inviting aromas of strawberry, rhubarb, and cranberry along with floral notes suggestive of orange blossoms and a hint of white pepper. This dry orse has excellent acidity, which allows it to pair well with a range of foods. Grilled seafood, spicy dishes and most picnic fare would be excellent with this wine.

What Jess says: Nose: a nice smooth rose smell. Mouth, a light “red-fruity” flavor, cranberry, with a full-tongue experience and a good finish. We liked this and found it to be a good value at $18. The problem is that I’m in love with the Beckmen Grenache Rose and we figured we’d stop by there and pick some up on Sunday when we were over that way… except we didn’t go! I said, “Nah, some other time.” What was I thinking??

2007 Sanford Pinot Noir, Santa Rita Hills, $40 per bottle

What they say: A blend from our estate vineyard, La Rinconada, and the historic Sanford & Benedict Vineyard next door. A mix of vineyard blocks and several different clones give this wine added complexity. This wine is deep violet red in color and is bursting with black cherry and plub, pepper and sage on the nose. The palate delivers dusty berry flavors framed nicely by bright acidity and supple tannins. The wine was allowed to age in French Oak barrels (30% new oak) for 10 months where it gained concentration and picked up hints of vanilla and licorice.

What Jess says: Beautiful and earthy Santa Ynez Valley Pinot on the nose, enticing me to drink it. This is a structured, smooth Pinot Noir, the red fruit is expressive, there’s a little chalkiness on the mid-palate and I detected oak but no vanilla or licorice. We liked this Pinot better than last time but we don’t think it’s worth the release price of $40… yet. Perhaps with some age this wine will mature into something spectacular. You’d have to ask Robert Parker about that :) We’ve seen this at the grocery store at retail price, if it goes on sale for $25 or less I’d pick up a bottle.

Buy it at, Buy it at K&L Wines

2007 Sanford & Benedict Vineyard Pinot Noir, $60 per bottle

What they say: Sourced exclusively from this historic vineyard in the esteemed Santa Rita Hills AVA. Planted in 1971 this iconic vineyard consistently produces distinctively superb Pinot Noir. The 2007 wine is deep ruby in color and is loaded with aromas of black cherry and raspberry with hints of clove, cinnamon, and white pepper. The rich palate delivers bright spicy cherry flavors framed nicely by bright acidity and ripe tannins. Aged in French Oak for 11 months where it gained concentration and complexity, this wine will improve in the bottle for 5 to 8 years with proper cellaring.

What Jess says: The nose was deep and earthy, hints of clove for sure. This wine melts over the tongue with cherry, smooth earthy finish, oaky (but not in a bad way). This blog is about value wines because we’re too cheap to buy a $60 wine (in general). We liked the wine, but not enough to pay $60 for it.

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Wine Tasting Trips

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