LOMPOC, Calif. - It was the movie Sideways that supercharged wine and tourism in Santa Barbara County back in 2004, boosting Pinot Noir sales, creating an obsession with the grape.
But the history of our pinot runs a lot deeper than Hollywood, and it all started in the Santa Rita Hills.
"We're right in the heart of the Sanford and Benedict Vineyard." Said Sanford Winemaker and General Manager Steve Fennell. "We have not just the Santa Rita Hills oldest vines, but we now have Santa Barbara County's oldest Pinot Noir vine this was one of the original vines planted in 1972".
Back then, two men had a vision to plant pinot where many said it could never work. Now, 45 years later, current winemaker and general manager of Sanford Winery, Steve Fennell, makes magic out of that special fruit.
"The Santa Rita Hills has gotten worldwide attention for being a cool climate appellation that grows really world-class wine." Fennell said. "We really see this rising tide. I've been here 11 years and I think the quality of wines keep getting better in the area."
Gwendolyn Alley is a wine blogger who was visiting Sanford's tasting room the day we stopped by.
"A friend of mine is visiting from New York and wanted to learn about Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir and I said we got to start at Sanford because this is where it all started." Alley said.
Alley has watched as wine exploded to a 1.7 billion dollar industry for Santa Barbara County. People from near and far can't seem to get enough of our local nectar.
"One of the things I love about wine it makes people pay attention to the place, people are paying attention to the drought, they're paying attention to the rain, they're paying attention to climate and climate change because that's having an impact on the wine." Alley said.
And Sanford Winery is paying attention too, not only to their special place in the past, but also their place in future.
The winery is "Certified Sustainable" through the Wine Institute. That means the entire operation is sustainably managed and farmed, with a focus on healthy vines and a healthy ecosystem, not just short term returns.
"That's where sustainability is key. You're not just thinking about this harvest or next years harvest, you're thinking decades in the future." Fennell said. "Grapevines are long-lived plants you can farm a vineyard the same plants for over 100 years. it's critical everything remain healthy otherwise it doesn't work."
The end result, world-class wines made right in our own backyard.
Asking Steve to pick his favorite wine is like asking a parent to pick his favorite child, but since pinot has gotten it's fair share of attention over the years he gave a special nod to his Chardonnay.
"Outside of burgundy I think this is the best place in the world to grow Chardonnay." Fennell said. "And I know other producers who feel the same, there's a few of us."
For more information on Sanford Winery visit www.sanfordwinery.com