Staff Report

Bob and Barb Zorich, proprietors of Alma Rosa Winery, are pleased to announce that winery founder Richard Sanford was named 2020 Vintner of the Year by the Sta. Rita Hills Wine Alliance. 

Wine author, expert and critic Matt Kettman led a live online tribute and tasting featuring conversations with Sanford and several surprise guests paying tribute to Richard’s lifetime dedication to the Sta. Rita Hills on Aug. 11. 

A living legend in the world of California wine and commonly referred to as the “Godfather of Central Coast Pinot Noir,” Sanford planted the first pinot noir vineyard on the Central Coast in 1971 at the Sanford & Benedict vineyard, and has lived and worked in the Sta. Rita Hills, a region he helped create, for nearly five decades.

A geographer by trade, Sanford identified the unique transverse mountain range near Santa Barbara, where the valleys run east to west and open to the sea, as an optimal area to plant grapes. With the knowledge that the climate of coastal California is largely determined by proximity to the ocean, he surveyed these unique valleys very carefully. “When you drive to Santa Barbara from Los Angeles, you are actually driving west,” Sanford said. “Even though Santa Barbara sits on a similar latitude to Tunisia, it is the fog and ocean air that tempers the heat of the sun’s rays. It is ‘refrigerated sunlight.’ This, along with complex and well-drained soils, has proven the Sta. Rita Hills to be one of the greatest places to plant pinot noir and chardonnay in the world.”

Richard made estate-grown pinot noirs at the Sanford & Benedict vineyard from 1976 through 1980. In 1981, he launched Sanford Winery with his wife Thekla, and there they produced category-defining wines of local and international acclaim for over 25 years. During this time, Richard established and planted many of the Sta. Rita Hills’ most revered sites, including La Rinconada, La Encantada and Alma Rosa’s current estate, El Jabali, which was originally planted in 1983. Sanford Winery became one of Santa Barbara County’s most iconic wineries, helping to establish the region as a wine country travel destination.

In 2005 Richard and Thekla founded Alma Rosa, which they sold to Bob and Barb Zorich in 2014. Richard continues to live at the Alma Rosa estate, where he serves as a winery ambassador and continues to be active as one of the leading advocates for the Sta. Rita Hills AVA.