Deadline for Comments on Sta. Rita Hills Expansion Ends Soon (DEC. 5)!!

| December 2, 2014 | 0 Comments

Photo I took while at the 2013 Sta. Rita Hills Winegrowers Alliance “Wine & Fire” event

The due date to submit comments on the proposed expansion of the Sta. Rita Hills (SRH) American Viticultural Area (AVA) is December 5th! This rather controversial proposition could, if approved, radically change the composition of this esteemed AVA. Now is the time to submit your comments either for or against this proposal.

Not aware of the contents of the official proposition or the original petition that inspired it? Click the links below to access those full documents.

  1. The official proposition: here.
  2. The original petition (filed by Patrick L. Shabram, on behalf of John Sebastiano Vineyard and Pence Ranch): here.

If, like me, you want to hear more about how the proposed changes would impact the SRH AVA, in this post I present the recent resources I found really useful. I also checked in myself with Barbara Satterfield, the Executive Director of the Santa Rita Hills Wine Growers’ Alliance (SRHWGA) with questions of my own, and received answers from Stephen Pepe and Wes Hagen, proprietor and winemaker for Clos Pepe Estate. For their assessment of the proposal and how the change would impact the Santa Rita Hills AVA, read my Q&A below. Please read on, and remember to make your opinion known by December 5!

Recent publications:
There has been some outstanding coverage of this topic by Elaine Brown of Elaine has two very important posts on her site. In the first one, posted on August 6, 2014, Elaine breaks down the proposal on multiple facets. The article is titled, “BREAKING NEWS: An In-Depth Look at the Proposed Sta Rita Hills AVA Expansion” (You can read it by clicking here). This in-depth story is a review of the proposal and what factors Shabram, John Sebastiano Vineyard, and Pence Ranch believe validates the expansion.

The second article Elaine wrote was on September 8, 2014 entitled, “TTB UPDATE: What Makes an Effective Comment? TTB Extends Sta Rita Hills Expansion Comment Period“. (You can read it by clicking here). Here, Elaine breaks down how anyone can submit feedback to The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) and the best way to communicate a response.

And lastly, the SRHWGA released a video response to the proposition via their YouTube channel. The video lays out clear, visual, and audio rebuttals to the proposition. You can view the video here.

I reach out to the Santa Rita Hills Winegrowers Alliance:

After going through the petition, proposition, Elaine’s articles, and the video, I had a few questions. So I reached out to Barbara Satterfield, the Executive Director of the SRHWGA. Barbara was able to get direct answers from Stephen and Wes for me. Here are my questions and responses:
Map of the current SRH AVA via the Sta. Rita Hills Winegrowers Alliance website. A PDF version can be downloaded by clicking here.

Why did the TTB extend the deadline? Was this upon request from SRHWGA or from Pence/Sebastiano?

Wes: From the opposition, basically the SRHWGA.

Stephen: The original comment period ended on October 5th, the end of harvest and the middle of winemaking. SRHWGA asked for 90 days and the TTB gave us 60 days.

In your opinion, what are the biggest differences between the proposed area of extension and the current AVA? Are there any consistencies between the areas?

Wes: Different land mass, loses coastal throat/east-west orientation. Different oak trees grow and different bloom time of lupine, an indicator species for budbreak in Pinot Noir.

Stephen: As the video shows the ridgeline is the natural place to draw the line. It stops the marine layer and the watershed in the expansion area flows east instead of west. The Buell Flats area to the east of the ridgeline is influenced by the continental weather patterns not the coastal weather inside the AVA. Also see Bob Campbell’s public comment (comment can be read by clicking here), which is mentioned in the video. On his Home Ranch three miles to the west of the ridgeline he grows berries in hoop tunnels. He owns Skytt Ranch, which abuts Pence Ranch on its eastern boundary and he does not grow berries there because it is too warm.

Pence also sent out an email saying he was thinking of planting Gamay Grapes because he had some warm spots in his vineyard. No Gamay is grown in the SRH AVA.

I see John Sebastiano is a member of the SRHWGA. They are one of the key figures in the expansion. How much of their vineyard lies outside the lines? I’ve heard, and noticed through bottles I’ve tasted, the varietals planted outside the lines at John Sebastiano are mainly Rhone varietals. Do you know what grapes are being grown on the outside portion of the vineyard?

Wes: 15% is out and it is planted to non-Burgundian varietals. My understanding it is Syrah.

(through an internet search, I found syrah and grenache are grown in the outside 15%. Cannot confirm further varietals)

How have your dealings been with the John Sebastiano team since the proposal?

Wes: I told them early on we will support their plantings within the SRH because they bought in.

It seems there are three items of discussion according to articles I’ve read by Elaine Brown. Weather, soil, and maintaining the integrity of the SRH AVA.

-Soil: The SRH has very diverse soil compositions. This is perhaps the easiest point to establish based solely on the diversity. Agree?

Wes: Soils will not decide this issue. Diverse soils in and out of the AVA.

Wes: Weather, Shabram states due to more vineyards, and more weather station data, he is able to draw his conclusions and find the expansion valid. Do you believe his data is accurate and valid? There is no weather data to support ending the expansion. With zero weather station data until one reaches Ballard Canyon, there is no support that the SRH AVA, according to the expansion petition’s criteria, should not extend to the Ballard Canyon AVA.

Stephen: There are also serious questions about the weather data the Petitioners submitted. The maker of the weather station is not identified, there is no information on when the weather stations were calibrated, there is no information on how high off the ground the weather stations were or their orientation. One of them states after 2009 and 2010 the weather station became inoperable without listing the reason and whether it affected the data provided. No raw daily data is provided so checking their math is not possible. The weather data is a couple of years at one weather station and one year at another. Our weather experts will say, which is commonsense, this is too little data to make a determination.

Maintaining the integrity of the SRH is also a major key, and seems perhaps most subjective. Could you perhaps lay out some clear, objective points for this argument (i.e. analysis of Pence/Sebastiano fruit compared to SRH fruit, objectively evaluating finished wines compared from SRH & Pence/Sebastiano, etc)?

Wes: The TTB doesn’t care a lick about wine quality, terroir or typicity, and has no interest in flavor profiles. The one blogger that tasted the wines did not think they represented typicity: One Wine Dude.

Continuing on the maintaining integrity point, the proposed expansion would add 2,296 acres to SRH. Any speculation on how much of that is able to be put to vine? How much do you think this would dilute the integrity of the SRH?

Wes: It just takes one atypical wine to turn someone off, and we believe while Pence can grow good pinot noir at his vineyard, the combined wisdom of the SRH intelligentsia excludes his property from the SRH in the past, present and future. Would it wreck us? No. Would it permanently change an area we’ve spent our lifetimes defining and promoting? Absolutely!

Watching the video you recently posted to YouTube, the first thing that struck me was the exclusion of the vineyards beyond John Sebastiano/Pence Ranch. Two as close as two miles, and one (Shoestring) that is still under Buell Flats, but closest to Solvang. Any idea why the proposal does not include these sites?

Wes: Because Pence didn’t buy them? Honestly, this entire expansion began and will end on one note: Blair Pence making an attempt to hire a geologist to produce a document that shows he should be in the SRH AVA. The problem is that he bought cheaper land, and the value of that land represents an honest and fair appraisal of its vineyard integrity. If that land was worth the same as land in the SRH, that would mean it has the same value. The land he bought was significantly cheaper, and I personally believe that was the reason for his purchase. Pence had every chance to buy land within the legal and perfected boundary of the SRH AVA, but he chose not to.

Stephen: The Petitioner admits there is no climate data from Pence Ranch east to Solvang. Thus, their line drawing is not based on climate but rather a on a USGS 1906 Name Decision Card which defined the Santa Rita Hills as hills from Lompoc to the mouth of the Canada de Los Palos Blancos. In the video we pointed out the Canada de Los Blancos is about a hundred feet east of Pence Ranch on Skytt Ranch. R.T. Buell owned Rancho San Carlos de Jonata, which included present day Skytt Ranch to the outskirts of Solvang. With our Opposition we will present a lot of evidence that Pence Ranch and Skytt Ranch were referred to as Buell Flats as far back as the early 1910s.

Elaine’s articles have all the vital links. But two quick ones that are useful are:

To submit a comment, click here

To read current comments, click here

If you are interested, and have time, feel free to post a comment.

I would like to say THANK YOU to Elaine Brown of
for her help with this post, Barbara Satterfield, Wes Hagen, and Stephen Pepe for their time and contribution.

Category: Featured, Santa Barbara Wine Talk, Wine Articles

About the Author ()

Hello, and welcome to “Santa Barbara Wine Talk,” a blog dedicated solely to the wines of the Santa Barbara area. Santa Barbara has so much to offer the wine world. The area is relatively young compared to its Northern California counterparts, but its fame is skyrocketing. Pioneer Richard Sanford planted the first Pinot vines in the diatomaceous earth of the Santa Rita Hills in the 70’s. Around that same time, Jim Clendenen, Bob Lindquist, and Adam Tolmach worked together at Zaca Mesa on the Foxen Trail and established the fabulous Rhone varietals in the area. Fast forward to today, where Manfred Krankl’s wines garner a hundred points and a bunch of young guns are making world-class wine. The Santa Barbara growing region is incredibly diverse. From cool climate sites like Watch Hill, Thompson vineyard, and the aforementioned Santa Rita Hills, to the warmer Santa Ynez Valley and new American Viticulture Area (AVA) Happy Canyon. There is also the only north-south valley in California, the Ballard Canyon (the NEWEST AVA), Santa Maria, and perhaps the most famous vineyard, Bien Nacido. The towns of Los Olivos, Solvang, and the Lompoc Wine Ghetto have seemed to double the number of tasting rooms in the past few years! Happily for those with full tasting schedules, most sites are within twenty minutes of each other (at least when I’m driving!). As for me, I’ve had a passion for wine since 2004. In the grand scheme of things, that is a mere blip in the wine game. It wasn’t until my wife and her parents took me to Napa/Sonoma that I realized, “I love this stuff!” Ever since then, I’ve been on a quest to learn as much as I can about wine. I don’t think my wife’s family knew they were going to create such a monster… After a few trips to Sonoma/Napa, my wife and I decided to give Santa Barbara a try. Not expecting much, we woke up early to beat the LA traffic and headed up the coast. We had the great pleasure to meet with Greg Brewer at Brewer-Clifton. His chards and pinots left us speechless. Next appointment was with Larry Schaffer. Anyone who spends five minutes with Larry will be ready to run through a wall, jacked to try some Rhones. I’d never had a Grenache before…or a Syrah from a cool climate site and in neutral oak…again my mind was blown. A tour around Clos Pepe with Wes Hagen was an absolutely amazing experience and taught me the uniqueness of the Santa Rita Hills. Jaffurs was the last stop before we headed back to San Diego. I instantly fell in love with their wines. I couldn’t believe how amazing they were. I’ve been hooked ever since. As good as the wine is in this region, the people and the hospitality are even better. I’ve never had so much access to winemakers, facilities, and wines, and all are shared with great enthusiasm and passion. It’s because of this that I felt a need to share this special place with as many people as I could.

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