Your Guide to Organic, Biodynamic and Natural Wine


“The Best Pinot Noir in California”

“Let’s go to Sanford Winery. They make the best Pinot Noir in California.” – From the very first vineyard stop in the film Sideways.

After serving in the Vietnam War Richard Sanford decided to farm grapes, make wine, and as he put it, “reconnect with something more natural than the war experience”. Richard loved and appreciated Burgundy style wines, Pinot Noir in particular. Using his knowledge as a geography graduate from UC Berkeley, Richard researched California climate records dating back to the 1900’s. He discovered that the climate of a particular part of the Santa Rita Hills, the Santa Ynez Valley in Santa Barbara County, was similar to that of Burgundy. There, a transverse mountain range runs east to west which, moderates an otherwise scorching climate with cool ocean breezes. Along with a partner he raised money to purchase land there and the new venture was named Sanford & Benedict Winery.

Richard was the first serious winegrower, and the first to plant Pinot Noir grapes, in Santa Barbara County. He had the fortitude to plant a vineyard from scratch in an area that no one believed quality grapevines could grow, especially the finicky Pinot Noir. He had the patience to tend and nurture his vineyard for five long years before the first bottle of Pinot Noir was released to acclaim.

Richard met Thekla Brumder in 1976; they married and together started Sanford Winery in 1981. With Thekla’s encouragement to eschew synthetic chemicals, herbicides and pesticides, they planted their first 100% organic vineyard in 1983. The first certified organic vineyards in Santa Barbara County were Sanford estate vineyards.

Richard lived without electricity for the first eight-years as a winegrower and made his famed Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines in a small rented building. In an effort to grow Sanford Winery, Richard and Thekla brought in investors and built a state-of-the-art winery designed with all consideration to sustainability. When they were forced by investors to scale back on sustainability and organics, Richard and Thekla left Sanford Winery and started anew.

Once again the Sanfords are producing some of the finest Burgundy style Pinot Noir and Chardonnay at their new Alma Rosa Winery & Vineyards, also located in the Santa Ynez Valley. Instead of scaling away from a sustainable future their new business embraces their core values more than ever. In Spanish Alma means soul. Alma Rosa is an expression of the soul of their vineyards. According to Thekla, “the future for us is to build on what we’ve learned. Through the years we’ve tried to do everything in a green way and will continue working toward a business which is greener and more sustainable. This new venture is an opportunity for us to become even more committed to the environment and to share what we’ve learned with others.”

Deborah Gavito is the owner of Counter Restaurant and Organic Wine Bar in NYC.