by Fred McMillin
for January 9, 1998

Winery of the Week

From Pirates to Pinot, the Saga of Santa Ynez

Prologue: Santa Ynez is the name of a mission, a town, a river and a valley some 50 miles north of Santa Barbara, California.

The Santa Ynez Saga 304 A.D.—In Rome, a thirteen-year-old martyr, Agnes, is executed for her refusal to make a pagan sacrifice.

1804 A.D.—Father Estavan Tapis comes to a compact, east-to-west valley on the California coast and establishes the Mission Santa Ines, named in honor of Agnes.

1818 A.D.—The maniacal pirate Hypolite de Bouchard sacks Monterey and turns south. Aboard is Joseph Chapman, a Yankee blacksmith-carpenter, pressed into service when captured in the Sandwich Islands. Near Santa Barbara, Chapman escapes, flees to the Santa Inez Mission, and marries the daughter of the major land/vineyard owner. He obtains a large land grant to the south and plants a vineyard, the first by an American in California.

Now let's fast forward 150 years.

1971—Botanist Michael Benedict and U.C.-Berkeley geographer Richard Sanford recognize the Pinot potential of the west end of what's called today the Santa Ynez Valley, and plant the now-renowned 110-acre Sanford and Benedict Vineyard.

1980—Richard leaves the Sanford-Benedict operation and sets up his own winery just east of the 1971 vineyard, though he no longer has access to its grapes. His new estate covers 738 acres.

1990—A British concern buys the Sanford-Benedict vineyard and hires Richard to manage it. Once again he can make wine from his original vines.

How is he doing? Critic Bob Thompson says the Pinot Noir from the regained Sanford & Benedict Vineyard has outstanding depth. Author James Laube gives a rare Five Stars to the Sanford Pinot from the Sanford & Benedict Vineyard. So, as we look back at American winegrowing in the region, there are at least two names to remember, Joseph Chapman, one of the first, and Richard Sanford, one of the best.

Just the Facts

Name   Sanford Winery
Location   Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Barbara County, CA
Capacity   30,000+ cases per year
Owners   Richard and Thekla Sanford
Opening Date   1981
Phone   (805) 688-3300

Postscript: While we've talked of Pinot Noir, Richard has had equal success with its Burgundian partner, Chardonnay. In "California's Great Chardonnays," author Laube said "Sanford is proof positive that Santa Ynez Chardonnays can be dramatic and exciting...Five Stars."

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College and is Northern California Editor for American Wine on the Web. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.

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