The official name of the Santa Rita Hills growing area is “Sta. Rita Hills.”
The Grinch who stole Christmas must have come up with that idea, since “Sta.” looks much more like an abbreviation for “Station” than “Santa.” But we’re not here to argue about abbreviations; we’re here to tell you about this eight-year-old appellation in California’s Santa Barbara County.
The flavor, intensity and complexity of Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir and Chardonnay come from a combination of unique east-west coastal valleys, passionate winegrowers and modern winegrowing techniques. Cool weather, fog, wind and soils limit vine vigor and crop yield, and intensify the flavors of the resulting wines.
The two east-west oriented valleys are formed by the Purisima Hills to the north, the Santa Rosa Hills to the south, and the Santa Ynez River flowing between them to the nearby Pacific Ocean. The valleys and hillsides represent some of the most incredible soils and unique climatic influences in the world.
Although the appellation contains a few of the more revered older Pinot Noir vineyards in the state, many of the vineyards are distinct from those older winegrowing areas. Because most of the vineyards have been planted in the last two decades, growers have been able to use modern trellising and newly available “cultivars” or clones of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
The Sta. Rita Hills appellation encompasses 30,720 acres, of which around 1,900 presently are planted to grapevines. Of that acreage, 81.4% is devoted to Pinot Noir and 16.8% to Chardonnay. Just about all of the rest is devoted to Syrah.
In Oregon’s Willamette Valley, one of the world’s great Pinot Noir regions, the wines exude earthy and tobacco-like qualities. In Sta. Rita Hills, dark berry and spice flavors dominate.
Expect to hear a great deal about this emerging appellation. Just remember that “Sta.” is short for “Santa.”