Wine Reviews: Sanford Chardonnay & Pinot Noir

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 11-23-2019

The first time I heard of California Pinot Noir producer Sanford was while watching a movie in the theater. You may have heard of it: Sideways.

I was living in New York, not yet of legal drinking age, but I had the early stages of the wine bug after a few years of high school in Germany. I distinctly remember having the rare day off work at Kinko’s, so I caught a matinee showing of the film. At this point, I had never visited California, but as I watched Miles and Jack sip wines with Sanford tasting room manager Chris Burrows, I took note — more investigation of this Cali Pinot thing was in order.

sanfordOf course, for decades before Hollywood got involved, Sanford had been a crucial part of the California wine landscape.

It all starts in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when botanist Michael Benedict and his friend Richard Sanford set out to find a cooler climate area where they could ripen (but not over-ripen), wine grapes. After gathering, analyzing and scrutinizing data concerning weather, climate, soils, etc., they decided on an area of the Santa Ynez Valley, a region that would later become the “Sta. Rita Hills” American Viticultural Area. The first Sanford & Benedict Vineyard vines were planted in 1971, and two years later, they planted the first Pinot Noir vines.

Michael Benedict and Richard Sanford split after the 1980 vintage, and Richard sold his interest in the vineyard and founded Sanford Winery. There was a lot of back-and-forth in the following years, as control of the vineyard and the winery shifted hands.

La Riconada Vineyard, which abuts the Sanford & Benedict vineyard, was planted in 1997, and this would also become home to the winery and tasting room. The Terlato family partnered with Sanford Winery in 2002, making investments in the vineyards and winery. They became the majority owner and managing partners. In 2007, they purchased the Sanford & Benedict Vineyard, re-uniting the winery with its original site.

Earlier this year I had the great pleasure of meeting John Terlato and Michael Benedict. We tasted through a variety of new and aged Sanford Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays, and discussed the special place these wines have in the history of California viticulture.

The wines are currently made by Trey Fletcher (senior winemaker) and Laura Roach (assistant winemaker). Cellar master Auggie Rodriguez has been working at Sanford for more than 20 years, and his father was hired to plant the Sanford & Benedict Vineyard in the early 1970s.

With all this history, how do the winery’s current releases stand up? Well, I recently tasted some new Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs, and found them vibrant, delicious, and highly satisfying. These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2018 Sanford Chardonnay - California, Central Coast, Sta. Rita Hills
SRP: $40
Medium yellow color. So bright on the nose, with lime, kiwi, green and yellow apples, with honey, sea salt, nougat and ginger nuances. Plush, beautiful texture, bright acidity, balanced so well. Flavors of lemon curd, yellow apple and apricot, topped in sea salt, almond skin, hay, white tea. All the elements are woven together really well, and this is so bright, pretty and also age-worthy. There’s a lot to unpack in here over the next few years. (91 points)

2017 Sanford Chardonnay Sanford & Benedict Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Sta. Rita Hills
SRP: $50
Vibrant yellow color. So fresh on the nose, with lemon curd, yellow apples, apricot, and all these sea salt, white flowers and hay elements. Rich texture, plush but so balanced, with focused, crisp acidity. Lovely pear, lemon curd and kiwi fruit, doused in attractive notes of sea salt, wet rocks, crushed chalk, and the notes of vanilla and toffee and blended in so well. Concentration and depth are there, but so fresh and tangy, too. I’d love to see what four to five years can do to this wine. (93 points)

2017 Sanford Pinot Noir Sta. Rita Hills - California, Central Coast, Sta. Rita Hills
SRP: $45
Bold ruby color. Juicy cherries and strawberries on the nose, along with generous floral, white pepper and rhubarb elements. On the palate, this is a medium-bodied wine with smooth tannins, crisp acidity, and a mix of pretty, chilled, vibrant red fruits (strawberries, McIntosh apple, wild raspberries). Complex notes of rhubarb, rose petals, tilled soil, all woven in well, accented with light roast coffee and cola. For the price, this is such a great value. This is ready to drink, but this could also age well for years ahead. The fruit is sourced mostly from Sanford and Benedict Vineyard, 12% from La Rinconada. (91 points)

2016 Sanford Pinot Noir Sanford & Benedict Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Sta. Rita Hills
SRP: $72
Deep ruby color. Aromas of bright, generous red cherries, strawberries, and even at this young age it has this airy, lifted quality, with rhubarb, rose potpourri, some herbal tones. On the palate, this is fresh and inviting, built well tannin-wise, with rounded edges, and crisp acidity. Juicy, pretty cherries and raspberry fruit, mixed with violets, clove, pepper, rose petals and bay leaf. Nuanced cola and coffee, the whole package is sewn together so well. Aging potential in here, I’d love to see this in 8-10 years. (93 points)

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