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Sanford Winery: A Slice of Heaven in the Santa Rita Hills

All Photos: Jeremy Ball

Back in 2004, Paul Giamatti and Thomas Hayden Church chose Sanford Winery as their first stop on an ill-fated road trip up from LA in the film Sideways. Back then, Sanford consisted of a pretty simple structure surrounded by the stunning beauty of the Santa Rita Hills. Today, it has transformed into a luxurious yet rustic facility, replete with exposed beams, a stone hearth tucked into an elegant tasting room tended by attentive staff, and a state-of-the-art winery complex.

The proprietors pour wines of character that truly capture the terroir (simply put: the taste of a place) of the region and I, dear readers, find myself in this particular moment, living a mere 15-minute drive from this slice of wine-growing, making, and sipping heaven. I moved here specifically to write among the vines and production facilities of the Santa Rita Hills AVA, an American Viticultural Area just about 50 miles north of Santa Barbara, and 10 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean.


Some of the most haunting and charming domestic wines I’ve ever experienced are made right here. And whether you’re new to wine or a seasoned oenophile, Sanford’s wines must somehow make their way onto your table. As I pen this, sipping their 2018 Sanford & Benedict Pinot Noir, the hills are bursting with life — reinvigorated after recent heavy rains that left the region verdant and practically glowing various shades of green. It seems only fitting that we explore these wines together, but first, let me share a bit about the Sanford story.

Location, Location, Location

Cooling breezes and long, sunny days keep grapes very happy; Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in particular perform quite well in this maritime climate. Back in 1971, Botanist Michael Benedict and his friend Richard Sanford settled on this area on their quest to find a place to grow grapes and craft wines that could compete with the best wines from Burgundy, France. It was all about striking a balance between the California sunshine and chilly, foggy nights, overall cool climate and varying soil conditions.

That year, they planted the very first vineyards in what would eventually become the Santa Rita Hills AVA. Over time, they supplied cuttings for many of the surrounding vineyards, further helping to put the area on the map. Through the years, Sanford Winery remained notable in the region for its pioneering history and for producing wines of high quality from the Sanford & Benedict Vineyard.

Today the estate is farmed, cared for and owned by the Terlato family, veterans of the luxury wine industry, and is comprised of the Sanford & Benedict and La Rinconada Ranches and their vineyards. From estate tastings to ATV vineyard tours and myriad live events, the Terlatos and their staff leave no stone unturned. And if you can’t make your way out to taste on-site with them just yet, fret not, as you can shop online and get to know these extraordinary wines in the comfort of your own home. I’d suggest nabbing one Pinot Noir, one Chardonnay, and a bottle of their sparkling brut rosé and then check out the pairing suggestions we’ve compiled below.



“When it comes to Sanford estate Chardonnays, theres nothing better than a warming, Chanterelle risotto during these cool spring evenings. With the cold sea winds cutting through our vineyard in the heart of the Sta. Rita Hills, our racy and brilliant Chardonnays pair beautifully with rich, hearty dishes.”

—Associate Winemaker, Laura Roach

 If you score chanterelle mushrooms, you could simply swap them out for the porcini listed in this mushroom risotto recipe by Food 52. But honestly, you can’t go wrong with any mushrooms you pick up at your local farmer’s market, CSA, or grocery store.


 Julia Child said, “Rosé can be served with anything.”  I’ll not disagree!

 When it comes to pairing a sparkling rosé, you can let your hair down, so to speak. Sanford’s Brut Rosé holds up nicely alongside a broad range of eats. The fruity notes and heavier mouthfeel (vs. a white sparkler) won’t overpower most foods and pair nicely with salad Niçoise, shrimp scampi, burrata, pizza, risotto, BBQ, and literally anything fried and fatty. Hosting a happy hour? Why not set out a simple fruit and cheese platter and add a tray of chocolate-covered cherries—you’ll be good to go.


 In Sideways, the crabby oenophile protagonist, Miles Raymond, played by Paul Giamatti summed up Pinot Noir, “It’s not a survivor like cabernet, which can just grow anywhere and thrive, even when it’s neglected. No, Pinot needs constant care and attention.”

I’d have to say that Pinot Noir has become one of my all time favorite wines, when made a certain way. Sanford’s Pinots are delicate, earthy, and food-friendly. I’d suggest pairing their 2018 Sanford & Benedict with grilled portobello mushrooms, a really good turkey sandwich, like this one by Capulin Eats & Provisions, or beef bourguignon. Umami-rich foods sing with vibrant pinot noir thanks to their tannins and astringency, so another alternative, why not pour a glass with a good old-fashioned burger?


Anna Maria Giambanco DiPietro

Anna Maria is a writer based in Santa Barbara County, California. She writes for Wine Enthusiast catalog, Edible Santa Barbara, Coco Eco and the American Wine Society Journal, among others, focusing on the wine and food scene. With her WSET 2 certificate in tow, you'll likely find her tucked away among the vines planning her next pairing.


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