Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard, Cuyama Valley, Santa Barbara County
The Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard is situated 33 miles east of Santa Barbara, in the Sierra Madre Mountains. Sitting at 3200 feet elevation, the setting is home to sand, brush, exposed rock, and the odd dingo-type wild dog. And grapes. On my first visit to the vineyard (as pictured in this photo), my mother and I were driving the 33-highway route north from Ojai and were beginning to wonder if we had indeed entered the famed Ojai vortex, so foreign was the setting. We hadn’t seen a single soul in over an hour – in fact nothing living save the odd Matilija mountain Poppy. Upwards we continued to climb, until finally we rounded yet another hairpin-bend and both gasped. Nestled below, amidst a vast sea of sand, were row upon row of vibrant vines.
And so is the setting for this incredible vineyard. Arid and blazing hot in the summertime, snow-laden and sleepy in the wintertime. Not that the summer months see an influx of people, I believe the permanent population of Ventucopa is 59…
I have an ongoing lease of three rows in this remarkable vineyard, which is owned by Laetitia Vineyard and Winery, and nurtured by their famed vineyard manager Lino Bozzano. The entire vineyard is managed sustainably, and planted according to particular site-specificity. Although there are a total of 12 varieties planted, the Grenache plantings represent only 4% of the total vineyard – with five different Grenache clones planted. I am one of five winemakers currently producing wine from this block, and the difference in the wines we each produce speaks volumes as to the part man plays in winemaking.