Visitors who recall tasting at the rustic Sanford Winery shack that appeared in the movie “Sideways” or at Alma Rosa when it was located there are likely to be especially interested in the opening of the new Peake Ranch Winery and tasting room at the landmark site.
Peake Ranch began welcoming the public in a soft opening on May 4 and will officially launch with a grand opening over the Memorial Day weekend. It will mark the culmination of years of planning, planting and construction launched by owners John and Gillian Wagner.
Visitors will park near the old rough-hewn building with a corrugated tin roof that once was the tasting room of pioneering winemaker Richard Sanford, the first to plant pinot noir in Santa Barbara County. In the 2004 film “Sideways,” it was visited by Miles and Jack during their rollicking wine country misadventures. The site later became the interim home of Sanford’s Alma Rosa Winery, which he wound up selling to Robert Zorich and staying on to oversee viticulture and winemaking.
The Wagners said on the Peake Ranch website that they are committed to honoring the history of the place. Perry Koon, director of public affairs at Peake Ranch, said when I visited there that the old tasting site, a Santa Barbara County historic landmark, is not occupied, but it’s there to stay. “We’re looking to see if we can renovate it a little bit with the county, but other than that it’s a monument to the history of Santa Barbara wine and to this property as well,” he said.
Peake Ranch Winery is named after artist and avid rancher Channing Peake, whose family owned the property known as Rancho Jabali until Richard Sanford bought the property in 1982. In 2013, Zorich bought half of the ranch, including the El Jabali Vineyard, when he assumed ownership of Alma Rosa during its bankruptcy. The other half, which includes the landmark tasting shack, was purchased by the Wagners and is now Peake Ranch. An oil painting by Peake hangs in the tasting room.
The 50-acre Peake Ranch Vineyard, first harvested in 2016, looks destined to be among the premiere vineyards in the Sta. Rita Hills. Planted on steep slopes, the main grapes are pinot noir and chardonnay, with smaller amounts of syrah and grenache. The tasting room is a welcome addition on Santa Rosa Road west of Buellton, where there aren’t many estate venues.
The first wines from the vineyard received impressive scores from critics. Jeb Dunnick, formerly of Wine Advocate who now has his own website, rated the 2016 Peake Ranch Vineyard pinot noir at 96 points and the chardonnay at 94 points. Antonio Galloni of vinuous.com rated the pinot noir at 93 points and the chardonnay at 91 points.
John Wagner, owner of Peake Ranch, is known both as a Los Angeles businessman and a prominent grape grower in Santa Barbara County. He studied physics at UCLA and founded Camden Asset Management. In 2003, he purchased half of the Sierra Madre Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley. He later planted and became half owner of the John Sebastiano Vineyard in the Sta. Rita Hills, named for himself and partner Sebastiano Sterpa. Foxen, Dragonette and Byron are among a dozen area wineries that bottle vineyard-designate wines from that site.
All Peake Ranch wines are from the three estate vineyards, totaling 370 planted acres. Ninety-five percent of the fruit is sold. The Wagners have another vineyard under development in Cebada Canyon, just west of the Sta. Rita Hills boundary.
The 2014-2018 vintages of Peake Ranch wines were made by veteran winemaker Paul Lato of Paul Lato Wines in Santa Maria. Wynne Solomon, joining the ranks of young women winemakers in Santa Barbara County, will craft the first wines at Peake Ranch beginning this fall. She studied at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, worked at Stephen Ross and Melville wineries and assisted Lato in blending the 2016-17 wines and in the 2018 harvest.
Fifty percent of Peake Ranch grapes are pinot noir, followed by chardonnay. Cool-climate syrah and grenache are a smaller but significant component. “We probably have maybe half of all the grenache and syrah planted in the Santa Rita Hills between our two properties (Peake Ranch and John Sebastiano),” Koon said. Six of the 10 current wines are vineyard-designate, showcasing the unique qualities of the estate vines.
Wagner took a UC Davis winemaking course online and liked his professor so much that he hired him to run Peake Ranch Vineyard. Michael Anderson was an educator at the university for more than 30 years and managed its Oakville Station research vineyard.
The winery and adjoining tasting room feature beautiful stonework crafted over two years on the buildings and on low walls that frame a patio and a larger outdoor tasting area with padded chairs and low tables shaded by umbrellas. The tasting room interior is brightened by whitewashed walnut on the walls and attractive LED lighting, including a sparkling chandelier made from an inverted zinfandel vine.
The opening party, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 25-27 at 7290 Santa Rosa Road, will include flights of estate wine, food from area vendors and live music on the outdoor patio.
• Contact Tom Bronzini at [email protected]