Alma Rosa Winery: The Best of Sta. Rita Hills

Alma Rosa Winery Current Releases © Zach Brown of Atlas Imagery

Although under different ownership, the backbone of Alma Rosa Winery still harks back to its beginnings with Richard Sanford, one of the pioneers of Santa Barbara Wine Country. Richard forged the roads to bring the Sta. Rita Hills on the map by establishing and planting one of the first vineyards in the area in 1971. Today Alma Rosa Winery and Vineyards continue to pave the way through sustainable farming and winemaking practices.

Alma Rosa means the soul of the rose. Originally the Sta. Rita Hills and its vineyards were part of Rancho Santa Rosa, the California Mexican Land Grant. The hills around this Rancho were called the Rosa, making it apropos to call the winery Alma Rosa because it represents the soul of the Sta. Rita Hills. In essence, those grapevines planted in the Sta. Rita Hills are the soul in every bottle of wine we drink from Alma Rosa Winery.

The winery was primarily known for its Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The majority of the grapes came from the vineyard that Richard planted in 1983 called El Jabali. At that time, the vineyard was organically farmed and one of the first vineyards in Santa Barbara County with the California Certified Organic Farming certification.

In addition to the replanted Chardonnay and Pinot Noir on the estate, find small amounts of cool-climate Syrah and Grenache farmed using sustainable practices. Vines total 38 acres across Alma Rosa’s 628-acre estate that stretches from the valley floor to the top of the range.

Besides estate fruit from El Jabali Vineyard, Alma Rosa sources grapes from La Encantada Vineyard, Rancho La Viña Vineyard, Radian Vineyard, and Bentrock Vineyard.

Almas Rosa Rancho El Jabali Vineyard © Circo Coelho
Almas Rosa Rancho El Jabali Vineyard Photo Courtesy of Circo Coelho

Bob and Barb Zorich

Bob and Barb Zorich met in college at UC Santa Barbara. After moving to Houston, where Bob started an equity investment company, they found Santa Barbara always had an affinity. They purchased a second home in Santa Barbara. In 2013 the Zorichs met the Sanford’s, who were selling the ranch and winery. In 2014, Bob and Barb Zorch purchased Alma Rosa Winery and Vineyards. Today, the Zorich’s commitment is to produce wines of quality and distinction that express the unique terroir of the Sta. Rita Hills. They replanted the estate with 55% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay, and 15% Syrah and Grenache.

Samra Morris Winemaker

Growing up in Bosnia, Samra’s father, a professor of agriculture, inspired her love of food and science. She obtained her bachelor’s in food science and her master’s in food quality and control from the University of Sarajevo. During this time, she grew interested in the fermentation of wine and beer, after which she pursued enology in her graduate studies and career.

She met her husband, a sergeant in the Air Force, while stationed in Bosnia. He transferred to Travis Air Force Base, near Fairfield and Vacaville, CA, close to Napa Valley. Soon after moving to Napa, she started her career in the Hestan tasting room. She interned at St. Supéry, Rivers Brown’s Mending Wall. After that, she worked at Michael Mondavi Family Estate before joining Free Flow Wines, where she became Quality Control Manager.

After becoming general manager at Alma Rosa, Debra Eagle, who first hired Samra at Hestan, recognized Samra’s talent and hired her as assistant manager in 2018. Coming out of the left-field, the Alma Rosa winemaker left just before harvest. With the position open, the opportunity to become head winemaker availed itself for Samra. She also became the first Bosnian women winemaker in California. There is nothing like being thrown to the wolves as harvest begins. The rest is history or in the process of making Alma Rosa history with Samra at the helm.

Samra’s goal, “My goal is to highlight the incredible, high-quality fruit that we source from each of our vineyards and to produce delicious wines with a defined sense of place to showcase the unique terroir of the Sta. Rita Hills.”

Alma Rosa Winemaker Samra Morris © Cori Solomon
Alma Rosa Winemaker Samra Morris

The Future

The future of Alma Rosa Winery and Vineyards includes Richard Sanford remaining as Winery Ambassador, building a new winery on the estate, and releasing a cool-climate Grenache and Syrah along with sparkling wine created in Methode Champenois.

The Alma Rosa Sta. Rita Wines

My visit took me to the Alma Rosa tasting room in Solvang. Sitting outside on a gorgeous day with Samra, a colleague and I enjoyed the wines of Alma Rosa. We sampled the Vin Gris of Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, two Chardonnays, and three Pinot Noirs. Find my favorites listed in more detail.

Vin Gris of Pinot Noir, Estate El Jabali Vineyard 2021: I found a Provencal Rosé with complexity due to the whole cluster pressing. The wine delivers nice acidity with fresh notes of wild strawberry.

Alma Rosa Rosé and Sparkling Brut © Cori Solomon
Alma Rosa Rosé and Sparkling Brut

Pinot Blanc, La Encantada Vineyard 2020. The grapes press whole-cluster and ferment in barrels. The wine ages on lees for 15 months in 70% stainless steel and 30% new French oak. I loved the florals accented by pear and stone fruit on the nose. On the palate, the wine is fruity with flavors of pear.

Pinot Noir, Sta. Rita Hills 2020: This Pinot Noir is the flagship wine for Alma Rosa. The wine ages 11 months in 30% new French oak. Five percent of the grapes come from Bentrock Vineyard, which gives the wine some of its ocean floor qualities and salinity. On the nose, aromas of rose petals prevail, and on the palate, I found cranberry flavors.

Alma Rosa Pinot Noir Sta. Hills © Cori Solomon
Alma Rosa Pinot Noir Sta. Rita Hills

Pinot Noir Rancho La Viña Vineyard 2019: The vineyard consists of sandy soils and small clusters. My favorite Pinot Noir for the day, this pinot aged in 50% new French oak and 50% neutral oak for 15 months. The soft integrated qualities of this wine intrigued me.

Alma Rosa Pinot Noir Rancho La Viña © Cori Solomon
Alma Rosa Pinot Noir Rancho La Viña

The Tasting Room

Located in the center of Solvang, the Alma Rosa tasting room is part of a newly opened tasting room complex that caters to both indoor and outdoor tastings. Pleasantly decorated to showcase the wines, one will enjoy their tasting.

Alma Rosa Solvang Tasting Room © Cori Solomon
Alma Rosa Solvang Tasting Room

Alma Rosa Tasting Room
1623 Mission Drive, Ste M
Solvang, CA

Tasting Room Hours:
Sunday through Wednesday, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Thursday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Reservations are recommended

Featured Photo: Alma Rosa Winery Current Releases. Photo Courtesy of Zach Brown of Atlas Imagery

Note: Common to the wine industry, this writer received a hosted winetasting of the Alma Rosa wines from Sta. Rita Hills. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure.