Dierberg Star Lane Winery: A Family’s Legacy

Dierberg Star Lane Winery

In 2011 I first visited the Dierberg Star Lane Winery winemaking facility. At the time, I was duly impressed with the grandeur of this iconic property. Several years after that visit, I traveled back to Hermann, Missouri, to observe Dierberg’s other production house and the philanthropy Jim Dierberg extended in revitalizing the history and the spirit of the town of Hermann. Ten years later, returning to the Santa Ynez and Dierberg Star Lane Estate in 2021 gave me an even greater appreciation of this exclusive winery.

Dierberg Star Lane Winery History

In the early 1800s, when the Spanish began colonizing California under Spanish land grants, the Star Lane site was part of the 35,000-acre Rancho Cañada de Los Pinos, the Canyon of the Pines Ranch, owned by the Archdiocese of Monterey. At that time, the property raised cattle. In the 1930s, the Neely Family purchased the property, changed the name to Happy Cañon Ranch, and turned the property into a dude ranch and a place to raise their racehorses and polo horses.

By 1940, Elmer Rhoden purchased the property and changed the name to Star Lane Ranch. Elmer owned 600 movie theaters across the nation, so his Star Lane became a popular getaway place for Hollywood stars. In 1963, the property transferred to aerospace’s Clarence “Kelly” Johnson, who came to fame for Lockheed’s “Skunk Works.” He kept the name Star Lane because of its astronomical reference.

The Dierberg’s purchased the property in 1996 and have kept it in the family ever since. During this time, 2009 Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara AVA received its designation. In its second generation, the winery now is a star in growing excellent Bordeaux and Burgundian varietals and producing phenomenal wine.

Hermannhof Winery Hermann, Missouri

The Dierberg’s

Jim and Mary Dierberg came from a banking profession with their base of operation in St Louis, Missouri.  They have been producing wine since 1974 at their Hermannhof Winery in Hermann, Missouri, and perhaps the oldest winery in the county.  German immigrants initially settled in Hermann because the area overlooked the Missouri River and reminded them of the Rhine River Valley. Before Prohibition, the area was the most prominent wine region in the United States. 

The Dierberg’s wanted to expand into European varieties, the search began, and in 1996 they discovered Santa Barbara County and became hooked.  The rest is history.

The Dierberg Star Lane Winery Estate Vineyards Tasting Room and Winemaking Facility

Dierberg Star Lane Winery encompasses three vineyards. One in the Sta. Rita Hills, another in Santa Maria, and the Star Lane property in Santa Ynez Valley. The Dierberg tasting room resides along highway 246 on Drum Lane in the Sta Rita Hills.

Today the winemaking facility is open for special tours to club members. As media, a colleague, Andy Harris, and I had the privilege to tour the magnificence of the Star Lane Vineyard in the Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara AVA of the Santa Ynez Valley. Traveling past Solvang and Santa Ynez, the winery is located in the hills in a very secluded area. The views are breathtaking as one travels several miles from the main road to get to the winery.

The property consists of 3000-acres, of which 140 are planted with vines. Star Lane Vineyard is planted with Bordeaux varieties. Through the Dierberg’s and since 2013, winemaker, Tyler Thomas, stewardship, has successfully established a name for Cabernet Sauvignon in Santa Barbara County.

Star Lane Vineyard View
Star Lane Vineyard View

The Star

The Star Lane logo features the eight-point star. For Native America, the star represents a symbol of hope that is surrounded by a circle. The eight points signify balance, which is apropos since nature’s balance is vital in cultivating grapes. In addition, the winemaker strives to achieve balance in the wine. The eight-point star also denotes prosperity and abundance. All these factors play a role in the Dierberg Star Lane wines.

Star Lane Atrium
Star Lane Atrium

The Castle

Dierberg’s architecture reminds one of a Spanish Moor castle built against a hill and completed in 2009. The winery uses this hill as part of the winemaking process. Like many wineries in France, gravity is an integral part of the winery’s function. The winery’s upper level is where the grapes are pressed, and the whites and free run reds are placed into fermentation tanks. The fermented wine travels through gravity flow directly to the barrels in the first year room on the next level down in the winery facility. A lower level is the second-year room before the wine goes down to the caves.

The inside of the winery décor feels more French in style. The thick walls keep the winery cool. When entering the cave, you feel like you are in the catacomb of a monastery. It is awe-inspiring to see the 26,000 square foot cave with 14-inch thick walls. The cave, with its three tunnels running north-south and four tunnels running east-west, took nine years to build.

Dierberg Star Lane Winery Stairs
Dierberg Star Lane Winery Stairs

Unlike most wineries, Dierberg utilizes the pump-over method to displace the cap. This process is done once or twice a day on most wines during fermentation. All the wines except the Sauvignon Blanc utilize native yeast.

The caves are used for aging, storage, and bottling because the cave’s temperature is kept at 55 degrees through a radiant temperature control system.

In many respects, Dierberg Star Lane can be considered a green winery. The use of gravity is deemed to be green. Dierberg has 46 springs on the property. The springs bring water from as far as Tahoe. A water well generates a good portion of the winery’s electricity, Also making the winery green.

During my first visit in 2011, I asked the sales manager what makes the winery stand out from others. His answer was, “The facility, gravity, and the caves.” My return visit proved that statement to be the case.

Dierberg Star Lane Winery Cave
Dierberg Star Lane Winery Cave

The Dierberg Star Lane Winery Cave Library

Jim and Mary had an unusual concept for a portion of their library of wines. Utilizing the roman numerals CCL which stand for 250, signifying the Dierberg’s ambition for their vineyards to produce world-class vintages for at least 250 years into the future. This plan establishes Jim’s long-term vision for his family legacy, the Dierberg family brand, as well as the involvement of future generations.

The library is designed to hold back the best vintages from our three family-owned Estates as long as possible so that future generations can grab a bottle of wine that their grandfather might have walked the vineyards where the grapes for these wines were grown. The family thinks some of these wines have the potential to be around at least 50 years. They have tested 25 years so far and are proud to say they are holding up better than anticipated.

Star Lane Cave
Star Lane Cave

Wines Tasted at Dierberg Star Lane Winery

During our visit to the caves, we were treated to a sample of the 2020 Sauvignon Blanc Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara AVA. Not many Sauvignon Blancs wow me, but this one was exceptional. The wine ages in 45% neutral oak and the rest in stainless steel. The result gives the wine an elegant balance with a creamy texture, crisp acidity, and lemon and tropical fruit flavors.

As I wrote this article, I looked back to my note on the Sauvignon Blanc from my first visit, where I sampled the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc. I was duly impressed then.

Star Lane Sauvignon Blanc
Star Lane Sauvignon Blanc

After touring the Dierberg Star Lane Winery facility, we tasted four wines:

Dierberg “Steven” Pinot Noir 2014: Jim and Mary Dierberg named this wine after their oldest grandson. The grapes come from the Dierberg Vineyards Santa Maria Valley AVA. This wine is accented by bright ripe cherry fruit but has a rugged earthy quality.

Dierberg “Ty “Pinot Noir 2014: The grapes come from the Drum Canyon Vineyard in the Sta Rita Hills AVA. This wine has more stem inclusion and presents itself with more elegance as it showcases both dark and red fruits.

Star Lane “Astral” Cabernet Star Lane Vineyard, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara AVA 2016: Emphasizing the blue and red fruits, this wine ages for 22 months in 65% new oak.

Star Lane “Star” Cabernet Star Lane Vineyard, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara AVA 2013: The grapes come from a special block known as the home block located on one of the steepest slopes in the vineyard. The wine ages for 34 months in 100% new oak. The dominant flavor is cherry accented by fresh herbs and delivers a complex demeanor.

Dierberg Star Lane Wine
Dierberg Star Lane Wine

Dierberg Star Lane Winery Drum Canyon Tasting Room

After visiting the Moorish architecture at the Star Lane facility, the Dierberg Star Lane tasting room fills you with a bucolic setting in Sta. Rita Hills. Think modern barn meets tasting room. It is an excellent place to picnic while tasting wine.

Dierberg Star Lane Winery Tasting Room
Dierberg Star Lane Winery Tasting Room

Wines Tasted:

Dierberg Chardonnay Santa Maria Valley AVA 2017: This Chardonnay ages 15 months in 30% new oak and delivers bright and refreshing flavors of apple and pear.

Dierberg Pinot Noir Drum Canyon Vineyard, Sta Rita Hills AVA 2017: By far my favorite at this tasting. The Pinot ages 16 months in 35% new oak. This wine exhibits aromas of florals and red fruit on the nose. On the palate, I found bright red fruit.

Dierberg Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley AVA 2017: Like the Drum Canyon Pinot, this wine also ages 16 months in 35% new oak. The flavor profile is very different from the Sta Rita Hills Pinot. It displays aromas of bramble and earth and features more dark fruit and spice on the palate.

Star Lane Cabernet Sauvignon Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara AVA 2017: The Cabernet ages 22 months in 35% new oak. I found a very together and bright red fruits and aromas of baking spices.

Star Lane Cabernet Sauvignon
Star Lane Cabernet Sauvignon

For More Information and Tasting:

Dierberg Star Lane Winery
1280 Drum Canyon Rd.
Lompoc, CA
Tasting Room
Open 7 Days a week from 11:00 am – 5:00 pm

Note: Common to the wine industry, this writer received a hosted visit and tasting. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure.