Santa Maria Wines: The Legacy of Ranchos de Ontiveros

Last updated on February 3, 2024

Santa Maria Wines of Rancho de Ontiveros


This article is an excerpt from an article on Santa Maria wines I wrote for Wander with Wander in November. The article takes us on a journey through the generations of the Ontiveros family who helped develop the Santa Maria Valley.

The history of Santa Maria involves the story of the Ontiveros family, the Ranchos De Ontiveros, and today encompasses the Santa Maria wines of Native9 and Rancho Viñedo, which represent nine generations of a family legacy. It began with Josef Ontiveros and continues to the present day with James Ontiveros. It shows the passion for the land, whether cattle ranching or growing grapes.

Ontiveros Family History

It started in 1781 when Josef Ontiveros rode into Alta, California, with the Rivera Expedition. By 1837, Juan Pacifico Ontiveros acquired the Rancho San Juan Cajon de Santa Ana Land Grant, amounting to 35,971 acres today covering Orange County, including Disneyland. Around this time, Juan Pacifico’s future father-in-law received 8,901 acres, known as the Rancho Tepusquet Land Grant, which is part of the current-day Santa Maria Valley. Juan Pacifico Ontiveros and his wife, Dona Martina, built their adobe home in 1855.

That adobe still lives on the property that is now Bien Naciedo Winery, which was sold to the Miller family in 1969. They called the property Santa Maria, and 25 years later, the city of Santa Maria was named after the property.

Juan Pacifico named the stream that ran through his property Santa Maria Creek. Floods ran through the valley in 1862, and the use of creek changed to river, and it has remained the Santa Maria River since then.

Although the family sold off portions of the Rancho Tepusquet property, some remained. One property, Rancho Viñedo, was planted by the Woods family with chardonnay and pinot noir in 1973. Many of those original vines still exist. The Woods farmed this vineyard until 2012.

By 1975, James’ parents, Mark and Louise, built their home on Rancho Ontiveros overlooking the original Rancho Tepusquet property, now owned by others. Although James went to Cal Poly to study animal science and compete on the Rodeo team, in 1997, after changing his major to fruit science at Cal Poly, he planted five acres with five clones of pinot noir on what became the Rancho Ontiveros Vineyard.

Coming from a family of horse and cattle ranchers, James not only ventured into wine

Rancho de Ontiveros Property
Rancho de Ontiveros Property

Ontiveros Legacy Beyond 2000

James moves to Healdsburg to manage vineyards in Sonoma County and the Russian River Valley. During this time, he would travel back to the Santa Maria Valley to tend his vineyard and plant three additional acres with three more clones of Pinot Noir.   

A meeting between James and Mounir Saoma, a consultant from Lucien Le Moine in Beaune, Burgundy, instilled the idea that the terroir of the Santa Maria Valley was ideal for Pinot Noir. It also inspired James to make his first trip to Burgundy. His love of Burgundy emerged immediately. After that visit, James teamed up with winemaker Paul Wilkins to produce the first vintage of Native9. 

James leased the Rancho Viñedo Vineyard from Robin Woods in 2012 to access old vine and self-rooted Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. This attribute added complexity to the Native9 and Rancho Viñedo wines. The first release of the Rancho Viñedo Chardonnay occurred in 2016 with Ranchos De Ontiveros’ new winemaker, Justin Willet.

The Vineyards

Two vineyards make up the wines from Ranchos De Ontiveros, but each is distinct. The climate is similar: mild and cool Mediterranean climate with ocean breezes and fog, depending on the time of year.

Ranchos Ontiveros Vineyard is located on the southernmost side of the Santa Maria Valley. Although not a part of the Rancho Tepusquet Land Grant, it overlooks it. Today, the vineyard lies on 153 acres. Walking the property, you see the remains of an abandoned oil operation. As it turns out, the soil windswept Garey Series sandy silty loam is ideal for growing Pinot Noir. Chardonnay grows on 50 acres, while 103 acres feature pinot noir vines. Native9 is sourced from two blocks that equal 8 acres of the vineyard.

Rancho Viñedo Vineyard lies approximately 2.5 miles northeast of the Ranchos Ontiveros Vineyard. The soils of this 12.75-acre Pleasanton Series over river-washed cobble are very different and millions of years older. 

For James, the Rancho Viñedo Vineyard represents the generations of his family long gone since this vineyard lies on the land his family first purchased.

Rancho Ontiveros Vineyard with pinot noir vines
Rancho Ontiveros Vineyard with Pinot Noir vines

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