Ken Volk with a Portrait of the Sierra Madre Vineyard

The Sierra Madre Vineyard is located in the Santa Maria Valley of Santa Barbara County. Originally established in 1971, this unique property consistently produces some of the finest Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in California. It was the source of my first professional wine bottling—a Pinot Noir in 1983—at my first winery, Wild Horse. The Sierra Madre Vineyard was also the source of my first release of Pinot Noir at Kenneth Volk Vineyards in 2004. I have great respect and sentimental love for this particular vineyard.

During the last two decades, the vineyard has changed ownership several times and has been completely redeveloped and replanted. Despite these changes, the distinct character of wines produced from this property has remained very consistent. The interaction of natural forces, the vineyard’s location, and attentive wine grape growing allow for the production of highly expressive wines.

Located on the Santa Maria Mesa, the vineyard lies fifteen miles east of the Pacific Ocean and is the first high spot west of the Guadalupe Dunes. One of Santa Barbara’s transverse valleys, the Santa Maria Valley runs east-west, allowing unobstructed northwesterly winds from the Pacific Ocean to buffet the vineyard. With a truly maritime climate, the Sierra Madre Vineyard rarely experiences more than a 20° swing between the daytime high and morning low temperatures. An average daily high of 75° in August and September make this an extremely cool-climate site. The onshore winds that buffet the vineyard vary from gentle onshore airflow to gale force winds.

The soils of the Sierra Madre Vineyard were once part of the ocean shore that has been uplifted. The soils are extremely infertile, sandy and well drained. The combination of cool onshore winds and low vigor soils likely contributes to the uniquely attractive wines of the Sierra Madre Vineyard.

The Sierra Madre Vineyard fruit consistently has the highest content of malic acid of all the vineyards in the valley. High malic acid content in the fruit tends to produce wines that have supple, creamy mouth-feels as well as a texture and richness when malolatic fermentation has converted the tart malic acid into lactic acid. The effect of latic acid on a wine’s mouth feel is typically thought of more frequently as a white wine characteristic. However, when malic acid levels are as high as in the Sierra Madre Vineyard (typically 40% of the total acid content of the grape juice), the bacterial conversion of malic acid to lactic acid exerts a major impact on the mouth feel of Pinot Noir produced from this vineyard.

Ken and Lola

Another calling card of the Sierra Madre Vineyard is an inherent Asian spice nuance that can range from cinnamon, clove and sandalwood to five-spice. I find the wines produced from this vineyard to be elegant, earthy, and feminine, qualities that are especially intriguing in a glass of Pinot Noir.

[Ken Volk founded Wild Horse Winery and Vineyards but these days he’s producing a wide range of varietals for his own label, Kenneth Volk Vineyards.]

This article has been provided by Color and Aroma, an online wine magazine.

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