Babcock Winery & Vineyards
Sta. Rita Hills AVA
Setting the bar for revolutionary farming practices and world-class winemaking
What do you do if you happen to own your own thriving restaurant in Southern California and also your own commercial fishing boat? The answer was simple to Walt Babcock, who promptly went out and furnished his customers with the freshest possible seafood around the seaside town of Seal Beach. Oh yes, mention should be made that Walt Babcock was also a practicing dentist at the time. Anyway, the place was incredibly successful and remained so until it was sold in 1979.
By then the Babcocks had decided on a new activity for themselves and purchased a rolling 110-acre farm near Lompoc in northern Santa Barbara County that was planted in lima beans. The property was located in the Sta. Rita Hills, soon to become one of California’s leading viticultural areas. Sensing a change in fortune for the area’s grape growing industry, the Babcocks wisely planted twenty-five acres of grapes with the idea of selling the fruit to a number of local winemakers.
Meanwhile, by the mid-1980’s, Walt’s Wharf had closed and the Babcocks decided to buy it back. With their firm hand, the place was back to its former prowess in no time at all.
In the interim, the fruit grown at the farm was incredibly popular and was sold to the likes of Jim Clendenen (Au Bon Climat), Rick Longoria (Longoria Wines) and Fred Bander (The Brander Vineyard). So successful were the efforts of these wineries that Walt and Mona Babcock decided to open their own winery and in 1986 released their first wine under the Babcock Vineyard label.
This wine was made by son Bryan Babcock who had completed his graduate enology courses at the famed UC Davis and had begun working in the vineyards for the company’s first commercial harvest. His first endeavor (the Estate Sauvignon Blanc) was awarded Gold Medals in both the Los Angeles and Orange County Fairs. The rest, to borrow a phrase, is history. Babcock has also been selected by the James Beard Foundation as one of the Top Ten Small Production Winemakers in the world, the only American winemaker to be so honored. The Los Angeles Times recognized Bryan as one of the Ten Top Winemakers of the Year and also Most Courageous Winemaker of the Year.
Under Bryan Babcock’s steady hand, Babcock Vineyards has garnered numerous medals and high scores and has positioned itself as one of the premium producers of exceptional wines in California. Its Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays, thanks in great part to the correctness of the Sta. Rita Hills AVA as a premier growing area for the varietal, has been hailed on multiple occasions.
The small, family-driven entity has increased its vineyard space to more than 65 acres, but continues to source a portion of its other varietals from nearby estate vineyards. It has remained focused on terroir-driven, expressly unique wines that make statements in the bottle. Excellent Chardonnays, Syrahs, Cabernet Sauvignons and Sauvignon Blancs round out Babcock Vineyards’ limited portfolio.
Viticulturally speaking, VSP (vertical shoot positioning) has been in Bryan Babcock’s gun sight. After more than five years of experimentation, he has applied for patents that will raise each vine’s platform (outwardly extending production canes) to about 5 feet above the ground and will be suspended by small pedestals. No longer will the canopy be forced into a trellis, it will spill downward toward the ground. If this groundbreaking technology proves correct, it is conceivable that California will jump to the forefront in revolutionary wine grape farming - on the shoulders of Brian Babcock.
Babcock puts it thusly. “For California wines to be taken seriously, the first thing that had to happen was for the farming to be taken seriously. Getting it organized and evolving out of the sprawl (problems within the vine’s canopy) was a big step. By bringing in the trellises, growers got rid of the chaos. They brought sunlight and balance to their vines, thus improving the quality of wine up and down the state.”
It is obvious to even the casual consumer that Babcock Vineyards is something special. Whenever a winery or individual accomplishes something exceptional that benefits an entire industry, it is wise to take note. Both Babcock Vineyards and Winemaker Bryan Babcock deserve the heap of accolades they have acquired over the years.
A salute to Walt, Mona and Bryan Babcock! They are all astounding winners.
Dear Platinum Wine Club Members,
Whenever you begin a new discipline, your perspective is, by necessity, fairly limited. The 2014 Top Cream and 2014 The Limit Chardonnays are the result of 30 years of my practicing the craft of winemaking, and they are wines that I could not have conceived of on day one in 1984. Back then, I shared my laboratory, which was a pH meter and a bucket, with cases of Gewürztraminer and Riesling that were stacked to the ceiling in a 400 square foot "cellar". Yes, we also had a few acres of Chardonnay, which my dad reluctantly planted after being told "Lompoc is too cold for that grape." It was not any one moment that served as my epiphany, rather it was a slow, steady climb up the ladder of wisdom, until finally my colleagues and I were able to conclude that Chardonnay was going to take on epic proportions in the Sta. Rita Hills. We now know, Lompoc is not too cold for Chardonnay.
The 2014 vintage was very kind to me with its delivery of some of the most amazing Chardonnay I have ever seen. The mature vines in the Top Cream and The Limit sections of my vineyard produced a mesmerizing wine, crafted in a full Burgundian style incorporating barrel fermentation in about 40% new French Oak, with a full malolactic fermentation and nine months of lees contact that followed. A creamy style of Chardonnay that harmonizes layers of fruit and oak. In an effort to preserve as much nuance as possible we have worked out the approach and the equipment that is needed to capture this wine without filtration. It is winemaking that is sublimely maniacal, but in the end, always worth it. While the winemaking in this case is all about expansion, it is a logical approach that is suggested by the fruit, and the soil and climate in which it is grown.
Bryan Babcock - Winemaker
Bryan Babcock has been the winemaker for his family's winery since the inaugural vintage in 1984. Since then, Bryan has won multiple winemaking awards including being named one of the "Ten Best Winemakers of the Year" by the Los Angeles Times, the "Most Courageous Winemaker of the Year" by the Los Angeles Times, and one of the "Top Ten Small Production Winemakers in the World" by the James Beard Foundation.
It is Bryan's personal commitment to excellence, his relentless experimentation, and his aesthetic that truly set him apart and make him the great winemaker he is today. Bryan is also passionate about growing wine grapes and his revolutionary farming techniques have opened a whole new realm of possibilities in the Babcock Vineyard.