Babcock Winery & Vineyards
Sta. Rita Hills AVA
Babcock Winery & Vineyards’ four decades of producing exceptional wines have made it one of the stars of the Sta. Rita Appelation.
The road that Babcock Winery and Vineyards has traveled during its nearly four decades of existence hasn’t always been as smooth and satisfying as possible. In fact, the late 2008 Great Recession that affected much of the country’s wine industry, was particularly difficult for Babcock Winery and Vineyards.
“We had started back in 1984,” informed Co-owner (with his mother Mona) Bryan Babcock during a recent interview. “Our first release was about 2,500 cases and was met with good success by the consuming public. We also did quite well in competitions and received some really high scores.”
Babcock went on to say that his winery grew slowly and just prior to the Recession had climbed to around the 25,000 annual case level. “I was prepared to jump to the next level, around 40,000 cases and then the Recession hit, and all our plans fell by the wayside.”
In the two years that followed, Babcock Winery and Vineyards lost half of their business, and fell to its present level of around 12,500 annual cases. “The wine business just froze,” explained Babcock, “and many wineries were forced out of business. We were fortunate to own our own vineyards and managed to survive, but the damage to the industry was done.”
Babcock pointed to a loyal cadre of consumers that remained with his winery during the financially troubling times that accompanied the Recession. “Maybe it was all a blessing in disguise,” he rationalized. “Going to 40,000 cases would have taken me away from my craft and I wouldn’t have been able to do what I am doing today — producing wines that I feel really express the great terroir that we are surrounded with at our location. The Sta. Rita Hills AVA has really exploded over the past two decades and our property is right in the middle of the appellation.”
Bryan Babcock also pointed to his wife Lisa who was prominent in establishing the winery complex as a true destination for visitors to the Central Coast. “We have a 5,000-square foot tasting complex that has something for every wine aficionado,” he continued. “Lisa is really into branding and her marketing skills are hard to believe. This facet of our operation has enabled Babcock Winery and Vineyards to survive and prosper.”
But, not everything at the vineyards has been positive. Pierce’s disease has attacked the entity’s oldest vineyards reducing the acreage from around 65 acres to just 10. “I don’t plan to replant until I know that we can control the Pierce’s Disease,” Babcock confirmed. “Luckily I have always been a buyer from some of the amazing growers around this area. We have excellent contracts that will assure us of the finest available fruit from the Sta. Rita Hills and Santa Barbara County.”
Babcock Winery & Vineyards is a prime example of survival in the incredibly competitive wine industry. It is our pleasure to showcase this superior producer as our Gold Wine Club selection. Enjoy these great wines to their fullest!
Map of the area
Babcock Vineyards in the Spotlight
Bryan Babcock didn’t intend to become a winemaker and owner of a successful vineyard and winery operation when he first started college. He sent resumes to the likes of Harvard, Stanford and the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and met with no success.
About the same time, his parents Walter and Mona Babcock were getting their feet wet by buying land and planting vineyards in a remote section of the Santa Ynez Valley in California’s Central Coast region. The idea of growing grapes caught Bryan Babcock’s attention and he immediately switched his college path to one that involved agriculture and more specifically, the study of enology. With a biology and chemistry degree in from Occidental College, he then applied to UC Davis to begin work on a Master’s Degree in Enology. In 1984, all that was left was for Babcock to graduate was to put together his thesis, but that never happened.
“I started crushing Gewürztraminer that September and forgot about school altogether,” he recalled. His first harvest produced several gold medals and the rest of Bryan Babcock’s story is history.
Today, Bryan Babcock is on the cutting edge of developing a new method of farming grapes that just might turn the wine industry on its head — literally. Babcock’s idea is to change the way grapevines are grown, from the top down rather than the opposite. His efforts have been termed ‘crazy’ but Babcock has stuck to his proverbial guns.
“Farming costs have gone out of control and affected wine pricing,” he explained. “Pruning was costing $500 an acre and made it impossible to produce wine at reasonable prices. I looked at the methods of growing vines and came to think I might be able to improve one aspect.”
That aspect changes the normal vertical shoot positioning, or VSP, that needs constant pruning to ensure high quality fruit, to something Babcock calls “canopy pivoting” that turns or pivots the grapevine upside down. This process that Babcock calls “cane suspension” that makes the grapes grow at around 5 feet off the ground. Then the westerly breezes off the nearby Pacific Ocean bend the vines in the opposite direction and gravity coaxes them downward. The grapes then develop away from any wires and now resemble a curtain.
To achieve the 5-foot height, Bryan Babcock invented a rebar pedestal with a helix-shaped hook at the top that is loose enough to allow a vine to grow. He also developed a helicular shoot hotel, a metal device that attaches to the top of the stakes that hold up the vines and allows for the insertion of shading material down each vineyard row.“Using this method, canopy pivoting, has reduced my farming costs by 30%,” Babcock stated with confidence. “It also allows crews to pick at eye level, increasing productivity and cutting down on injuries. Plus, the fruit isn’t so susceptible to frost since colder air generally drops to the ground.”
Bryan Babcock has spent a number of years developing his theory that seems highly beneficial to every grape grower looking to lower costs and increase quality and productivity. Only time will tell if Babcock’s gift will take hold among grape farming’s elite growers. We’re betting it will!
Sta. Rita Hills AVA
When Walter and Mona Babcock purchased their 110-acre property on Highway 246 between Buellton and Lompoc in the late 1970’s, there was no way they could foresee the incredibly good fortune and accolades that would accrue to that area during the next four decades. Located in the western end of the Santa Ynez Valley, the Babcock Vineyards and Winery sits directly in the center of the much acclaimed Sta. Rita Hills AVA, arguably the hottest (in terms of success) American Viticultural Area in California and the near-perfect spot for growing and producing America’s new darling varietal, the ever-challenging and problematic Pinot Noir. The growing season is approximately 35 to 40 days longer than most AVA’s due to the fog and breeze factors that combine to produce an almost magical temperature setting.
Sta. Rita Hills AVA comprises over 3,700 planted acres (out of a total of over 30,000 acres) and is home to more than 60 vineyards and is basically a half century (first planted in 1971) old. It is a combination of a purely East/West maritime throat with elevated level of calcium in the soils that are generally marine-based and of poor quality. The great Pacific’s cooling influence utilizes fog, wind and moderating summer heat to form one of the world’s finest cool-climate viticulture areas. These conditions are highly favorable to both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay making the Sta. Rita Hills AVA one of the most attractive to growers of those varietals.
Actual AVA status was granted in 2001 with Richard Sanford, Rick Longoria and Bryan Babcock (see Spotlight Section) spearheading the years-long effort. Most of the plantings are relatively new, and utilize modern growing techniques (modern trellising, etc.) using the latest Pinot Noir and Chardonnay clones. The Sta. Rita Hills AVA is one of the smaller growing areas in California, but its production of ultra-quality fruit has made it the most talked about AVA on the Central Coast.
Wine Wizard: Test your Wine IQ!
• At what temperature should white and red wines be served?
The temperature at which a wine should be served is important for complete enjoyment of the wine. White wines should be served between 41 to 53.6 degrees and reds between 50 and 64.4 degrees. British Wine Expert Janis Robinson’s temperature guide is an excellent benchmark for use in attaining the correct temperature for serving all wines.
• Should I add ice to my wine to chill it quickly?
No! If you’re in a pinch for chilling a wine quickly, adding water to a bucket full of ice increases the surface area contact between the bottle and the cold, thus bringing down the temperature at a faster rate. This really works and is fast and convenient. See our blog post for more info!
• “I’ve heard it’s rude to fill a wine glass too full; how much wine should I pour?”
Many wine experts hold the belief that a wine glass filled only a third full gives plenty of room in the glass for aromas to develop. It will also allow you room to swirl the wine. Swirling, or aerating is important for red wines, helping them reach balance by softening the tannins and allowing the carbon dioxide levels to reduce significantly. Thereby allowing the true aromas to be enjoyed.
• What does the term ‘Demeter’ on a wine label mean?
When a wine label contains the word ‘Demeter’ this means the wine has been certified as biodynamic. In many instances Demeter is a symbol of quality assurance and has met growing standards in more than 50 countries on 5 continents. Demeter standards go above and beyond organic, and guarantee methods of production and processing that are environmentally friendly, ethical and sustainable.
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, 59, is the winemaker as well as co-owner of Babcock Winery & Vineyards. He is a chemist and biologist academically, and nearly completed his Masters’ degree in Enology at famed UC Davis before turning to winemaking as a full-time endeavor. He credits his timing for when he got into the wine business as one of the reasons for his success. “I had a number of wonderful mentors who encouraged me along the way.” His relentless experimentation, willingness to explore the possibilities with so many grape varieties, and his aesthetic are a world apart from the usual American approach to winemaking. In fact, the prestigious James Beard Foundation once named Bryan to a list of “Top Ten Small Production Winemakers in the World,” with Bryan being the only American chosen for this oenological dream team. In choosing Bryan for this award, David Moore wrote, “Bryan Babcock best exemplifies the traits I look for in a great winemaker.” Today Bryan lets the quality of his wines speak for themselves, yet it is his personal commitment to excellence that stands out so much.