Santa Ynez Valley AVA
One of the original vineyards in Santa Ynez Valley
Brander Vineyard started very inauspiciously as a tiny offshoot of the Brander family vineyard operation in 1979. At the time, only the well-respected pioneer Firestone Vineyards (1972) was considered as a creditable player in the California wine industry from the Santa Ynez Valley.
Brander Vineyard’s first release was a miniature 100 cases of Sauvignon Blanc, a wine that wasn’t exactly a household name in California wine circles and a varietal that was primarily unnoticed by the nation’s myriad of wine writers and periodicals.
Brander Vineyard’s first offering was made utilizing some stainless equipment located at a soon to be sold dairy, and the resulting wine was finished and received rave reviews from the day it was first exposed to the public. A bit later, the same wine was eventually entered in a major wine competition where it was awarded Santa Barbara County’s first Gold Medal, a fact that has led to the area’s eventual emergence as one of California’s top wine producing regions.
The Brander Vineyard is located on the eastern part of the Santa Ynez Valley, where the warm daytime temperatures and cool evenings provide an excellent comparison to the standard climactic parameters that are found in France’s Bordeaux growing region.
Over the years, the Brander Vineyard has grown slowly and matured into a well-respected facility that has combined a number of factors to make a winning operation.
“The Brander Vineyard was founded on the premise that we could make really good wines that were modestly priced and offered good value,” owner/winemaker Fred Brander related. “Throughout the three decades of our existence, I would say that we have managed to remain true to our original goals, even though the business has become really competitive.”
Even though a French provincial motif winery and an engrossing “Pink Château” tasting facility has been added to the original 40 acre site at Los Olivos, Brander Vineyard is essentially the same operation as it was when it was first founded.
Throughout its history, the Brander Vineyard has received its share of national and international publicity for its portfolio of fine wines. It has ridden to its success on the shoulders of the Sauvignon Blanc grape, a grape that produces wines that numerous winemakers favor for themselves, but until recently, an actuality that wasn’t shared by the general public.
The winery actually makes six (you saw correctly, six) different Sauvignon Blancs, each with a unique style and character. The basic Santa Ynez Valley Sauvignon Blanc is an expression of the warm, eastern part of the valley from where it originates. The Cuvée Natalie is a blend, made in an Alsatian style with heavy emphasis on the floral characteristics of the fruit and wine. The Cuvee Nicolas tends to be a bolder, full-bodied wine in the classic Graves style of Bordeaux and the au natural is a Sauvignon Blanc that can be described as pure fruit, with specific crispness, complexity and well managed structure.
The Brander Vineyard Sauvignon Blancs can be found both nationally and internationally and are the standard to which most California Sauvignon Blancs are compared. The winery’s accomplishments represent the finest in American pioneering spirit and dedication in helping the varietal achieve its due recognition.
The winery still operates with a comparatively small work force of between eight and ten that includes founder Fred Brander’s 17-year-old son Nicolas, after whom the Cuvée Nicolas is named. Brander sees his son as the heir apparent to the winery but isn’t ready to hand over the reins at this time.
“I still have a great deal to do with my Los Olivos Cabernet Sauvignon if it is to receive the national and international recognition I would hope for. The competition among Cabernets worldwide is very stringent, but I have faith in my wine. Only time will tell, but I am expecting the best.”
With the success Fred Brander has enjoyed with his Sauvignon Blanc, Gold Medal Wine Club is betting the Brander Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon will be just as well received.
Map of the area
The Art of Fine Wine
Santa Ynez Vineyard
Painted by local artist Lynn Fogel who generally works with oils and enhances colors to create more vibrancy than one might see in reality.
The Green Vineyard
Painted by Vincent van Gogh in 1888. The oil on canvas painting is currently on display at the Kröller-Müller Museum of Otterlo, in Ede, The Netherlands
About the Vineyard
As the closest winegrowing region north of Los Angeles, the Santa Ynez Valley is a short excursion for Southern California wine aficionados and a picturesque setting for tasting world-class wines.
The Valley is a long east-west corridor bordered by the Purisima Hills and San Raphael Mountains to the north and the Santa Ynez Mountains to the south. With very cool temperatures on the coast that become progressively warmer inland, the Santa Ynez Valley region provides a unique growing environment that favors a number of grape varietals including Syrah, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and others.
Growth in recent years borders on the incredible with approximately 2,200 acres under vine and over fifty wineries producing a number of premium wines. Today, the Santa Ynez Valley actually has the greatest concentration of wineries in Santa Barbara County. From one-person labors of love to multi-thousand case operations, each has a dedication to producing wine that truly reflects the high quality and broad diversity of the local grapes.
Fred Brander - The King of Sauvignon Blanc in Santa Ynez
Although Fred Brander considers himself a chemist at heart, his tenure UC Davis played the foremost role in his evolution as a winemaker.
Brander earned a Masters in Food Science in 1976 and was exposed to the latest in innovative ideas and personnel at the college. His stint as winemaker at the early (1977) Santa Ynez Valley Winery honed his skills for Brander Vineyard.
More about Fred Brander
Born of an American mother and Argentine father, Fred Brander lived the early part of his life in Buenos Aires where his family operated an import/export company. As was the case with most Argentine families, wine was a part of the evening meal for him from an early age. When he was twelve, the family moved to Santa Barbara, California, and young Fred discovered a particular penchant for chemistry and even had his own chemistry set before he entered high school.
"I really loved finding out how things were made and being able to reproduce some experiments,' he recalled fondly, 'I guess it set the stage for my entire life even if I didn't know it at the time.'
Fred enrolled at research oriented Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, California and graduated in 1973. He returned to Santa Barbara and began developing a plan for his life that included grapes and possibly wines.
Brander talked his family into investing into a forty-acre plot of land located in the Santa Ynez Valley where he proposed to grow grapes. The area was practically unknown as a grape producing region but Brander was undaunted in his belief that the Santa Ynez Valley, and in particular the area known as Los Olivos, was capable of supporting particular types of varietal grapes commonly called Bordeaux varietals.
"I was fortunate to have been able to travel extensively in France," Brander explained. "I came in close contact with all the classic growing areas, Bordeaux, Burgundy and the Rhône. Being a semi-native of Santa Barbara, I knew the surrounding area quite well. When I did my research on the terrain, I felt that Los Olivos and its natural warm spots was most suited to the Bordeaux varietals."
The first vines were planted in 1975 as the Brander Vineyard, making the spot one of the oldest vineyards in the region. During this period, Brander was also experimenting with making some homemade wines and beers in order to satisfy his natural passion as a chemist. Needless to say, his first wines received a number of promising comments from friends and neighbors who were asked to taste the finished products.
When his wines finally reached the general public, Brander took the unexpected step of making lowly Sauvignon Blanc his major grape of prominence. When his wines began collecting gold medals and garnering national and even international notice, many wine insiders finally took notice of the Santa Ynez wine pioneer.
Through the Brander Vineyard, Fred Brander has produced award-winning Sauvignon Blancs for the past 31 consecutive years, a record unparalleled in the California wine industry for the varietal. He is primarily responsible for the varietal's rise to popularity, certainly in his own region and arguably in the whole of California.
At 60, Fred Brander's fascination with Bordeaux varietals has not waned in the least. His new project involves the venerable Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, the ultra red varietals from Bordeaux.
"Even though this area is known more for the Pinot Noir, I'm still convinced certain micro climates are better suited to Cabernet and Merlot and even Cabernet Franc. I want the general public to pay more attention to these grapes and wines from Los Olivos and give them a chance to compare to other great growing areas throughout the state."