Santa Barbara County region
Chairman's Best of Class, Double Gold Medal winner.
Owner/ winemaker Bill Moses of this month’s platinum selection Casa Barranca, is delighted whenever anyone refers to him as a maverick winemaker. Moses is completely self-taught, a rarity among today’s more specifically erudite members of the winemaking fraternity.
Bill Moses came to own and operate Casa Barranca, located in the Ojai Valley near the city of Santa Barbara, after a 25-year career on Wall Street. His interest in wine began much earlier, after he earned a BA from the University of Virginia. Moses took advantage of an excellent exchange program with the American University in Aix en Provence in Southern France and lived with a French home winemaker while he studied in Aix. At the time he dreamed of one day being given the opportunity to make some wines of his own.
In 1994, the call of the vine summoned Moses and his family to Ojai, where he bought a fifty acre tract that included an incredible old home that was listed in the Register of Historic Places. Built in 1908, it was formerly known as the Pratt House but was also called Casa Barranca. Included among the treasures of the property was a pair of stone cisterns that had been carved out of the mountain and used to provide water for the estate.
Bill Moses saw the opportunity and pictured the cisterns as a plausible home for the winery he had always envisioned. The first vines were planted in 1995 and Bill started making wine in 1998. In 2000, work began on converting the stone cisterns and the new underground winery was completed in 2001.
“It was really a lot of work, but we were all pleased with the end product,” Moses commented. “We are basically a family affair, and everyone did their part to make it all happen.”
Moses also chose to go the organic route for his vineyards, following the lead of growers in Northern California. Casa Barranca Winery became the first certified organic vineyard and first organically certified winery making Casa Barranca “totally green” in Moses’ words.
Accolades and medals soon followed for the hands on winemaker.
“My basic philosophy involves listening and learning,” Moses added. “When we first started making wine I was fortunate to be able to use the Central Coast Co-op, where there was an abundance of expertise available from a number of no nonsense winemakers. Everyone was willing to help and I learned a great deal from the people I met. I was thus able to develop my own craft and style as opposed to the UC-Davis speak (certain formulas and methods of winemaking) that is out in the business.”
Moses also feels that the organic nature of Casa Barranca has helped his wines gain national recognition. He says that he learned from the mistakes of the Mendocino organic farmers who possibly gave the commercial market a negative feeling for organic wines.
“Proper organic farming,” he explained, “as compared to non-organic farming, will always allow the vines to exhibit the true representation of the terroir. You can actually taste the difference in the Pinot Noir, grown correctly organic, and other Pinot grown in a non-organic environment. It also ends up tasting better in the bottle.”
No one can dispute the results of Moses’ work and the accolades he has already garnered.
Moses is also proud of the fact that everything is solar powered at Casa Barranca Winery including the well that is used for insuring the vines have sufficient water. “We even use the discarded water, which goes into our plant life. We try and make use of all our resources.”
Asked if he was surprised at the early success of his project, Moses responded, “I was pleasantly surprised at how well we have been received, and in such a short time period. Sometimes it takes generations to get everything to come together for the soils, vines and wines.”
Bill Moses is also tickled that his infant son, Makai, 2, uttered his first words, “wine, wine” some time ago. “It made everyone around quite happy and proud. My other son, Will, 11, is also very interested and helps out around the winery in a number of different jobs.”
Good wines, an interested family and a bevy of award winning wines make Casa Barranca a real comer in future years. It is also a fitting tribute to a hands-on owner that has learned his trade from the ground up.