Hilliard Bruce Winery
Sta. Rita Hills AVA
One of the most cutting-edge and sustainably minded wineries in the Sta. Rita Hills
Both John Hilliard and Christine Bruce grew up in the same Houston neighborhood and shared an interest in the fine arts. John was a painter and participated in a number of Houston-based museums and arts organizations. Christine followed her dream into music, became a classical pianist and graduate of the famous Berklee College of Music. She was also an avid horsewoman, specializing in the breeding and development of Arabians.
After the couple met and married, they discovered a mutual interest in farming and earned certifications as Master Gardeners from Texas A & M and the University of Arizona. Along the way, they also developed a love for wine and eventually fell to the lure of the almighty grape.
The couple left Texas in 2002 and purchased a 101-acre estate in the emerging Sta. Rita Hills area of the Central Coast. While vineyards and wine were something of a priority, the real reason for the purchase was the abundant amount of space it provided for Christine’s Arabian horse avocation.
A wise planting of some 21 acres of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in the western part of the Sta. Rita Hills AVA (Christine Bruce called it a “no brainer”) proved highly beneficial. The location has arguably become California’s hottest (in terms of popularity) AVA, and the state’s leading producer of great Burgundian varietals. For the record, about one fourth of the Hilliard Bruce Estate is Chardonnay and the remainder is Pinot Noir.
The Hilliard Bruce Estate has been uniquely designed to provide sustainability for the vineyard. The winery is built into the side of a steep hill and provides underground storage and an aging area for the barrels. LED lighting, as well as natural sunlight highlight the design that is topped by massive 120-foot-wide by two story-tall glass windows that offer an incomparable view of the surrounding Sta. Rita Hills. The winery is a tribute to greenspace and natural surroundings and has been awarded LEED Silver Certification by the U.S. Green Building Council, the first such award in Santa Barbara County.
While John Hilliard and Christine Bruce are actively involved in the company’s wine production, wine consultant Greg Brewer serves as the company’s general manager and works closely with the couple in producing the Hilliard Bruce Vineyard final blends. Brewer is one of the initial advocates of the Sta. Rita Hills appellation and the co-owner (with winemaker Steve Clifton) of the cultish Brewer-Clifton Estate Winery that has garnered rave reviews during its existence.
High scores and top quality reviews have also been the bywords for the Hilliard Bruce wine portfolio. “We have been honored to receive such fine review,” offered Christine Bruce during a recent interview. “The fact is, we started all this with a simple aim - to make beautiful wines that would make people happy to drink them. When we started, we were very straightforward and have held to our early beliefs, which have been good for everyone.”
Christine Bruce also admits to being a disciple of great white Burgundies, a definitive factor in the making of the 2013 Hilliard Bruce Estate Chardonnay. “We were wine drinkers first and winemakers last,” she added. “We have held on to that feeling in crafting our wines.”
While general manager Greg Brewer can list a number of top wineries in his resume (Santa Barbara Winery, Melville Vineyards and Winery to name a couple), both John Hilliard and Christine Bruce took a different route to gain their expertise. Wine courses at Houston’s Rice University were followed by courses at both Alan Hancock College (California) and Grayson College (Texas) Viticulture and Enology programs. Additionally, the pair participated in courses offered by the UC Davis Extension Program that has received excellent reviews.
Christine Bruce has continued her love affair with Arabian horses and conducts a breeding operation on the large property. The inclusion of such wonderful animals surrounded by majestic hills and incredible vineyards is something out of a Hollywood film where it would be difficult to tell just who the stars are. Framed in natural overtones, the setting is spectacular.
The annual production of the Hilliard Bruce Estate is under three thousand cases and will probably remain so in the immediate future. “There’s no need to be big,” John Hilliard advised. “You just need to be good.”
Map of the area
Dear Platinum Wine Club Members
We moved to the Sta. Rita Hills appellation from Houston in 2002 with the purpose of growing world class Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The AVA had just been established and there was tremendous energy emanating from this unique stretch of land. The east-west oriented mountain range with proximity to the cold Pacific just a few miles away was ideally suited in our eyes to accomplish our goal.
From our first plantings in 2004 through the construction of our LEED certified winery in 2014, our priority has steadfastly been to live in harmony with the land. To that end, we farm within the parameters of the SIP certification process to remain as mindful and gentle on our vineyard estate as we can. Similarly, the winery is ecologically sensitive utilizing solar power, limited water use, and gravity processing throughout the entire wine production process.
Our 2013 Estate Chardonnay comes from a very specific parcel, whose predominantly sandy soil lends bright, crisp and almost oceanic saline notes to the wine. Barrel fermenting with extended time in our cellars complements this character and further highlights the lemon/lime aromas and flavors for which our appellation has become known.
We sincerely thank you for your support of our efforts and hope that you enjoy our wine as much as we enjoyed creating it for you.
John Hilliard & Christine Bruce
John Hilliard & Christine Bruce - Winemakers
After years of help from winemaker Paul Lato, John now oversees the Pinot Noir production, while Christine directs the Chardonnay winemaking. The couple furthered their winemaking expertise by taking courses at UC Davis’ Extension Program, the Allan Hancock Viticulture and Enology Program, and the Grayson County College Viticulture and Enology Program.
They are intimately involved with every step of running Hilliard Bruce Vineyard, from viticulture and winemaking to sales and marketing. The pride they have for Hilliard Bruce is evident not only in the winery’s pristine setting, but also in the award-winning wines they release each year.