Santa Barbara Winery

Santa Barbara County region

One of California's fines producers of premium varietals


Santa Barbara County is home to over sixty wineries and some of the nation’s most respected and recognized wines. Yet just 34 years ago when French-Canadian born architect Pierre Lafond started Santa Barbara Winery, he found the field wide open. Not since prohibition had winemakers practiced their craft in the lush coastal valleys surrounding Santa Barbara and Santa Maria. In the early sixties, when Pierre first opened his winery, he produced his red and white Zinfandels from grapes purchased near San Luis Obispo. However, he correctly theorized the potential for premium wine made from local Santa Barbara County grapes. In 1970, after an intensive search, he purchased 105 acres in the lower Santa Ynez Valley and planted 72 acres of vines. His pioneer efforts helped to establish Santa Barbara as what is now one of the premier grape-growing and wine-producing areas of the world.

For ten years Pierre relied on a part-time vineyard manager and winemaker to keep production on track. However, by 1981, sensing the potential for drawing world-class wines from his vineyard, Lafond decided to hire a full-time winemaker. “We started to get serious,” is how Pierre characterizes his shift in strategy. He recruited a young up-and-comer from R & J. Cook Winery named Bruce McGuire to be his new winemaker. During the next few years, Bruce began to transform the winery into a recognized premium quality wine producer. He brought the latest in wine-industry technology with him. He also bought new equipment including stainless fermentation tanks and crushers, and took a hands-on, active role in the vineyard. He set his own style, his own pace and his own agenda. Since arriving at Santa Barbara Winery over twenty years ago, Bruce has consistently crafted top quality wines, earning a reputation as one of California’s most talented winemakers.

Like many winemakers, Bruce got his start in winemaking with the help of a relative. When Bruce was in high school his uncle introduced him to the hobby with the gift of a home winemaking kit. After finishing his degree in Entomology at the University of New Hampshire, Bruce decided that viticulture and winemaking were what he wanted to pursue. To learn more about the retail side of the industry, he worked for a year at a wine store in Boston and then headed west to California to tune his winemaking prowess.

While Bruce was honing his skills at UC Davis, he started working at Souverain and ended up devoting more time to practical experience than the classroom. After moving on to an apprenticeship at Field Stone Winery, Bruce decided to pursue winemaking full time, by-passing the route of additional academia. “At Davis I was sitting in microbiology classes going over things I had already learned at New Hampshire” Bruce explained. “I was learning a lot more at Field Stone, so I decided to commit to them full-time.” Bruce’s strategy paid off and soon he had gained enough experience to land a position as winemaker for R&J Cook in the Sacramento Delta. While there, Bruce learned everything from how to handle Petite Sirah and Cabernet to forklift mechanics.

In 1981, Pierre Lafond started looking for a full-time winemaker and learned from a winemaking consultant of a promising young winemaker named Bruce McGuire. Pierre took the recommendation and offered Bruce the job. After a long hot summer spent in the Sacramento Delta, Bruce was ready for a change and came down to meet with Pierre. Bruce recalls, “It was one of those beautiful, classic fall days in Santa Barbara. The ocean was glistening and I could see the Channel Islands clearly off the coast. I was hooked.”

Bruce brought a very hands-on management style to Santa Barbara Winery that was much needed and appreciated. When he arrived, the equipment and vineyard management techniques were in need of an overhaul. It didn’t take Bruce long to roll-up his sleeves and jump into his new role. Today Bruce still takes a very active part in all things related to the winery. Often he can be found on the forklift, tinkering with the bottling equipment, or out in the field consulting with the winery’s viticulturist, Jeff Newton.

This year marks Bruce’s 21st year at Santa Barbara Winery and a lot has changed since he first arrived. The vineyards have reached a wonderful maturity and the winery has been transformed into one of California’s finest producers of premium varietals.

Featured Wines

Bruce McGuire - Winemaker

When Bruce McGuire came to Santa Barbara Winery in 1981 he showed great promise as a young winemaker and over the last fifteen years his craftsmanship has turned to art. Like many winemakers, Bruce got his start in winemaking with the help of a relative. When Bruce was in high school his uncle introduced him to the hobby with the gift of a home winemaking kit.

After finishing his degree in Entomology at the University of New Hampshire, Bruce decided that viticulture and winemaking were what he wanted to pursue. To learn more about the retail side of the industry, he worked for a year at a wine store in Boston and then headed west to California to tune his winemaking prowess.

While Bruce was honing his skills at UC Davis, he started working at Souverain and ended up devoting more time to practical experience than the classroom. After moving on to an apprenticeship at Field Stone Winery, Bruce decided to pursue winemaking full time, by-passing the route of additional academia. ‘At Davis I was sitting in microbiology classes going over things I had already learned at New Hampshire” Bruce explained. ‘I was learning a lot more at Field Stone, so I decided to commit to them full-time.” Bruce’s strategy paid off and soon he had gained enough experience to land a position as winemaker for R&J Cook in the Sacramento Delta. While there, Bruce learned everything from how to handle Petite Sirah and Cabernet to forklift mechanics.

In 1981, Pierre Lafond started looking for a full-time winemaker and learned from a winemaking consultant of a promising young winemaker named Bruce McGuire. Pierre took the recommendation and offered Bruce the job. After a long hot summer spent in the Sacramento Delta, Bruce was ready for a change and came down to meet with Pierre. Bruce recalls, ‘It was one of those beautiful, classic fall days in Santa Barbara. The ocean was glistening and I could see the Channel Islands clearly off the coast. I was hooked.”

Bruce brought a very hands-on management style to Santa Barbara Winery that was much needed and appreciated. When he arrived, the equipment and vineyard management techniques were in need of an overhaul. It didn’t take Bruce long to roll-up his sleeves and jump into his new role. Today Bruce still takes a very active part in all things related to the winery. Often he can be found on the forklift, tinkering with the bottling equipment, or out in the field consulting with the winery’s viticulturist, Jeff Newton.

This year marks Bruce’s 15th year at Santa Barbara Winery and a lot has changed since he first arrived. The vineyard has reached a nice maturity and the winery has been transformed into one of California’s finest producers of premium varietals.

From talking to Bruce it is clear that he loves the Santa Barbara lifestyle - he even keeps his sailboard propped against one of the winery’s fermenting tanks. That relaxed lifestyle can almost be tasted in his wines which are taking as big a share of the awards as any in the country.

As Santa Barbara County wines become more recognized worldwide, Santa Barbara Winery and Bruce McGuire will continue to focus on growth, quality and personal commitment to upholding the standards set by their outstanding legacy of fine wines.


Pierre Lafond

Pierre Lafond is a French-Canadian who was born in Montreal and schooled in Calgary. An architect by training, Pierre moved to Santa Barbara in 1957 at the urging of his father who had left Canada for the warmth and opportunities of sunny Southern California. Pierre’s father was semi-retired and also owned a successful retail liquor store. Pierre’s first career in Santa Barbara was working as an architect, but just a year after arriving in the area, his father passed away and Pierre stepped in to take over the family liquor store. As he ran the store he noticed that customers would frequently inquire about sources for locally made wines. Realizing there were essentially none to be found, Lafond decided to start Santa Barbara Winery.

In the beginning his goal was to make good quality, affordable wine to sell exclusively to the locals that patronized his small retail store. He purchased grapes from other vineyards and produced the wines in his winery located at that time, in the historic El Paseo section of downtown Santa Barbara. Two years later he moved his winemaking operation to its current location just a few blocks from the beach.

By 1965 Lafond was producing 1,000 cases a year of white and red Zinfandel which he sold exclusively through his tasting room and wine and food stores. While demand remained high for his products he soon realized that there was an even bigger market for premium wines. Five years later Pierre began searching in earnest for a suitable location for his vineyard. At the time only Brooks Firestone of the Firestone Vineyard had grapes in the ground in the Santa Ynez Valley, but Lafond saw the potential for his own vineyard there. The location he decided on was in the coolest western region of the Valley. Purchasing 105 acres he quickly planted 72 with Cabernet, Chenin Blanc, Riesling and Zinfandel. By 1975 the vineyard boasted its first crop and after six years of limited production and experimentation Lafond brought on Bruce McGuire as winemaker and president. The team of Lafond and McGuire proved to be a winning combination. McGuire has helped steer the winery towards the highest quality standards with improved canopy management and the best equipment, while Lafond has provided the financial resources necessary to maintain the winery’s continued success.

Pierre sees winemaking as an art from start to finish, including the packaging. That is why he chooses local Santa Barbara artists to create his vivid labels which reflect the delicious flavors of the wines and the beauty of the area.

In addition to his love of wine, Pierre shares a host of business interests with his wife Wendy Foster. The two are partners in four gourmet food and wine shops and a number of fine clothing boutiques. This dynamic duo are very proud to call Santa Barbara their home and we are proud to share the wines of their Santa Barbara Winery with Gold Medal Wine Club members.


Dear Platinum Wine Club Members,

Our 1996 Reserve Chardonnay is being featured this month, fully two years after it was bottled on July 29, 1997. We purposefully hold on to this wine for bottle aging before release, as it needs a minimum of a year just to begin to integrate flavor and texture. After two years, one gets a vision of how this wine is ‘coming together” as flavors marry and acidity softens. The next four years are easy to evaluate at this stage.

Fermentation takes place in French oak puncheons and barrels, half of which are new. The barrels, individually designed, are from five different coopers utilizing wood from several forests, and varying degrees of toast. These multiple flavor components in synergism with the intense fruit allow flexibility in blending to achieve total mouth experience. This wine is generally less than 20% of our entire Chardonnay production.

Although our Lafond Vineyard was planted in 1972, and I have been making wine from it since 1982, the Sta. Rita Hills region is just now getting ‘discovered” by the press and wine merchants. The combination of a very cool climate (translation: complex fruit and firm acidity) with small vineyards (the Santa Ynez Valley is much narrower than the Santa Maria Valley) makes this region unique in both a viticultural and geographic sense.

Please visit us in Santa Barbara, two blocks from the beach on Anacapa Street. Crush 1999 looks like it will start in late September or early October.

Kind Regards,

Bruce McGuire,
Winemaker,
Wine@sbwinery.com