Blair Pence stands in front of his vineyard, which sits just east of the Sta. Rita Hills appellation.

Matt Kettmann

Blair Pence stands in front of his vineyard, which sits just east of the Sta. Rita Hills appellation.

Vintners Fight Over Terroir-itory

Blair Pence’s Proposal to Expand the Sta. Rita Hills Appellation Angers Many

Thursday, April 11, 2013
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Vintner Blair Pence filed with the federal government this February to expand the borders of the increasingly renowned Sta. Rita Hills wine-grape-growing appellation to the east to include his vineyard, which he planted in 2006 outside of Buellton, as well as parts of the Sebastiano and Rio Vista vineyards. Ever since, the Bakersfield-born, USC-educated developer-turned-farmer has been dealing with the wrath of his winemaking neighbors, and their terroir tussle is now making headlines in the international wine press. “If you look at the history, you look at the geology, you look at the weather, it belongs in the appellation,” said Pence, who built Los Angeles office buildings and industrial parks before growing grapes, ranching cattle, and raising avocados. “The science is so clear-cut.”

Critics say the land does not conform to the Sta. Rita Hills parameters and complain that he’s an interloper who bought the property for cheap and now wants to cash in on the region’s reputation. “There are 81 properties that are either cut by or on the boundary,” said Wes Hagen of Clos Pepe Vineyards, who wrote the original petition to create the appellation and has said that the members of the Sta. Rita Hills Winegrower Alliance ​— ​which unanimously voted to not support the expansion ​— ​have spent $25 million and 20 years to define it. “Allowing any change of those boundaries will open a floodgate of petitions to expand it and will destroy the integrity and reputation that we have dedicated our lives to define.” [CORRECTION: According to Sta. Rita Hills boardmembers, there was no vote ever taken on this matter, despite previous media reports to the contrary.]

Because he’s not in the appellation, Pence’s grapes can sell for $1,000 less per ton. But he says he found the property “more interesting” than what was available in the appellation and that while he’s hopeful, the expansion isn’t the crux of his business plan. The outcry on the blogosphere was a surprise, said Pence, explaining, “I didn’t think it would be as vehement, and I certainly didn’t think it would be as personal.” Though he opposes the move, which will be open for public comment soon, Hagen is trying to stay neighborly. “We hope Mr. Pence has success in the farming and making of his wines,” said Hagen, “as we realize that every wine made in Santa Barbara County either elevates our reputation or does not.”


Independent Discussion Guidelines

We disagree that the petition shows 'clear-cut science', and as a viticulturist in the Sta Rita Hills for 20 years, I wonder how Pence, a developer by trade, understands what 'clear cut' viticultural science looks like.

These pioneering winemakers/brands all oppose the petition:

Richard Sanford
Rick Longoria
Peter Cargasacchi
Bryan Babcock

The most fundamental definition within the perfected, legal and accepted AVA petition defines the SRH AVA as being a 'few miles west of the Buellton Flats.'

As the proposed boundary extends the SRH into the Buellton Flats, we believe we have very strong grounds for opposition.

We wish Blair all the best in creating quality wines, but we believe he should carve his own destiny instead of party-crashing an established 'brand' that has worked 20 years to define itself, and originally, and purposefully omitted the area in which the Pence vineyard is planted.

Respectfully, the original petitioner of the SRH AVA,

Wes Hagen

Questions? Want to get involved in preserving the legal and historic borders? Email me!

And thanks Gabe for the article.

WesHagenVMClosPepe (anonymous profile)
April 11, 2013 at 2:54 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Indy, we need a map.

John_Adams (anonymous profile)
April 15, 2013 at 11:17 a.m. (Suggest removal)

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