Forty years ago, American wine lovers turned to one voice to know what was happening: Robert Lawrence Balzer, a Los Angeles retailer-turned-writer whose long-running newsletter was the dominant publication in the emerging domestic market. In 1978, he published a piece in Robert Lawrence Balzer’s Private Guide to Food and Wine called “American Grand Cru in a Lompoc Barn,” extolling the viticultural virtues of Sanford & Benedict Vineyard, which Richard Sanford and Michael Benedict had planted a few years earlier along Santa Rosa Road.
“It was probably one of the most important early boosts for Santa Barbara County as a serious wine region,” said Benedict in an email last week, sent amid the rush of an early 2014 harvest. “He, more than any other writer at the time, launched Sanford & Benedict’s public recognition.”
Sanford’s comments over the phone echoed his former partner. “He was really the bellwether — he told people what was happening,” said Sanford, who believes Balzer did more for California wine than anyone else. “That article caused the phone to ring off the hook. It was pretty easy to sell wine at that point.”
Today, that piece is considered one of the seminal realizations that the area now known as the Sta. Rita Hills would be a great place for wine grapes, and The Santa Barbara Independent was recently given permission to publish it on our website, thanks to Jane Faulkner at the UCSB Library and the Special Collections and University Archives at Cal Poly Pomona. Sanford also provided a copy of a 1982 article that Balzer did on Sanford Winery, as well.