In a region where land is extremely expensive, water is scarce, and viticulturalists have scoured most available pockets, it’s rare to find a slice of land that still may be truly unique, and rarer still to find someone with deep enough pockets and drive to bet on that chance. Meet Rick Grimm, proprietor of Grimm’s Bluff, a new estate vineyard that’s perched on a bench high above a bend in the Santa Ynez River, with unobstructed views of Lake Cachuma and the forested mountains beyond.
Yes, the 16.5-acre vineyard of cabernet sauvignon, petit verdot, and sauvignon blanc is technically in the Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara appellation. However, it sits at a skyscraping 850 feet and lies a ridge over from Grassini Family Vineyards, putting it on the area’s more exposed southeastern edge, where hot weather and cool winds come from both up and down the river. The early releases of three cabernets and two sauv blancs from 2014 and 2015 are as deliciously complex and compelling as anything coming out of the Central Coast right now. That’s thanks to the biodynamically farmed vines and winemaking skills of legendary Polish sommelier-turned-Über-consultant Paul Lato.
But to Grimm, it’s all about the property itself. “First of all, listen — you don’t hear anything, and you don’t see anything, either,” said Grimm when I asked why he bought the 246-acre property in 2010. “The views will never change.”
A retired blender and trader of biofuels and clean petroleum products in Europe, Grimm, who is 63, lived most of his adult life in London and Monaco, but his warm drawl hints at West Virginia roots. Wanting to give his three kids a more American life, he returned to the States in 2006 and took his whole family on a cross-country tour from D.C. to Oregon in search of a new home. That’s when they found Santa Barbara.
“They were cooped up in London and Monaco, which are Disneylands for parents but not for kids,” said Grimm, who sold his company in 2007. “The American lifestyle suited them to a T. That’s what they’d seen on TV their whole life. They fell right into it.”
Grimm and his wife, Aurora Grimm, however, sought a bit more and started looking for a place to spend their weekends and holidays. About 50 ranches later, they found what would become Grimm’s Bluff, eventually purchasing the adjacent property, as well. A vineyard wasn’t initially on their minds, but Rick had always loved wine in Europe and had met Lato in 2008. Their later conversations intrigued both men. “Commercially, you can’t just do two acres,” Lato told Grimm. “But also, you can’t do 100.”
So they settled for about 16 acres and decided to plant the vineyard according to biodynamic guidelines, which involve moon phases, bacteria-enhancing potions, and some wackier prescriptions. “I thought it was a lot of wizardry,” said Grimm, “but after hearing about no chemical and no fertilizers, it started to make sense.” Lato had once been in the same boat. “I went back to my years as a somm, and most of the best wines I knew came from biodynamic, or somewhat biodynamic, vineyards,” he explained.
So in 2012, Grimm’s Bluff became one of few vineyards in the area to be planted biodynamically from the start, and the positive results were almost immediate, as the vine roots dove through the top clay soils and into the underlying ancient riverbed remnants rather fast. “They were double deeper than expected by a seasoned vineyard manager who was absolutely stunned,” said Lato. “I couldn’t believe it, either.”
As for the vines themselves, they selected five clones of cabernet on 11 acres — “Some we like more because of the fruit,” said Lato, and “some have more tannins” — two clones of sauv blanc across five acres and an acre of petit verdot, as well. Much is trellised in the usual Central Coast style, but some of the vines are head-trained in the old-school California way, which produce different results. “I think the choices were right,” confirmed Lato, who’s now tending to the third vintage in barrel.
Grimm is also raising cattle on biodynamic pastures (maybe to eat, but don’t tell his daughter), growing olive trees for oil, and giving guinea fowl a shot. “The longest I’ve lived anywhere was London,” he said, “and I hope that Santa Ynez surpasses that.”
Lato, meanwhile, is especially proud of this project, out of the many he’s helped with over the years, because he was involved from the ground up. “This didn’t exist, and now we have it,” said Lato. “There is solid beauty in that.”
Santa Barbara Vintners Weekend
More than 90 Santa Barbara County wineries will be pouring their latest releases on Saturday, April 22, at the S.B. Vintners Spring Weekend’s Festival Grand Tasting, 1-4 p.m., at River View Park (151 Sycamore Dr.) in Buellton. The festival is just one part of an entire weekend of special events, seminars, and dinners. See sbvintnersweekend.com for tickets and the full schedule.