In 2011, after two years of looking at more than 50 ranches across Santa Barbara County, Andy and Kim Busch drove across a bridge over Nojoqui Creek into a place called Folded Hills. “I saw the old sycamores and the old oaks and the flat ground for polo,” said Andy, as he drove me across the same bridge on the rugged backside of the Santa Ynez Mountains. “Right about here, I looked at my wife, and we both nodded. We knew that this was the place where we would make our home.”
Born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri, Andy Busch, who is 55 years old, is a scion of the Anheuser-Busch brewing family and first came to Santa Barbara as captain of the U.S. polo team in 1998. He moved his family — three sons and a daughter — to Montecito in 2002 and slowly began hunting for a ranch to lay down roots for the next generations.
Having managed Grant’s Farm — his family’s 281-acre ancestral home, whose wildlife refuge, historical monuments (like Ulysses S. Grant’s cabin), and other attractions were opened to the public in 1954 — Busch knows what he likes in a landscape. Located in a wedge between Nojoqui Falls Park and Highway 101, the 600-acre Folded Hills had it all: a stark-white, plantation-style home with a sweeping front porch developed by the Morton Salt family in the 1920s; flat land for polo, livestock, and row crops; a pond for fishing; a farm stand for the public; and plenty of open space for wildlife and recreation.
The property is also full of dramatic hillsides that — with the help of vintner Peter Stolpman and vineyard expert Ruben Solorzano — Busch came to understand were perfect for grapevines. “It was an easy decision for us after some research,” said Busch of determining what wine grapes to plant. “We wanted to plant what the ground wanted. Everything pointed to Rhône varieties.”
The property’s unique microclimate doesn’t hurt either. Tucked just inside the far southwestern corner of the Santa Ynez Valley AVA, Folded Hills is a mere five miles from the Pacific. “Out of all the vineyards in the Santa Ynez Valley, we’re the closest to the ocean,” said Busch.
Yet in between Folded Hills and the windswept Gaviota Coast are the nearly 3,000-foot peaks of the Santa Ynez Mountains. Altogether, that means cool, foggy nights, like the Sta. Rita Hills, but way hotter days once the marine layer burns off, as the ocean breezes aren’t quite so steady — too hot for pinot noir, basically, but ideal for grenache and syrah.
Being right off the 101 offers another perk. “It’s the first stop in the Santa Ynez Valley,” said Busch. “We think that the tasting room will be a huge hit.” He hopes that and a small winemaking facility will open in the refurbished homestead buildings by early 2019; a larger winery is planned for later.
Of the 15 vineyard acres planted in 2014, 12 are grenache and syrah on the hills, and three are marsanne, grenache blanc, and chenin blanc (the only non-Rhône) down by the creek and highway. Most of this can be seen cruising down the Nojoqui Grade on the 101, as can the iconic farm stand — once known as the Peace Barn — where the Busch family now sells produce (farmed by legend Tom Shepherd), ranch-raised beef, and U-pick berries. There are also interesting animals to check out, like mini-donkeys and the extraterrestrial-looking kunekune pigs, which occasionally wind up on the menu at Industrial Eats in nearby Buellton.
For winemaking, Busch hired Angela Osborne, a New Zealand native who’s been critically heralded for the delicate grenache she makes under the brand A Tribute to Grace. The Busch couple interviewed a handful of others before Stolpman suggested Osborne. “After 15 minutes, Kim said, ‘This is the person for us,’” said Busch, who agreed. Explained Tymari LoRe, the winery’s general manager, who previously worked with Kitá Wines, “Angela is the perfect person to be making these wines. She’s a shepherd.”
Though the winery’s first wines of 2015 were made from purchased grapes in Ballard Canyon, the 2016 vintage was already starting to rely on the estate’s grapes. “It’s so impressive for the first vintages to have this complexity,” said LoRe. “The goal is to get estate fruit across the board.”
The lineup includes a taut rosé named Lilly (after both Andy’s great-grandmother and a granddaughter); grenache-syrah and white Rhône blends called August (his grandfather); and single-variety wines (the top of which are named Grant). They are indeed attention grabbing, revealing both the transparent touch of Osborne and the inherent power of the grapes involved, especially for the early estate efforts.
“We feel incredibly confident because we think these estate wines are showing for themselves,” said Busch while overlooking the pond, home to bluegill, bass, and legendary 35-pound catfish. “It’s an incredible start, and we think it’s only getting better.”