The Santa Maria Valley is an exceptionally cool growing region, due to direct influence from the Pacific Ocean. California’s coastline takes an abrupt turn at Point Conception, making the southern Santa Barbara coast face almost due south. This phenomenon creates a few west-east running valleys, both above and below the point. This topography is unusual, as most all of the valleys and mountain ranges in the state run north to south.
The Santa Maria Valley benefits from being one of these rare west-east valleys. It is fairly wide, allowing for ample flow of fog and cool breezes to be funneled in straight off the ocean. The waters of the Pacific stay exceptionally cold year-round, only reaching into the mid to high 50s in the summer and fall. The chilly water keeps the air temperature moving into the vineyard quite cool, reaching an average high of 75 degrees during the warmest months.
Sierra Madre Vineyard is the most northern and one of the westernmost vineyards in the Santa Maria Valley, only 15 miles from the coast, and benefits greatly from its unique marine influence.
An exceptionally cool growing season encourages slow ripening over a long period of time, allowing for the development of structure and flavor intensity. At Sierra Madre Vineyard, this situation is balanced by just enough heat units to fully ripen the clusters each vintage. Average temperatures throughout the growing season range from 65 to 75 degrees, making it similar to areas of Burgundy where Chardonnay and Pinot Noir were initially conceived.
As its proximity to the ocean dictates, the soils of Sierra Madre Vineyard are marine by nature, and made up of sandy to sandy-loam textures. Soil vigor is considered low, which contributes to extensive root development, lower yields and concentrated fruit. Two types of sandy loam soil series exist here; Garey Sandy Loam and Pleasanton Sandy Loam. Both are well-drained and low in organic material. The Garey series has been deposited over many years by deep water drain ways, and is characteristic of wind modified terraces. The Pleasanton series soils were formed in alluvial deposits derived from sedimentary rock, and have a cobbly clay loam sub-soil.
Originally planted in 1971, Sierra Madre Vineyard is now home to 91.4 acres of Chardonnay, 64.22 acres of Pinot Noir, 11.97 acres of Pinot Gris and 5.8 acres of Pinot Blanc.
Most of the original vines were replanted by then Byron Winemaker, Ken Brown. Because of Pinot Noir's extreme clone sensitivity, Brown was meticulous in his quest to combine each desirable rootstock and clone, to create a veritable winemaker's candy store of combinations.
This allows Sierra Madre customers the opportunity to work with their preferred combination, or to use different combinations as components to complex the finished wine.
Chardonnay clones include 4, 6, 15, 17, 76, 95, RY and Wente. Rootstocks are 5C, S04, 101-14, and Free.
Chardonnay History and Selection at FPS (reprint from the Foundation Plant Services (UC Davis), Grape Program Newsletter 2007)
The Pinot Noir is planted on 5C, 5BB, S04, RG, 110R, 1103P, 459 and 101-14 rootstocks. Clones include 5, 2A, 115, 667, 777 and 828.