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Walnut Creek Magazine

Santa Maria’s Cambria Estate Vineyards Deserves a Spot on Your Winetasting Radar

Nov 02, 2016 01:03PM ● By Fran Miller

More than 200 wineries make their home in Santa Barbara wine country where six different American Viticultural Areas (AVA) stretch out over nearly 30,000 acres. 7,500 of those acres belong to the Santa Maria Valley AVA and its 16 wineries; Cambria Estate Vineyards and Winery claims 1,600 of them, making them the largest estate vineyard in the area. Every single grape that goes into a Cambria wine is estate grown, allowing Cambria complete control of their process and delicious end product.

The Cambria Estate rests on the Santa Maria Bench, a glorious stretch of land with a topographical rarity of an east to west running mountain range that creates optimal grape growing conditions – with the Pacific Ocean just 25 minutes west, and no mountains to block the coastal fog and wind, the area enjoys one of the longest growing seasons in the world. And since its founding in 1986, Cambria has utilized this prime location to maximum effect, producing luscious pinots and chardonnays that are adored by legions of fans…reason enough to plan a winetasting visit. Here are a few other reasons that Cambria deserves your attention:

Location: Headed south on Hwy. 101? Take a short detour east into the Santa Maria foothills to Cambria and reap the reward of a million-dollar view. The winery sits on a western facing plateau overlooking their verdant 1,600 vineyard acres. The Sisquoc River is below, and the mountains behind. It’s breathtaking, awe-inspiring, and a reminder of California’s topographical grandeur. No where else will you experience the lushness of this particular geographical area: cooling ocean breezes rising up from the valley floor to meet sun-drenched vine covered foothills. In fact, Cambria just completely redesigned their wine bottle label to capture the unique natural elements of their estate location. Featuring hand-drawn vines and sea shell fossils found in the soil, the new label artistically exemplifies the Cambria aura.

The Women of Cambria:  For 30 years, the Jackson family has sustainably farmed and passionately tended Cambria’s Santa Maria estate. Barbara Banke, widow of famed vintner Jess Jackson (of Kendall-Jackson wines) and their two daughters, Katie Jackson and Julia Jackson, bring knowledge, vigor, and creativity in continuing to shape their wines and the Cambria brand. As a female-owned and operated winery, they know that when strong women work together, they can change the world. That’s why they founded the Seeds of Empowerment program in 2014 to help more women do amazing things. This $100,000 annual grant-making program celebrates remarkable women leaders and charitable organizations in the Santa Maria Valley community and around the world. Past recipients (such as Dr. Victoria Kisyombe of Tanzania, and Yin Myo Su of Myanmar) are portrayed on particular wine labels in original watercolor paintings by the multi-talented Julia Jackson.

Cambria winemaker Denise Shurtleff

Winemaker Extraordinaire: For three decades, Cambria winemaker Denise Shurtleff has been honing her vine whisperer skills, creating Santa Maria Valley wines that showcase the nuance of the region. Her goals are to create wines that reflect Santa Barbara County and, more particularly, the Santa Maria Bench, and to continually refine the quality of Cambria’s Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. “Our terroir at Cambria is strong and specific,” says Denise. “Benchbreak Vineyard Chardonnay displays a distinct personality with pineapple and exotic fruit nuances. Benchbreak Pinot Noir presents luscious cherry, raspberry and strawberry characteristics that are indicative of the Santa Maria Bench.” A Santa Maria native, she started at Cambria in 1999. She enjoys the advantages of being a single estate vineyard, “As a single estate property—where we own rather than lease all of our vineyards—we have complete control of our raw material,” she says. “We don’t have to rely upon or second-guess someone else’s farming. Because the winery is on the same site as the vineyard, we get to observe all facets of the growing season. The quality and the condition of our fruit is never a surprise. We can better anticipate the type of winemaking procedures we need to do—or not do!—before the grapes are even harvested.”

The Wines: Cambria’s emphasis is on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but they also produce limited amounts of Syrah, Pinot Gris, and Viognier. You’ll find their incredibly popular Benchbreak Chardonnay and Benchbreak Pinot Noir at most wine shops, while limited editions of each varietal are available only to Cambria club members and at Cambria's Santa Maria tasting room where you can try each and every one – including the showstopper ‘Barbara’s Clone 667 Pinot Noir,’ a dark ruby red with hints of ripe blueberry, smoke, and earth aromas.

CAMBRIA TASTING ROOM: 5475 Chardonnay Lane, Santa Maria, CA 93454

Open daily from 10:00 AM - 5:00 PM

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