When winemaker Samra Morris bottled her first full glass grape vintage at Alma Rosa Winery in Sta, California. Rita Hills, she said it was “the most exciting time in [her] life.”
As the first Bosnian woman to make wine in California, Morris made her mark in one of North America’s premier producing regions, on an estate planted by wine industry pioneers Richard and Thekla Sanford. This combination of heritage from different perspectives is the future of Alma Rosa.
Morris holds a BA and MA in Food Science from the University of Sarajevo, College of Agricultural and Food Sciences. She was originally interested in brewing, but an internship in the university’s oenology department brought her into winemaking. She jokes that she “got tired of the taste of beer as well.”
In 2013, her husband was stationed at Travis Air Force Base and the couple moved to California where Morris took a job as a tasting room associate at Napa Valley and eventually a wine internship at St. Supery. There she made three harvests under the direction of Thomas Rivers Brown and was part of the cellar team for Michael Mondavi Family Estate. For several years, she worked in quality management at Free Flow Wines before connecting with Debra Eagle, general manager of Alma Rosa and “falling in love with Santa Barbara”.
The Alma Rosa El Jabali vineyard, now owned by Bob and Barb Zorich, includes 55% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay and 15% Syrah and Grenache. When Sanford planted it in 1983, it became the first certified organic vineyard in Santa Barbara County. The Sanfords still live on the property and are Alma Rosa’s ambassadors. A new cellar is planned for the estate in several years.
Eagle describes the vineyard as a “diverse estate” with varying exposures and altitudes to the sun. The unique characteristic of spiral shape, as designed by Sanford, reflects artistic soul and thoughtful planning. Although known for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir – Sanford was the first to plant Pinot Noir in Santa Barbara County – Eagle also praises the estate’s “other” grapes. “The varieties of the Rhône are amazing from Sta. Rita Hills, ”she says.
Morris nods to her Bosnian roots as an influence and says that she and her family enjoyed great wines growing up. Her father, a teacher, instilled a “tradition of drinking wine and eating well,” she says. “We’re like the Italians, but a little crazier,” she jokes.
The young winemaker’s first outing presents a selection of 2019 and 2020 rosé and white wines. His unique 2019 Pinot Noirs, Chardonnays and Rhône-style wines are being prepared for an autumn 2021 release. The Alma Rosa portfolio is available for purchase online or at the winery, which is open to “safe and adventurous” businesses according to Eagle.
Morris plans to continue producing boutique style wines that explore Sta. Terroir from the estate’s Rita Hills and other partner wineries such as La Encantada, also planted by Sanford. She’s ready for people to say, “Oh, she can make wine!”