From Bosnia to Santa Barbara and the Wine Life Forklift – This winery never shies away from a challenge


I love talking about wine with people who share my passion for this wine. We open bottles, we exchange stories about travel and soil types, terroir and residual sugar, and we talk about taste and food and restaurants. We recommend the wines, we drink and we learn a lot.

In Wine Talk, I introduce you to friends, acquaintances and people I meet while traveling the world, people who love wine as much as I do, who live to taste, who grow and make wine. You will appreciate their insight and I hope you learn something from them as well.

The world of wine never fails to give me pleasure. Open a bottle, walk in a vineyard, taste a barrel sample, meet a fellow traveler the world of wine. . . the discovery and exploration are endless.

The journey continued last month on a beautiful stretch of land in Santa Barbara County, a property that played a major role in the formation of the Sta. Rita Hills AVA. (If you don’t know Richard Sanford’s name, go ahead and find out him, because he is really the “Godfather of Pinot Noir from the central coast.”)

Samra Morris: “I think that would be my advice: drink what you like.” (Courtesy of Alma Rosa winery)

We had come from Los Angeles and Buellton was my destination, especially the Alma Rosa Winery tasting room. I was there to meet Samra Morris, Alma Rosa winemaker since 2019, for a tasting and a tour of the estate.

To note: For those who may not be aware, the small complex in which the tasting room is located is a must visit when / if you are visiting the city. One of my favorite restaurants in California – Industrial mange – is also found there, and its food alone is worth the trip, especially the beef tongue pastrami reuben and the white shrimp wrapped in pancetta.

This pastrami sandwich from Industrial Eats will make you sigh with pleasure.
White shrimp coated in pancetta, and this sauce …

We tasted a bit of sparkling Alma Rosa in the tasting room; it was a hot afternoon and the wine was good. What followed was a 10 minute drive to the estate along a quiet and almost traffic-free road and then to the beauty.

Alma Rosa is owned by a Houstonian, and its 628 acres (38 acres planted with vines) stretch from the valley floor to the top of the Santa Rosa Hills. The estate’s vineyard, El Jabali, originally planted by Richard Sanford in 1983, has been joined by four non-contiguous plots of Pinot Noir (55 percent), Chardonnay (30 percent), and Syrah and Grenache (15 percent). cent), all grown with sustainable practices.

Sanford and his wife, Thekla, sold the estate to Bob and Barb Zorich in 2014. Zorich is an oil industry businessman who now lives in Houston, but he and his wife both attended school. the University of California at Santa Barbara and have a home in the coastal city. They were introduced to the Sanfords in 2013 and, after finding out the property was for sale, made a leap into the world of vineyard ownership.

When we got to Alma Rosa, Morris took us on a quick ATV ride through a vineyard planted with Syrah – no buds yet. On the way, we saw a few turkeys. Bobcats, deer and mountain lions are also residents of the property, the latter of which are rarely seen.

Vines and hills …

Back at the ranch, deep in the valley, we tasted with Morris and Debra Eagle, Alma Rosa’s general manager. The two women are engaging, passionate about the wine and the estate – and great brand ambassadors.

Morris was born and raised in Bosnia and attended the University of Sarajevo, where she studied agriculture and food science, earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees. She met an American in the US Air Force who was stationed overseas, and they moved to California when his duty brought him back to the United States.

She did an internship at St. Supéry in 2014, and worked three harvests with Thomas Rivers Brown as a cellar intern at Mending Wall. In 2017 Morris started working as a lab assistant at Free Flow Wines, and in 2019 he was responsible for quality control. She became Alma Rosa’s winemaker later that year.

Here is more of Morris in his own words.

James Brock: How has COVID-19 changed your work and your life?

Samra Morris: I think Covid-19 affected me more personally than professionally. As a winemaker, I was lucky enough to be able to go to work every day and take advantage of my cellar tasks. It was a good escape from reality and what’s going on in the world. It gave me a feeling of peace that I needed.

Personally, it affected me in that I did not have the opportunity to return home to see my family in Bosnia and enjoy my time with them. I had already missed a lot so I was very disappointed when my flight was canceled. I was recently homesick so hopefully by the end of this year we all get vaccinated and get the chance to see my family next summer.

JB: Tell us about three wines that you think you’re drinking right now. What is worth it? How about a food pairing for everyone?

SM: I’ll start with 2018 El Jabali Pinot Noir from Alma Rosa ($ 68). It is a magnificent pinot noir which represents our beautiful Sta. Rita Hills in the glass. You can buy this wine through our website or in our tasting room in Buellton. I would pair this wine with red meats.

The second wine is the 2020 Alma Rosa Grenache Rosé ($ 30) from our Sta. Vineyard at the Rita Hills estate. This rosé is gorgeous, and hints of salty strawberries and crisp acidity make this gorgeous wine perfect to drink in the summer. Growing up in Bosnia, we often took summer vacations on the Croatian coast. The salinity and acidity of this wine reminds me of the Old World wines from the Adriatic that I loved from home. I would pair this wine with a light shrimp salad.

The third bottle would be the 2017 Foxy Bubbles ($ 55) from Blair Fox Cellars, located in Los Olivos. It’s a delicious sparkling wine, and I don’t need an excuse – an occasion or a dish – to taste a bottle of it.

JB: If the cost was not factored in, tell us which bottle you would add to your personal collection and why.

SM: If cost wasn’t an issue, I would choose a bottle – or a few cases – of Cabernet Sauvignon Maybach “Materium” 2014.

I call it a perfect glass of wine. Also, this was the first bottle I had the opportunity to share with my family when I first returned home after moving to California, and while sharing this bottle with them, we also had shared laughs and a good conversation that we had to catch up with after so many years apart.

JB: What is your favorite grape and why?

SM: As a winemaker and as a wine drinker, my favorite grape is without a doubt Pinot Noir. Due to its thin skin, tight bunches, and late ripening, Pinot Noir can be a fragile variety that always challenges me as a winemaker. As a wine drinker, I love the aromas and fragrance notes.

JB: How about a bottle that our readers should buy now to keep for 10 years, to celebrate a birth, birthday, or other red letter day?

SM: The only bottle I would buy in the cellar for the next 10 years is Saxum Paderewski 2018 Vineyard. This wine is spectacular and worth opening for your next big party.

JB: Where is your go-to place when you want to have a drink or a bottle (outside of your home and workplace)?

SM: It would be a place where I could watch the ocean. We have so many beautiful places in Santa Barbara County that I can experience it. The ocean is so mighty and watching it while sipping wine is so relaxing for me.

JB: If there was one thing you would like everyone to keep in mind when buying and consuming wine, what is it?

There are so many times people ask me what is my favorite wine that they should buy, and I always answer them by asking them about their favorite wine and what they like to taste while drinking wine.

I think that would be my advice: drink what you like to taste.

JB: What is your “eureka wine moment”, the incident / taste / encounter that put you and wine on an intimate plane forever?

SM: I think when I first made wines as a winemaker. It created a different relationship between me and the wines, it became much more personal. I have become more passionate and I think of my wines in the cellar as of my babies.

Having the wine that I have made in bottle and sharing it with my friends, family and our customers makes me very happy. I know all of my hard work has paid off when I see smiles on their faces.

JB: What has been the strangest moment or incident with wine that you have experienced in your career?

SM: The strangest moment I have experienced in my wine career is my relationship with forklifts. When I became a winemaker, I thought I could never drive a forklift like a professional. One of the skills of a winemaker, in addition to producing wines, is to be extremely handy in the cellar. At first it was a very difficult task, but each time I was on the forklift I became more familiar.

Now I am so proud of my forklift skills and my lifelong bond with them. At Alma Rosa, we use forklifts throughout the year, moving barrels and pallets of wine around the cellar and dumping bins of grapes into the press during the harvest. When visiting the winery you can often find me on the forklift.

JB: Your favorite oenological reference in a literary work?

SM: In Vino Veritas. It’s a phrase I learned while studying wine in college.

For more wines, travels, and other James Brock stories, check out his Setting up website.


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