Originally planted in 1999 by Santa Barbara wine pioneer Richard Sanford, the inimitable La Encantada Vineyard stands proudly as a cornerstone of the Santa Rita Hills appellation. This bucolic plot of earth is made up of a series of gently sloping mesas at the base of the Santa Ynez Mountains, and sits a mere 7 miles from the cold Pacific Ocean. It is planted to 99 acres of grape vines nestled among old oaks and other native flora and has proven to consistently produce some of the greatest Pinot Noir in the entire state of California. More producers make vineyard-designate wines from La Encantada than from nearly any other site in the appellation, and it is almost always among the most terroir-driven and complex bottlings in any winery's lineup.
We have been enamored by La Encantada Vineyard Pinot Noir for years but had never gotten the opportunity to properly explore this magnificent site. On a recent trip to Santa Barbara we were finally able to change that and we absolutely must gush about this beautiful vineyard and the remarkable experience we had investigating it. It is genuinely one of the Grand Crus of Santa Barbara County and yet very few visitors actually get to see it in all of its raw and unadulterated glory.
We arrived for our visit of La Encantada on a brisk spring afternoon. The skies had finally begun to clear after a week of heavy rains and only a few clouds lingered unassumingly against the bright blue sky. Upon arrival we were greeted by Shannon, one of the property's vineyard managers on behalf of Coastal Vineyard Care, who would serve as our guide for the day. Shannon informed us that while La Encantada is a rather sprawling vineyard the hazardously muddy conditions would force us to embark on our exploration completely by foot, and we gleefully agreed to follow her on a scenic hike around the estate.
Our trek took us through the heart of the vineyard and up to the highest of the property's mesas. We frequently stopped to venture into interesting looking rows of vines, where Shannon helped explain the peculiarities of the specific soils, grape clones, and microclimates we were experiencing and how each affected the wines being produced at that site. She expounded upon many of the quirks that make La Encantada so special and we gladly listened and learned.
We quickly discovered that the soils at La Encantada are particularly interesting and play a big part in shaping the character of the wines. We learned that a majority of the vineyard is planted in infertile sandy loam with relatively few rocks visible near the surface. Beneath the topsoil the land exhibits heavy marine influence and many of the rocks that could be seen were easily identified as diatom-rich shale or simply diatomaceous earth. Typically wines from this site exhibit distinct earth-driven undertones along with subtle but distinguishable salinity, and the soils we found certainly supported our previous tasting experiences.
Interestingly the La Encantada Vineyard is planted in uncommonly wide 10 foot rows. While wider row spacing was quite normal in 1999 versus the tighter spacing most modern vineyards utilize it also serves a legitimate purpose here. Yields are naturally extremely low at this site - often as low as 1-2 tons per acre - and the wider spacing helps reduce competition between vines to prevent further limiting their vigor. While there could certainly be an argument made for the benefits of extremely tight spacing at this vineyard we found the current planting configuration to be notable and fascinating, and it certainly helps produce some remarkable wines.
After a lengthy trip around the vineyards we eventually made our way back to our starting point at the entrance of the property. Shannon was kind enough to guide us through a tasting of three La Encantada Pinot Noirs each produced by a different local winery. This was an excellent cherry on top of our study into the unique terroir of this site, and we found the character of the vineyard became all the more apparent in the wines after we were able to experience the property for ourselves. Each wine was brilliant in its own way, and regardless of the producer each clearly echoed the radiant personality of La Encantada.
La Encantada had long been one of our favorite vineyards in Santa Barbara County and our visit further cemented it into our memories. This site is completely idyllic - with nothing to be seen but vines for acres and not a single solid structure to be found on the entirety of the grounds. It certainly is a picturesque and magnificent place to experience in person, but the wines coming from La Encantada are equally compelling and have earned a place in any cellar. Our appreciation goes out to the La Encantada team and Coastal Vineyard Care for their work in maintaining one of the greatest cool-climate vineyard sites in all of California. We won't soon forget our visit.