500: Richard Sanford and the Hot Tub Time Machine Wine Fermenters

JUN 4, 2024117 MIN
I'll Drink to That! Wine Talk

500: Richard Sanford and the Hot Tub Time Machine Wine Fermenters

JUN 4, 2024117 MIN


Richard Sanford co-founded the Sanford and Benedict Winery and planted the Sanford and Benedict Vineyard. He founded the Sanford Winery, and he also founded the Alma Rosa Winery, all in Santa Barbara County, California.

Richard discusses his sailing career, working in the merchant marine, racing boats recreationally, and as an officer in the United States Navy. He talks about his travels around the globe, both before and after his service in the Vietnam War. He reflects on his short time working in business and education, and then his segue to planting a vineyard in what became the Sta. Rita Hills appellation of California. That vineyard became known as the Sanford and Benedict vineyard, and Richard co-founded the Sanford and Benedict Winery with Michael Benedict to produce wine from that vineyard. They had realized that Santa Barbara County, with its transverse mountain range, offered opportunities for growing vines in areas cooled by winds coming off the Pacific Ocean.

Richard remembers his introduction to wine and a bottle of Volnay, and his desire to plant Pinot Noir in the Sanford and Benedict Vineyard. He talks about the early days getting the vineyard going, in an area where Pinot Noir had not been planted previously. He discusses the geography and geology of the place, as well as the history of ownership there. Richard recalls converting a small barn into a winemaking facility, building the fermenters, and inviting his friends to harvest the first grapes from Sanford and Benedict. He also recalls the subsequent visit from the local sheriff. Besides the attention of the police, the activity at Sanford and Benedict also drew interest from wine writer Robert Lawrence Balzer, who wrote about the wine being made near Lompoc.

Richard talks throughout this interview about both the agriculture aspect and the business side of making wine. He notes that tax write offs were an impetus for the planting of many of the vineyards in Santa Barbara County in the 1970s. He talks about the difficulties of dry farming and of organic viticulture in that area. Richard recalls meeting his wife Thekla during a fun sail. And he talks about the tough breakup with his business partner Michael Benedict that would eventually lead Richard to found the Sanford Winery near to the original Sanford and Benedict Vineyard.

Richard recalls the Small Winery Technical Society, and the other winemakers in the group, such as Dick Graff (Chalone) and Josh Jensen (Calera). He talks about the role that that group played in his own development as a winemaker, and the camaraderie that he found amongst a group of friends who were also competitors in the wine business. Richard thinks on that period with a lot of fondness. He also speaks fondly of the period of time where he felt he was at the forefront of wine and food in California, meeting and sharing time with people like Julia Child and Robert Mondavi.

Richard shares his memories of visiting Burgundy and meeting vigneron and winery owners like Vincent Leflaive of Domaine Leflaive, Jacques Seysses of Domaine Dujac, and Aubert de Villaine of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. Richard notes specifically what he learned while visiting Burgundy, and what he then brought back to his own winemaking work in California.

Richard notes how many more vineyards had been planted in the surrounding area by the time he started the Sanford Winery, a stark difference from when he first planted the Sanford and Benedict vineyard. He talks about the shifts in ownership for those vineyards over time. He talks about adding a Sauvignon Blanc to his white wine lineup, in addition to the Chardonnay. He touches on the specifics of the Sanford and Benedict Vineyard, in terms of how the wines from there taste. And he discusses the elaborate construction of the Sanford winery facility, an expensive project that obliged him to take on an additional financial partner in the Sanford Winery and would eventually lead to Richard's exit from the Sanford Winery that bears his name. Richard is frank in this interview about the challenges he faced in the wine business during his career.

Richard states that he has had to dust himself off and start over several times, such as when he founded the Alma Rosa Winery with Thekla after leaving the Sanford Winery. As with the winery projects Richard was involved with earlier, the Alma Rosa Winery is also in what is now referred to as the Sta. Rita Hills appellation. It is an area that saw increased interest from consumers in the wake of the movie Sideways, something Richard talks about in this episode. Richard would eventually be obliged to sell the Alma Rosa Winery, but was involved in planting vineyard parcels there. He continues to live and work in Santa Barbara County, an area which is now well-known for its success with the Pinot Noir grape.

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