Beauty on the Santa Maria Bench
A visit to Cambria Estate Vineyard & Winery proved to be friendly, inviting and completely unintimidating. Jan, the hospitality coordinator there, served up a Diversity flight and informed us that Cambria is 100 percent an estate winery and comprised of 1,600 acres of land. That means the wines are made entirely from vineyards owned and farmed by the winery, and the fermentation of the grapes, the bottling and labeling all occur on-site. And of course, the wines are impeccable.
For 30 years, the Jackson family has sustainably farmed and passionately tended this remarkable Santa Maria estate. Barbara Banke and Jess Jackson’s daughters, Katie Jackson and Julia Jackson, grew up among the vines. Drawn to the grit and beauty of winemaking, Katie and Julia continue the family business today. Together with Barbara Banke’s keen knowledge of the industry and incredible business sense, Katie’s passion for sustainability and the land, and Julia’s creative backbone and dedication to empowering communities, the women of Cambria shape who the winery is.
A mix of locals from the immediate area, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo, were in the tasting room this particular day, along with a small group from Boston. At 1:30 in the afternoon on a weekday, the room was rather busy!
This cool coastal vineyard consists of ancient fossilized seashells, shale, limestone and sand. The unique estate sits 400-800 feet above sea level on a bench that overlooks Santa Maria Valley before plunging down to the Sisquoc River bed. The fog-swept vines have endured since the 1970s, thriving in the cool, maritime influences that funnel in from the Pacific Ocean, and allow for one of the longest growing seasons in the state.
Since 2009, all the grapes from Cambria’s Estate Vineyard have been certified sustainable under the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance’s Certified California Sustainable Winegrower (CCSW) program. They have also been SIP (Sustainable in Practice) Certified since 2011.
The 2014 Benchbreak Chardonnay is Cambria’s biggest production wine, which hails from Katherine’s Vineyard. Katie (Katherine) Jackson’s namesake vineyard is planted in shallow sand and granite, draining away moisture and restricting vine vigor, forcing the vines to draw nourishment to the fruit, creating full ripeness and balanced acidity. The Benchbreak Chardonnay all comes from this vineyard, where 34 blocks are made up of both old and new clones.
Cambria’s selections of Pinot Noirs are truly impressive. The Benchbreak Pinot Noir is one of Cambria’s most beloved wines, and comes from Julia’s Vineyard. The Pinot Noir is deep, dark purple in color with abundant red fruit and dark berry aromas and flavors. The ever-present underlying earthy character compliments its solid tannin structure and long fruity finish. Julia Jackson’s namesake vineyard was planted in 1991 in the heart of the Santa Maria bench on ancient, alluvial sandy-loam. The Benchbreak Pinot Noir is all sourced from Julia’s Vineyard, made up of 8 different Pinot Noir clones, all sustainably farmed 500 feet above sea level.
The most surprisingly wonderful wine was the Rosé of Pinot Noir. It had bright red fruit aromas and flavors of strawberry, watermelon and cranberry. The wine has a medium bodied mouth-feel and is crisp and bright all the way through the finish.
As a female-owned and operated winery, Cambria founded the Seeds of Empowerment program in 2014 to help women do amazing things. Seeds of Empowerment is a $100,000 annual grant-making program that celebrates remarkable women leaders and charitable organizations. From supporting the winery’s Santa Maria Valley community, to honoring women making a difference on the other side of the world, Cambria created Seeds of Empowerment to recognize and inspire leadership in women across the USA and around the globe.
Cambria’s Seeds of Empowerment Clone 4 wines feature an original watercolor painting by Julia Jackson honoring past grant recipients and women that embody the Seeds of Empowerment spirit. The most recent recipients are Dr. Victoria Kisyombe, an advocate and entrepreneur in Tanzania, and Yin Myo Su, an activist working to protect culture, nature and people in Burma.
The Cambria estate spans across the open spaces and is a beautiful setting for the picturesque Santa Maria Valley. You can sip amazing wine, picnic outside or simply sit there and breathe it all in. In fact, it was the setting of many scenes from the new Santa Maria Valley tourism campaign, representing the inviting Santa Maria Valley wine region.
For more information, visit cambriawines.com.