Sierra Madre Vineyard: Terroir
The Santa Maria Valley is an exceptionally cool growing region, due to direct influence from the Pacific Ocean. California’s coastline takes an abrupt turn at Point Conception, making the southern Santa Barbara coast face almost due south. This phenomenon creates a few east/west running valleys, both above and below the point. This topography is unusual, as most all of the valleys and mountain ranges in the state run north to south.
The Santa Maria Valley benefits from being one of these rare east/west valleys. It is fairly wide, allowing for ample flow of fog and cool breezes to be funneled in straight off the ocean. The waters of the Pacific stay exceptionally cold year-round, only reaching into the mid to high 50s in the summer and fall. The chilly water keeps the air temperature moving into the vineyard quite cool, reaching an average high of 75 degrees during the warmest months.
Sierra Madre Vineyard is the most northern and one of the westernmost vineyards in the Santa Maria Valley, only 15 miles from the coast, and benefits greatly from its unique marine influence.
An exceptionally cool growing season encourages slow ripening over a long period of time, allowing for the development of structure and flavor intensity. At Sierra Madre Vineyard, this situation is balanced by just enough heat units to fully ripen the clusters each vintage. Average temperatures throughout the growing season range from 65 to 75 degrees, making it similar to areas of Burgundy where Chardonnay and Pinot Noir were initially conceived.
Santa Maria is in a Region 1 growing area with average degree days listed as 2490 days (General Viticulture, A.J. Winkler).
The seven year average between 1997 to 2003 for Sierra Madre Vineyard is 2264 degree days.
As its proximity to the ocean dictates, the soils of Sierra Madre Vineyard are marine by nature, and made up of sandy to sandy-loam textures. Soil vigor is considered low, which contributes to extensive root development, lower yields and concentrated fruit. Two types of sandy loam soil series exist here; Garey Sandy Loam and Pleasanton Sandy Loam. Both are well-drained and low in organic material. The Garey series has been deposited over many years by deep water drain ways, and is characteristic of wind modified terraces. The Pleasanton series soils were formed in alluvial deposits derived from sedimentary rock, and have a cobbly clay loam sub-soil.
Rainfall average in the Santa Maria Valley is 12-15 inches per year. The 30 year average stands at approximately 14 inches per year.
Supplemental irrigation is used every year, despite rainfall totals, to control the timing and amount of water applied, thus limiting stress and optimizing growth for better quality.
Harvest dates vary from year to year and are influenced by weather and by winery preference.
Pinot Noir harvest start dates (still wine):
Chardonnay harvest start dates (still wine):
Click here for a PDF of Sierra Madre's topography.
Click here for a PDF of Sierra Madre's slope topography.
Click here for a PDF of Sierra Madre's aspect topography.