The winery is producing exemplary pinots that reveal the pleasures of the Sta. Rita Hills. (photo courtesy of the winery)

When I think of Alma Rosa Winery, I’m reminded of my first taste of its creations. During a trip to Santa Barbara, my husband and I had wandered into the label’s tasting room in Buellton—today located in nearby Solvang—and ended up savoring fruity pinots on the patio while the summer sun warmed our shoulders. 

I can’t say why, exactly, this stands so strong in my memory, but it does. And I naturally felt it all again when I learned I’d be sampling some of the first pinot noir releases from winemaker Samra Morris.

A Bosnia native, Morris joined the Alma Rosa team in 2019 as assistant winemaker and became head winemaker a few months later, amid that year’s harvest. She studied food and vinification sciences at University of Sarajevo, had stints at St. Supery and the Mending Wall in Napa, and is now the first Bosnian-American to hold the winemaker title in California.

Samra Morris is thought to be the first Bosnian-American head winemaker in California. (photo by Lena Britt)

It’s not surprising she ascended the ranks so quickly—she’s committed to producing wines that showcase the characteristics of the region, the vineyards, the grapes—and a splash of these wines is not only a beautiful showcase of her skill but also the qualities that make Alma Rosa Winery so special.

I tried the 2019 Rancho La Viña Pinot Noir ($70) over dinner—a variety of Indian dishes—with friends. Their delight in the drink was almost as good as the wine itself. It presents a nose of coffee beans and dark chocolate, savory herbs (oregano, especially), and rhubarb. To taste, a well-rounded mouth-feel and lovely smokiness permeates each sip, which gets structure and balance from gentle tannins and acidity—the latter of which is a trademark of the region. The Rancho La Viña vineyard is situated in the southwest corridor of the Sta. Rita Hills and is subject to constant light winds coming off the Pacific; the wine was aged for 15 months in 50 percent new French oak. The wine is minimal but nuanced, letting the area express itself in its natural state.

The  2019 Radian Pinot Noir ($70) offers another example of the variety of vineyards in the Sta. Rita Hills. The Radian site is located close to the Pacific (it’s the western-most vineyard planted along Santa Rosa Road) and has cooler temps than others in the region as well as steep terrain and a unique soil made of diatomaceous earth. Aged for 15 months in 65 percent new French oak, the wine bursts from the bottle. It has a gorgeous ruby hue and a nose of saddle leather and fresh citrus—a bit surprising, as I was expecting berries, but delightful nonetheless. Earthy notes dominate the taste, though hints of chewy plum add pops of fruit; it’s tight and clean, softening with time and aeration to reveal the crushed red cherries I’d initially predicted.

It is the perfect pairing for early summer afternoons on the patio—reminiscent of my first Alma Rosa sip.