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A wondrous surprise awaits you if you haven’t yet visited the new Pence tasting room alongside Hwy. 246, just outside of Buellton. You will reach it just ahead of longtime wineries on Hwy. 246, old favorites like Melville and Babcock. Judging by the large number of wine club members who attended their events when I visited, word spread quickly about their outstanding Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs, Rose of Pinot Noir, and Syrah. Not only are they producing top-quality fine wines, Pence Ranch is dedicated to farming organically everything on their farm, from winegrapes to the orchards and vegetable gardens.

I learned of their opening weekend in spring and dropped in unannounced, a day too early as it turned out. I had to laugh when I heard that, but I was glad to have the quiet opportunity to taste through their wines since they were working in the tasting room that day. After the tasting, I purchased several bottles for my cellar. There was no doubt about the quality of the Burgundy and Rhone varieties they produce, each one was impressive. My preference was for the Pinot Noirs and the Rose of Pinot Noir. Yet the Chardonnay and the Syrah I tasted were excellent, too. There’s something here to please anyone who loves wine.

I had no idea that Pence Ranch had such a large estate. It is a 200-acre working ranch in a spectacular location adjacent to the border of the Sta. Rita Hills AVA. It’s a grand ranch that celebrates farming from the fine winegrapes to fruit and produce, and the hardworking cowboys who maintain the ranch. Pence Ranch was created by Blair Pence, who spent the past 10 years developing his ranch in western Santa Barbara County.

I met Pence on my second visit, but because he was so busy pouring wine for his guests, I didn’t get the opportunity to speak with him at length. Everything he believes in has been recorded on their Web page, and I was happy to learn that he operates Pence Ranch the same way the original Spanish settlers did, making everyone a part of the family, with some living on the estate.

“Because we are passionate about food and wine together, we believe that some of life’s greatest moments are with family and friends, surrounded by food and wine," Pence said. "Our goal is to produce estate-driven consumables to complement our large range of wines and to reinforce the connection of food and wine by tying it back to the land.”

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On our first visit, we met Stephen O. Janes, general manager and sales director. After tasting all of the wines available at the time, Janes encouraged us to walk along the trail behind the tasting room to the tranquil, gorgeous “pond retreat,” where they hold events for wine club members. Pence Ranch also has a private cabana and a historic 1907 original ranch house that are used for entertaining and picnics. Uniquely, Pence provides gifts of organically grown foods with the wine shipments sent to members. Janes said they plan to add a farm stand with their organic produce, fruit and eggs for consumers to purchase.

I wasn’t surprised by their quality of their wines, knowing their winemaker was the highly-respected Sashi Moorman, who has been Stolpman Vineyard’s winemaker since 2001. Like many of his talented peers in Santa Barbara wine country, he consults for several brands in addition to making his own wines. Pence Ranch only uses one-third of the grapes for their estate wines, and they sell the remaining grapes to other famous winemakers they call their “vineyard partners.” It’s a fine selection of some of the best wineries in Santa Barbara County, including Au Bon Climat, Brewer-Clifton, Hitching-Post and Whitcraft, among other great labels.

“We make a point of sharing the grapes from every block with at least one other winery so we can compare notes and thus constantly improve our winegrowing and winemaking practices,” Pence says on their well-designed Web page.

You must still make an appointment to drop by Pence Ranch. It'll be well worth your time. I can’t wait to see the final outcome of this excellent new winery, tasting room and gourmet marketplace. It’s a welcome addition to Santa Barbara wine country.

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Wine writer Kathy Marcks Hardesty can be reached at kathy@centralcoastcritic.com. Her Web page is www.centralcoastcritic.com.

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