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The Vineyards of Dierberg & Star Lane

When planting the vineyards at Santa Maria in 1997, just 12 miles from the Pacific Ocean, the Dierbergs were ahead of today’s trends with their foresight to mimic the clonal diversity that exists in Burgundy.  Planting their parcels to only 30% Dijon clones (including 115, 667, 777 and 828), they opted to farm the remaining plots with old world Heritage clones, which stem from their original sites (including Pommard, Martini, Mount Eden, Swan and Wadenswil), in order to maximize the diversity and complexity of the fruit that went into their wines.  Totaling 11 clones in all, each of which provides a different component, these plantings ensured that their wines would be an expression of terroir and not solely limited to the notes of the Dijon clones that were planted.

Purchasing Star Lane in Santa Ynez Valley in 1996, Jim and Mary Dierberg started with 100 acres of Bordeaux varietals.  Later, in this same year, they added property in Santa Maria to their holdings, where they focused on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, a vision that they carried forward into 2004, when they purchased additional land in Santa Rita Hills (where they also planted Dijon and Heritage Clones) and called these two Burgundian-like properties Dierberg Vineyards.

In 2009, the years of soil studies that the Dierbergs had been conducting in Santa Ynez finally paid off with the official designation of Happy Canyon as the smallest AVA in Santa Barbara, which is located at the easternmost part of Santa Ynez.  With vineyards spread across these four AVAs, the Dierbergs have three labels to their name: Dierberg Estate Vineyard, which yields Burgundian-style wines; Star Lane Vineyard, which is located in Happy Canyon and is dedicated to producing Bordeaux inspired wines; and Three Saints Wines, their largest production that is sourced from each of the three AVAs and over delivers for the price point.

With six producers and 480 acres under vine, Happy Canyon is home to Star Lane’s 237 acres.  The result of long-range studies that were conducted in large part by the Dierbergs, Happy Canyon differentiates from Santa Ynez with its warm micro-climate and soil of loam and clay loam with interspersed cobbles that is high in mineral levels and low in nutrients.  Here, the San Rafael Mountains are located to the west/southwest of Happy Canyon, blocking the coastal influence.  This, coupled with the fog that rolls in from the coast, sees the temperatures increase at higher elevations.  Located above the fog line, Star Lane’s Cabernet Sauvignon parcels sit at an elevation of 1600 feet, which allows the grapes to develop complexity as they ripen without sacrificing acidity.  Requiring a longer hang-time than most varietals (130-150 days as opposed to 120), Cabernet is planted here–as opposed to the valley floor at 700 feet–because the night-time temperatures are the same as they are in Bordeaux.

With Heritage clones that were planted 15 years ago, the Dierbergs are light years ahead of those who are just now becoming aware of the need to diversify their plantings.  Not only do they possess the depth of 11 Pinot Noir clones, but they’ve also got years on the vines that bring a complexity to the wines that remains unrivaled in Santa Barbara county.

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