Hilliard Bruce Vineyards – Part 1: The People and the Place

Hillard Bruce Entrance

The start of a 4 part series on our trip to Hilliard Bruce in the Sta. Rita Hills in Santa Barbara County.

We had a trip planned to Santa Barbara to visit wineries and I had tweeted looking for great spots for sunrise shots etc.  I had a response from a winery that was not on my radar.  Hilliard Bruce tweeted “ If you can, you’ve got to see the canopy management at Hilliard Bruce Vineyards at least once before you die.”  And well, when you put it like that, how could we not!  So we scheduled a visit with the tweeter, who turned out to be John Hilliard himself.

 

John Hilliard & Christine Bruce

John Hilliard and Christine Bruce are peaceful, gentle and thoughtful people.  They are both certified master gardeners, and perhaps their demeanor comes from this connection with the soil and growth.

Christine is an avid horsewoman and raises Arabian horses on the property.   She also has an extensive background in music studying classical piano and then falling in love with contemporary jazz and working as a professional keyboardist after graduating from the Berklee College of Music.

John came from a background in finance and maritime insurance until he decided to take up painting full time.  In Houston he was the Director and President of Diverse Works and a panelist for the Cultural Arts Council of Houston.  Later he took over his family’s shipyard business. (Talk about diversity!)

They divide their time now between the vineyard in California and their home in Miami where they are still part of the art scene.

It’s a joy to meet them, their dogs Wiglette and Jackson are always with them. And they love to be out on the property.  The pride in this place is evident as they show you around.

As they drove us around the vineyard we passed a section where several birds were trapped under the netting.  They net over 2 rows, so you can go underneath and still work on the vines.  John noticed the birds and we stopped to set them free.  Yes I’m sure that this keeps the birds out so that they don’t eat the berries, but John was mostly concerned that the birds were not trapped.  The kindness that exudes from John and Christine I am sure makes their wines better.

 

The Vineyard in the Sta. Rita Hills

View of Pinot Vines

They found this property as they searched for a place to breed Arabian horses and plant a vineyard where they could grow Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  This location idyllic for this.  It is located on 101 acres on the Western edge of the Sta. Rita Hills AVA, with 21 acres planted with vineyards in 2004.  From the top of the vineyard the view is amazing.  You can see the ocean to the West, to the North you can see Gypsy Canyon and to the West, Kessler Haak, Clos Pepe, Melville, Babcock Vineyards.  They are directly across Rt. 246 from Dos Hermanas Vineyard (previously known as Ashley’s Vineyard).

The soil here is a sandy silk that is very low in organic matter making it extremely fast draining.

They have 17.5 acres of Pinot Noir with Calera, Pommard, 115, 667, 777 and 828 clones.  The Chardonnay covers 3.5 acres in 76 and 96 clones, but they are about to plant more Chardonnay.

The property is also a showcase for their love of gardening with 300 date palms, apple trees, an avocado orchard, hundreds of roses and a stunning cut flower garden.

Christine’s vegetable garden is beautiful, a photographers dream.  With her love of beauty and art, she admits to sometimes having trouble harvesting in her garden and upsetting the beautiful visual.

 

Tomorrow we will explore their approach to sustainability!

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