For ninth-generation Santa Maria Valley native James Ontiveros, life has come full-circle. His vineyard, Rancho Ontiveros, overlooks the original Mexican land grant that was owned by his ancestors. However, despite that long lineage, James did not inherit his eight-acre estate — he and his parents worked long and hard hours to purchase their plot of land that was part of their history.
James graduated from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo with degrees in fruit science and crop science. He worked in grower relations for Kendall-Jackson, and then for Gallo, all the while slowly developing his estate vineyard. He now serves as the Director of Sales and Market at Bien Nacido Vineyard, which is located on Rancho Tepusquet, nearly 9000 acres that once was part of his ancestor’s original land grant.
Paul Wilkins was James’ buddy at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. They were wine geeks when being a wine geek wasn’t cool. (Is it cool now?) After school Paul landed an internship at Alban Vineyards in Edna Valley, where he eventually became assistant winemaker. After leaving Alban in 2005, Paul consulted for a number of wineries, which eventually brought him back to James, trying to source fruit from Rancho Ontiveros.
After reconnecting, Native9 and sister project Alta Maria were born. Native9 would focus on Pinot Noir from James’ 8-acre vineyard, and Alta Maria would add Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Grenache from prime Central Coast vineyards to the varietal mix.
“We’ve been getting fruit from James since 2001, so it’s one of our longest grower relationships. James does an amazing job for us and our Rancho Ontiveros bottlings have developed their own cult status amongst our mailing list members. And deservedly so. The wines tend to be very deep and rich, with little resemblance to the “old school” lighter Santa Maria Pinots. ROV Pinot Noir is typically a favorite within our portfolio of 14 different single-vineyard Pinots. We’re thrilled to be getting fruit from James!”
— Brian Loring on the Rancho Ontiveros
Rancho Ontiveros is located high in the Santa Maria Valley hills, just 14 miles from the Pacific Ocean. Originally planted in 1997 with James’ own two hands, and farmed entirely organically. The vineyard is sits high on a ridge overlooking the surrounding farmland, and oil rig at the edge of the vineyard. James sells most of his Pinot to a small select group of producers, including Brian Loring, A.P. Vin, Hug Cellars, and Ambullneo Vineyards.
Native9 and Alta Maria wines both feature hand-drawn label art from the renowned Western Cowboy Hall of Fame artist Robert Shufelt. James has collected his art for many years and has a deep appreciation for how he tells the story of the American Cowboy through the humblest medium: the graphite pencil.
Vinecraft distributes the Native9 and Alta Maria wines exclusively in Florida.
2009 Native9 Pinot Noir, Rancho Ontiveros Vineyard
100% Pinot Noir. 100% whole cluster pressed. Aged 15 months in French oak barrels, 70% new. Only 220 cases produced.
A lovely Pinot, dry, crisp and silky, with ripe raspberry, strawberry and cherry fruit flavors, grounded by notes of grilled mushrooms, exotic spices and forest undergrowth. Sweetly delicious now, it should blossom over the next six years.
— Steve Heimoff, Wine Enthusiast, 94 points
Ruby-red. Alluring aromas of raspberry, licorice pastille and incense, with a suave floral quality adding complexity. Fleshy flavors of sweet red berries and candied flowers are impressively concentrated but show surprising vivacity and focus. The lush, palate-staining fruit is given shape by silky tannins, which fold into the fruit on the back end. Gains a floral quality on the finish, where the sweet berry and spice notes carry through.
— Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar, 93 points
2010 Alta Maria Sauvignon Blanc, Santa Barbara County
100% Sauvignon Blanc. Sourced from the La Presa Vineyard (85%) in Santa Ynez, and White Hills Vineyard (15%) in Los Alamos Valley. Stainless steel fermented and aged, no malolactic fermentation. Aged 17 months before release in February 2012. 970 cases made.
Pale yellow. Ripe melon and pear aromas are complicated by white flowers and honey. Smooth, expansive orchard and pit fruit flavors show good depth and little herbal character; in fact, I’m not sure I’d have guessed that this was sauvignon blanc. Finishes on a deeply fruity note, with good cling and sappy persistence.
— Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar, 89 points
2009 Alta Maria Chardonnay, Santa Maria Valley
100% Chardonnay. Sourced from Bien Nacido Vineyard and Solomon Hills. Whole cluster pressed. 51% oak aged in 30% new, 70% neutral barrels for 4 months sur lie. 49% stainless steel aged for 4 months sur lie before blending, and additional aging. 820 cases produced.
The 2009 Chardonnay shows lovely balance in its bright citrus fruit and sweet spices. This is a relatively tight, focused style of Chardonnay that impresses for its energy, focus and overall sense of harmony. The fruit was sourced from the Bien Nacido and Solomon Hills vineyards. The wine was aged on its lees in roughly equal parts oak and steel, with 50% of malolactic fermentation. It is a terrific value in California Chardonnay. Anticipated maturity: 2011-2014.
— Antonio Galloni, The Wine Advocate, 91 points
2009 Alta Maria Pinot Noir, Santa Maria Valley
100% Pinot Noir. Sourced from Rancho Ontiveros, Bien Nacido and Solomon Hills. Aged for 17 months in French oak barrels, 11% new. 1660 cases produced.
The 2009 Pinot Noir is a beautiful, understated wine. It emerges from the glass with soft, seductive Pinot red fruit, sweet spices and licorice. This is a striking, attractive red graced with exquisite class. A clean, mineral-laced finish intermingled with small bursts of fruit leaves a lasting impression. The Pinot Noir was sourced from Rancho Ontiveros, Solomon Hills and Bien Nacido. New oak was just 11%
— Antonio Galloni, The Wine Advocate, 92 points
A great value in affordable Pinot Noir. Fresh, snappy and vibrant, with a tight core of mineral-laced wild berry, blueberry, spice and gravel flavors. Full-bodied, complex and layered.
— Wine Spectator, 91 points