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Dear Wine Warrior: 


The historic boundaries of the Sta Rita Hills AVA are under attack.   We’re all busy, and I recognize how important your time is. I wouldn’t ask you to do this if I didn’t think it was REALLY important to the future of wine in California.  Details about the expansion and our major issues with the expansion are listed below.


The ‘Expansion Petition’ that was funded by folks that bought property outside the AVA, and are now attempting to buy their way in, has been published by the TTB and we only have a few days to make our voices heard or the boundaries of the SRH AVA will be forever altered and we can expect new challenges/border changes  to be every few years. 


Please consider taking 5-10 minutes RIGHT NOW to register your opinion on the expansion at the TTB website/docket.


Comment here after checking out the guide below:!submitComment;D=TTB-2014-0007-0001

Wes Hagen's Letter:

2 December 2014

Clos Pepe Vineyards and Estate Wines

Sta. Rita Hills Winegrowers Alliance (SRHWGA)

4777 East Highway 246

Lompoc, CA 93436

Re: Comments on Proposed Expansion to Sta. Rita Hills AVA to the east (in opposition to expansion), TTB Notice 145

Dear TTB:

I write today to OPPOSE the Proposed Expansion to the Sta Rita Hills AVA, TTB Notice 145.  As the original petitioner and researcher of the AVA,  I will demonstrate clearly and scientifically that the expansion does not meet the regulatory necessity of Name Evidence, Distinguishing features, and/or Boundary evidence.  The Proposed Expansion petition clearly and demonstrably fails regulatory muster for changing an AVA by the TTB’s own rules.

The TTB is required to give deference to the opinion of growers and vintners of an existing viticultural area to be affected by rulemaking.  Please note that the Board of the Sta. Rita Hills Winegrowers has voted unanimously to oppose the expansion, and there has not been a single public comment supporting the Proposed Expansion filed by a member of the SRHWA, including those who have or currently vinify fruit from the expansion petitioner’s vineyard(s).  Those that have built the borders and the reputation of this special winegrowing area are unified and bound by this singular belief: expanding the border of the Sta Rita Hills AVA into the Buell(ton) Flats will indelibly alter the nature of the Sta Rita Hills AVA and cause consumer confusion, reducing any confidence that the public has in the integrity of the entire AVA system.

Name Evidence:  The Buell(ton) Flat is not the Santa Rita Hills.

Plainly stated, all local historic narratives from farmers in the area with more than a decade of agricultural expertise (Comments 2,15,16, 24, 26, 31, 37, 38, 42, 44, 45,48, 53, 54, 59) within and outside of the current Sta. Rita Hills AVA boundary agree:  the current proposed expansion boundary of the Sta. Rita Hills seeks to push the AVA into the Buell(ton) Flats.  No public comment from a farmer exists in the Register that denies this fact, and more than 500 years of local farming expertise speaks clearly: the proposed expansion is disqualified immediately by the most basic tenet of AVA definition: the area in question is NOT known locally or nationally as the ‘Santa Rita Hills’.

Bob Campbell’s family has been growing fruit and vegetables in the Sta Rita Hills and in the proposed expansion area (Buell Flat) for 85 years.  No other farming family has the kind of history and expertise in the Sta Rita Hills AVA except for perhaps Jose’ Baer, whose family has been farming here for 142 years spread over 5 generations.  Both families, a full 8 generations, agree that the AVA expanding into the Buell Flat would not properly represent the area known locally and nationally as the ‘Santa Rita Hills’ and that local farmers have known for generations that there is a noticeable difference in climate within and without the northeastern boundary of the Santa Rita Hills..  This type of historic agricultural consensus should disqualify the expansion by virtue of lack of Name Evidence.  Bob Campbell writes: “…[T]he climate of the area east of the current SRH AVA line is very different due to warmer temperatures and less ocean influence” and “there is a significant difference in the crops we plant” (Comment 53) on either side of the AVA line.

After reading the combined expert opinions of multiple PhD’s (Dr. Veronica Morris, Dr. Deborah Elliott-Fisk, among others), their expert opinion is clear:  the Proposed Expansion Petition is fraught with poor science, cherry-picked data, and lacks any type of meaningful, independent, local support.  As Dr. Elliott-Fisk describes the Expansion Petition: “In fact, this is the most confusing and largest set of unsubstantiated information I have reviewed for any TTB notice.” (Comments on Proposed Expansion, Dr. Elliott-Fisk, Professor Emeritus, UC Davis.)

History of Original Petitioner:

Sixteen years ago I researched and wrote the Petition to Establish the Santa Rita Hills American Viticulture Area with the help of Richard Sanford, Rick Longoria, Bryan Babcock, Greg Brewer, the Melville Family and a number of other pioneers of this amazing and singular viticultural appellation.

Since that time I have worked in good faith with the ATF and the TTB on another two AVA petitions that have been submitted, perfected and approved:  Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara (2011) and Ballard Canyon (2013).  I prepared all three of these AVA petitions with one overarching goal in mind:  that in 100 years wine writers and winemakers would look back and consider the lines we researched and carefully drew on USGS maps to be perfect at best, prescient at worst.  I believe my teams (geologists, botanists, soil scientists, winegrowers) have done an admirable job preparing and perfecting documents that amount to a roadmap for the future of Santa Barbara County winegrowing.

Most germane to this opposition is language of the original Petition to Establish the Santa Rita Hills AVA in the section entitled “Historical or Current Evidence that the Boundaries of the Proposed American Viticultural Area Are as Specified in the Petition”.

“As evidenced by the USGS Quadrangle Maps (Exhibit Seven) submitted for approval, the Santa Rita Hills are the dominant, central feature of the proposed AVA: a transverse (east-west) maritime throat stretching from Lompoc to a few miles west of the Buellton Flats.” (emphasis mine). (Petition to Establish Santa Rita Hills American Viticultural Area, 1998: Wes Hagen Petitioner)

Clearly, the Proposed Expansion does not fit even the most fundamental definition as set forth in the original Petition to Establish: 

1.      The Proposed Expansion (TTB Notice 145) is not enclosed in the east-west maritime throat described in the Petition’s definition of the SRH AVA.

2.      The Proposed Expansion (TTB Notice 145) is not West of the Buellton Flats, but demonstrably within the area locally and historically known as the Buell(ton) Flats.

3.      Using the original definition of the ‘dominant, central feature’ of the AVA, the Expansion Proposal (TTB Notice 145) is twice disqualified.

Referring back to the original 1998 ATF Petition is critical.  It shows:

1.      that the Petitioners originally considered the Buell(ton) Flats for inclusion and rejected the area for being fundamentally inconsistent with the Santa Rita Hills AVA, and

2.      that the area east of the Santa Rita Hills boundaries, as originally perfected and approved, was already being called the Buell(ton) Flats at and before the time of the original petition.

To sum up the scientifically proven disqualifications of the Expansion Proposal for the Sta. Rita Hills AVA:

1.      The Sta. Rita Hills AVA is not distinguishable as a result of its elevation or consistently sloped vineyards.  The expansion area is not a part of the Sta. Rita Hills AVA because it deviates from the orientation of the existing AVA into the unique Santa Rita Hills and its surrounding valleys. “    SRHWA Statement of Opposition, Pg.2

2.      The petitioner has failed to present the required evidence because the expansion area (1) is known by a name other than the Santa Rita Hills; (2) does not share the same geographical, geomorphologic, soil, climate and vegetative features of the existing AVA; and (3) is not distinguishable from the area immediately outside of the boundaries. “  SRHWA Statement of Opposition, Pg.3

3.      “The USGS Geographic Names Information System, which provides a link to a copy of the 1906 Decision Card, also provides that following information concerning the Santa Rita Hills, and when mapped, these coordinates place the most eastern point of the Santa Rita Hills just west of Mail Road and approximately 2.5 miles west of Pence Ranch”  SRHWA Statement of Opposition, Pg.5

4.      “The fact that the expansion area is located on the eastern facing slope outside of the Sta. Rita Hills and oriented away from the AVA's interior valleys does distinguish the expansion area from the existing AVA.”  SRHWA Statement of Opposition, Pg.9

And the powerful, independent expertise echoed over and over in Public Comment:

1.      Greg Walter, Senior Editor for Wine Spectator Magazine and current owner/editor of the Pinot Report opposes this controversial and poorly researched expansion.

2.      Steven Spurrier, world-renowned wine writer and mastermind of the tasting known as the ‘Judgment of Paris’ (1976) opposes this expansion of the Sta Rita Hills AVA into the Buell(ton) Flats.

3.      Mike Potashnik, Owner/Writer/Editor of the International Wine Review, opposes the northeast expansion of the Sta Rita Hills AVA.

4.      Christine Graham and Ron Brown, with 70 years combined in professional wine journalism, oppose this expansion.

5.      Dewayne Holmdahl: local politician, wine judge and local resident of 60+ years in the Lompoc Valley clearly defines the ‘Expansion Proposal Area’ as the Buell(ton) Flats.

6.      Dr. Veronica Morris, a PhD specializing in lupine flowers, distinguishes the two areas by blooming delays of local lupine flowers between the perfected, historic boundary of the Sta Rita Hills AVA and the Proposed Expansion.

Lastly, experts with unimpeachable educational qualifications have shown that the science and data reproduced in the Proposed Expansion to the Sta Rita Hills AVA (TTB Notice 145) is sketchy at best.

1.      Expansion Petitioners provide ZERO climate data for the area surrounding the proposed expansion.  As a petitioner with nearly twenty years of experience writing AVA Petitions, I know personally that this lack of surrounding, distinguishing climate data has caused petitions to be disqualified, and we expect the same criteria to be applied.

2.      Reliance on two years of questionable climate data that Dr. Elliott-Fisk accurately points out are calculated incorrectly and “in some manner other than which [Shabram] states in petitioners Exhibit B. page 13.”  And further, “Mr. Shabram’s entire discussion of what he did [in calculating degree days] is nearly impossible to figure out.” (Quotes from Dr. Elliott-Fisk’s Comments)

3.      With the climate data clearly exposed as faulty, the Expansion Petitioners’ last evidence is a 107 year-old note card which references another ‘Work Card’ that apparently doesn’t exist.  The actual USGS Names Information System that references this card gives actual GPS coordinates that clearly indicate that the Expansion Petition Boundary is excluded from the area known locally and nationally as the ‘Santa Rita Hills’.

Conclusion:  If the local winegrowers/stakeholders/original petitioners are to be given any deference in this Expansion Petition opposition, please defer to the proven and referenced fact that the Expansion Petition Boundary was initially and purposefully excluded from the AVA in the original petition language.  Add to this the expert opinions included in the Opposition that the Expansion Petition contains incorrect and unsubstantiated claims of climate, and even erroneous claims concerning oak trees that have been proven false by local expert botanists.

I strongly believe the facts, science, local expertise, history and public sentiment in this case require this Expansion Petition, (TTB Notice 145) to be denied and disqualified for further review.

If I could only provide one sentence to argue for the denial of this expansion,  I would choose the summation of the Expansion Petition (TTB Notice 145) penned this: “In fact, this is the most confusing and largest set of unsubstantiated information I have reviewed for any TTB notice.” (Comments on Proposed Expansion, Dr. Elliott-Fisk, Professor Emeritus, UC Davis.)


Wes Hagen

Clos Pepe Vineyards and Estate Wines

Sta. Rita Hills Winegrowers Alliance (SRHWGA)

4777 East Highway 246

Lompoc, CA 93436


If you wrote a letter previously, it has been removed from the docket and it needs to be re-submitted for the official Public Comment period.


Here’s your comprehensive guide to making an awesome opposition response to the misguided eastern expansion of the Sta Rita Hills AVA.


Letter suggestion: Educate yourself, and if you feel comfortable opposing the expansion of the Sta Rita Hills AVA, use the following guide to writing a letter of opposition




Go here:!submitComment;D=TTB-2014-0007-0001 to submit your comment electronically.  We also suggest you print and mail your comment as well.


If you already sent a comment to TTB, you need to send it again.  You can also mail comments via U.S. Mail: Director, Regulations and Rulings Division, Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, 1310 G Street NW., Box 12, Washington, DC 20005.  All comments must be submitted by October 6, 2014.  Please read the section “General Rules for Commenting” before submitting your comment.  Your comment must reference Notice No. 145 and must include your name and mailing address.  You must state if your comment comes from an association, business or other entity.


Your comment will be most valuable if it represents your knowledge of the area and supports what we know to be the correct boundaries of our Sta Rita Hills AVA.  Your comment should introduce who you are and your relationship to this area or the industry. 


Here is a sample letter.  DO NOT COPY AND PASTE.  Use your education and any data you may have, including experience and your history in this industry.


In 1997, a group of growers and vintners came together to study the Santa Rita Hills grapegrowing region for the purpose of educating the public about their distinctive viticultural region and petitioning the federal government to establish a Santa Rita Hills AVA.  The groups spent 2 years collecting scientific evidence establishing the specific common features of the area that influence grapegrowing.  The group studied each boundary line in the detailed process.  The group did not simply draw a line enclosing the  already developed vineyard acreage, it established boundaries based on, collectively,  100+ years of farming experience in the region and scientific and historic evidence.  The result was the Santa Rita Hills AVA (shortly thereafter, the Sta Rita Hills AVA).  That group of growers and vintners formed the Sta Rita Hills Winegrowers Alliance. 


On August 7, 2014, TTB published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) (read it here:!documentDetail;D=TTB-2014-0007-0001 ) whereby the agency proposes to expand the Sta Rita Hills AVA by moving the eastern boundary closer to the city of Buellton.  The NPRM was prepared in response to a petition submitted to TTB on behalf of Pence Ranch Vineyards and John Sebastiano Vineyards .  The petitioners planted their vineyards after the Sta Rita Hills AVA was formed and with full knowledge of the AVA boundaries.  The Sta Rita Hills Winegrowers Alliance strongly opposes modifying the boundaries of the AVA and would appreciate your support by expressing the same to TTB.


Ideas for your comment include the following.  This is not any exhaustive list.  Your comment should be your comment and use your own words!


1)            You do not recognize the Santa Rita Hills, the geographic land mass, as extending past the historic and legal Sta Rita Hills AVA boundary. 

2)            You have experienced the climate shift and decrease of the marine influence that occurs east of the Sta Rita Hills AVA boundary and within the expansion area. 

3)            The NPRM does not support the conclusion that the expansion area is more like the Sta Rita Hills than the Buellton Flats or the city of Buellton. 

4)            The expansion area is locally known as the Buellton Flats and you believe climatically it is the same as the Buellton Flats. 

5)            Wines made from grapes grown in the Sta Rita Hills AVA have a specific character not found in wines made from grapes grown east of the AVA.

6)            The original petitioners are responsible farmers who know the area and got it right the first time. 


Some details from Wes Hagen:

Consider including:

1)Who you are, local expertise, years in the wine biz, or as a geologist, botanist, etc.  Include any education/degrees that are germane.


2)  The expansion petition area is on a different land mass as the rest of the SRH.  It represents the end of the east-west orientation of the Purisima Hills and Sta Rita Hills, and minimizes the coastal influence and fog patterns.



3)  There is no climatic data to support that the expansion should stop where their new eastern boundary is drawn.  With no climatic data, their eastern boundary is arbitrary, and the fact that it excludes other vineyards to the east is also arbitrary.  (They say we lacked the data when we wrote it to accurately draw the boundaries, and they are also similarly lacking in data to say where the eastern boundary should cease).


4)  Original stakeholders (winemakers) were not informed of the development of this expansion, and all stakeholders and the SRH Winegrowers strongly oppose it.


5)  Petitioner Pence was dishonest to the Wine Enthusiast, suggesting his wines (Pence Ranch)were of Sta Rita Hills providence. Steve Heimoff, editor, said of the event: "Your issue really is with the Pences, who it seems to me deliberately tried to deceive writers like me.”. The TTB opened an investigation on this matter.


6)  The geography and topography of the SRH changes dramatically at the existing, historic boundary, significantly reducing the intense marine influence, fog and cooling winds that impacts the areas to the west.


7)  Using temps from the hottest vineyards in the SRH to compare with Pence Ranch is not a significant 'proof' as the original petitioners decided that the land mass was more important than climate--Rio Vista is tightly nestled in the defined east-west corridor of the Santa Rosa and Santa Rita Hills, while Pence Ranch and the rest of the expansion area are in a separate land mass that is widely open, expansive, and does not fit the typicity of the original petitioners' criteria.


8)  Areas associated with Buellton and the Buellton Flats were originally and categorically omitted in the introductory paragraph of the original Petition to Establish the Sta. Rita Hills AVA.