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If you’re a regular reader of Uncorked, you know I love the stories behind great winemakers and wineries. Arkansas was honored to have James Ontiveros, a ninth-generation Californian agriculturist, visit our state recently.

The Ontiveros story starts with the family legacy of farming and becomes pure enjoyment, with some of the most balanced and complex wines I have tasted.

“Alta Maria” is named after the upper Santa Maria River where James’ ancestor Don Juan Pacifico Ontiveros crossed on St. Mary’s Day in 1855. He drove cattle from Southern California to his home at Rancho Tepusquet, now home to some of the world’s most renowned vineyards. The picturesque river flowing through the valley was the force that sustained ranch life in those early days.

Alta Maria focuses on hand-crafted wines showcasing grape varietals that flourish in this growing region, including sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and pinot noir. Many think of California-style wines as high in alcohol content and strong oak flavors, but Alta Maria has a focus on Old-World styles reminiscent of Burgundy, and soft subtle reserved wines in the glass.

The artwork for the label of Alta Maria Vineyards features hand-hewn iron nails used by homesteaders in Santa Maria before the Industrial Revolution. The nails are a part of the crafted philosophy the wines each share. Their goal is that the Alta Maria Vineyards sustain the family legacy.


  • 2013 Alta Maria Sauvignon Blanc, California (about $18 retail)


  • 2014 Alta Maria Pinot Noir, California (about $34 retail)