24 Aug From Bosnia and Brewing to California: Meet Inspiring Winemaker Samra Morris
As wineries prepare for the upcoming 2021 vintage, for Samra Morris, a young winemaker and the first woman from Bosnia to make wine, it will be here third vintage as winemaker at Alma Rosa in the Santa Ynez Valley. When she released her first full grape-to-glass wines, she shared her excitement as I wrote about in Alcohol Professor and share here.
With the 2019 and 2020 vintages of Alma Rosa Wines in the bottle, Samra Morris declared it was “the most exciting moment of [her] life. All the passion, all the hard work, I finally have my own bottle.” 2019 marked her first full grape-to-glass vintage at Alma Rosa, the first of many vintages to come.
Born In Bosnia
Morris is a young winemaker, and she is the first woman from Bosnia to make wine in California. She was born and raised in Sarajevo, Bosnia and she received both her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Food Sciences from The University of Sarajevo, College of Agricultural and Food Sciences. At first, her interest was in beer and the process of brewing. But she soon realized that she was “more a chemistry girl than a biology girl.” An internship with the Department of Enology at The University of Sarajevo led to her fascination with the making of a bottle of wine.
A Twist Of Fate
In Bosnia, wine is part of the culture and Morris was introduced to wine by her father who worked in agriculture and always had wines at home. While she had grown up around wine, working in wine, let alone being a winemaker, was not something she considered. As a Bosnian woman, she never envisioned working in production as she only saw men in that role. However, it was meant to be. She met her future husband who is in the United States Air Force. It was fortuitous when he was re-stationed to Travis Air Force Base in Napa. Moving to Napa, California in 2013, she was able to pursue a career in wine and said, “this is what I want to do.”
Her first job in Napa Valley was as a tasting room associate at Heston Winery. She then interned at St. Supery in 2014, followed by three harvests as a cellar intern for winemaker Thomas Rivers Brown, and then one year in the cellar for Michael Mondavi Family Estate. In 2017, Morris joined Free Flow Wines, first as a lab assistant and then promoted to lab supervisor followed by QC manager in 2019. At Free Flow Wines, she was responsible for managing wine and product quality for canning and kegging.
In 2019, Morris took a trip to Santa Barbra to visit Debra Eagle, who she had first met when they worked together at Heston Winery. Eagle had moved to the Santa Ynez Valley to take the position of general ganager of Alma Rosa Winery. Morris fell in love with the Santa Ynez Valley and Eagle convinced her to stay. She joined the Alma Rosa team in the summer of 2019 as assistant winemaker and quickly proved her talents as she was named winemaker in January 2020.
Alma Rosa Winery
Alma Rosa Winery was established by Richard Sanford in 2005. Richard Sanford was the very first person to plant Pinot Noir in Santa Barbara County in 1971 in what would later be called the Sta. Rita Hills. His first vineyard was the renowned Sanford & Benedict. In 1993, the Sanfords planted the El Jabali vineyard, the first certified organic vineyard in Santa Barbara County. This 38-acre vineyard, located on the estate of Alma Rosa, is planted to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, as well as small amounts of cool climate Syrah and Grenache. And, in 2000, they planted the 100-acre La Encantada vineyard on the edge of the Sta Rita Hills AVA, two miles west of the Alma Rosa Estate. La Encantada Vineyard is planted to Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Gris. In 2015, they sold Alma Rosa winery and the 628-acre, which includes the El Jabali vineyard, to Bob and Barb Zorich.
As winemaker, Morris is working with both vineyards planted by Richard Sanford. She fell in love with both El Jabali Vineyard and La Encantada Vineyard and is focused on making vibrant, layered wines. Although the region is known for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, Morris is intrigued with the Rhone varieties as well. All the wines benefit from the “refrigerated sunshine” that the Sta. Rita Hills is known for and which preserve the acidity and minerality in the wines. When we sip a glass of Alma Rosa wines, made by Morris, she wants the glass to take us to the specific vineyard.
Her first grape-to-glass releases are the rosés and white wines. The Pinot Noirs will be released in September 2021.
Alma Rosa released a Pinot Noir Vin Gris rosé and a Grenache rosé in 2020. Both are sourced from the El Jabali estate vineyard. The grapes were picked, pressed and immediately transferred to tanks in order to produce light colored rosés with fresh acidity.
Alma Rosa Pinot Noir Vin Gris 2020 ($35)
A pale pink color, the wine has intense aromas of wild strawberry, pink grapefruit, red cherries, raspberries, as well as citrus and floral notes. The palate is dry with intense, bright acid and a tart strawberry finish that leaves the mouth salivating.
Alma Rosa Grenache Rosé 2020 ($30)
A pale copper color, the wine has an intense nose of passion fruit, guava, strawberry, cherry, melon, and white blossoms. On the palate, the wine leads with bright, fresh acidity and finishes with clean minerality with saline notes.
The two new white wine releases are from the 2019 vintage. The Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc were sourced from the La Encantada Vineyard. Prior to 2019, the two grapes had been blended together. But Morris felt the grapes lost their uniqueness by blending them, so for her first vintage, she bottled them separately. Both grapes were whole cluster pressed. 70 percent of the Pinot Blanc and 74 percent of the Pinot Gris were fermented in stainless steel, with the remainder fermented in new French oak.
Alma Rosa La Encantada Pinot Gris 2019 ($32)
When Morris discovered Pinot Gris, she fell in love. A pale lemon-yellow color, the wine has aromas of white nectarine, white peaches, apricot, and lemon, as well as a petrol note. Bright acidity and freshness hit the palate and then gently smoothens as it hits the back of the palate.
Alma Rosa La Encantada Pinot Blanc 2019 ($35)
A pale lemon-yellow color, the wine has aromas of lemon, lime, grapefruit, and nectarine, as well as a floral perfumy note. The wine hits the palate with bright acidity that gives way to a creamy midpalate and a mouthwatering finish.
With four wines released, and more to come, Morris has had little time to process the responsibility of being the winemaker. When reflecting on this past harvest she explained, “it was an exciting time with all the craziness of harvest, and I had no time to think that I was the winemaker.” But, she added, “As a young winemaker, this is the most exciting moment in my life.” I am excited to see what she does next.