We are excited to introduce you to the people behind the wine! 

In 2020, we introduced you to some of our favorite people through our weekly Cocktail Hour series, In 2021 you met some through our weekly Instagram Lives, in 2022 via our monthly masterclasses! This year we turn to the pen!   

We are excited to share our chat with Samra Morris, the first Bosnian American to hold the title of winemaker in California. Samara has a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in food sciences from the University of Sarajevo. She is the winemaker at Alma Rosa in Santa Barbara County’s Sta. Rita Hills.

I was sent samples of the  2020 El Jabali Pinot Noir and Chardonnay last year! The 2020 El Jabali Pinot Noir is deep ruby in color and bursting with black cherry, chocolate and pepper flavors. The 2020 El Jabali Chardonnay  is fresh with notes of lemon cream pie and white flowers. After tasting the wines and reading Alma’s bio, I was moved to share her story. 

Here are 6 Questions to get to know her and her wines better!     

Regine T. Rousseau: You received your bachelor’s in Food Science and a master’s degree in Food Quality and Control from The University of Sarajevo, then you interned at a beer brewery.

When did you fall in love with wine?

Samra Morris: It was during my internship at the brewery—I quickly discovered that while I had fallen in love with fermentation, I wasn’t fond of the smell of beer. This experience piqued my interest in further studies of the chemistry of fermentation and led me to focus on enology during my graduate studies. I was fascinated by the wine-related courses I took; I instantly fell in love with it and knew I wanted to become a winemaker.

Regine T. Rousseau: You have worked in a few positions in wine. I read that your first wine job was at the tasting room of Hestan Winery in Napa. Tell us how you went from working in a tasting room to a winemaker? Who mentored you?

Samra Morris: When I moved from Bosnia to California, I wasn’t very familiar with the wine regions or wineries and didn’t know many people. Luckily, my husband, a First Sergeant in the U.S. Air Force, was assigned to the Travis Air Force Base, a short distance from the Napa Valley. So, I began applying to tasting room positions and was fortunate to land at the newly launched Hestan Vineyards located in Yountville, CA. I hoped my role in the tasting room would allow me to meet and connect with people in the industry with the goal of one day becoming a winemaker.

At Hestan, I was introduced to noted Winemaker Thomas Rivers Brown, whose processes and style I admired. I completed my first viticulture internship at St. Supéry during the 2014 harvest, followed by three cellar internships with Rivers Brown’s Mending Wall. This experience taught me the importance of bringing out the unique characteristics of each vineyard site, something I prioritize as a winemaker at Alma Rosa. 

Today, I am mentored by veteran consulting winemaker Tony Biagi, who has decades of experience in the industry. I really look up to him and feel fortunate to work alongside him. 

Regine T. Rousseau: How did you come to work at Alma Rosa? 

Samra Morris: In 2013, Debra Eagle, who was the general manager of Hestan Vineyards at the time, hired me to work in the Hestan tasting room. I stayed in touch with her over the years and she followed my winemaking career. In 2018, Debra became the general manager of Alma Rosa in the Sta. Rita Hills. She reached out to see if I was interested in joining the team. After visiting Santa Barbara, I was ready to make the move to California’s Central Coast. I was excited by the breadth of wines I could make in the Sta. Rita Hills and especially by the prospect of working with Burgundy varieties like Pinot Noir. I was also immediately struck by the region’s beauty and the parallels to where I grew up—the sunny beaches and slightly saline, high acid wines made here reminded me of the sights and smells of the summers I spent on the Croatian coast as a kid. We just released my second vintage of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines at Alma Rosa. I am very grateful to have been given this opportunity. 

Regine T. Rousseau:  Where are the vineyards? What styles of wine do you produce? What is the climate of the area and what makes it special for the style  

Samra Morris:The Alma Rosa estate is located in Santa Barbara County’s Sta. Rita Hills AVA. The region is unique in that the coastal mountain range here is transverse—the chain runs east to west and opens directly to the sea. This is unlike most of the Pacific coast where the mountains run north to south and block the ocean influence like a wall. This special climatic and geological formation creates a funnel which pulls in fog and cool air from the nearby Pacific Ocean to the valley, tempering the heat of the Southern California sun while still allowing it to ripen our fruit. Our estate vineyard, El Jabali, benefits from this as well as the varied elevations and soil compositions making it the perfect place to produce Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and cool-climate Rhône varieties. We produce estate wines from our El Jabali vineyard and also source fruit from top vineyard sites along the southern corridor of the Sta. Rita Hills such as La Encantada and Bentrock. At Alma Rosa we strive to produce wines that are reflective of the site and the region, both vibrant and complex. 

Regine T. Rousseau: Winemakers seem to discover the most interesting food and wine pairings. Tell us one of your favorite pairings with a wine from Alma Rosa.

Samra Morris: It’s simple, but I love a Mediterranean shrimp salad paired with the Alma Rosa Vin Gris of Pinot Noir.  Drizzled with olive oil and lemon, the wine’s high acidity pairs perfectly with the light, refreshing dish. 

Regine T. Rousseau:  Is there anything else you want to share about yourself and the winery?

Samra Morris: This coming year, we will be breaking ground on a new winery at the Alma Rosa estate. This is going to be a significant addition to our brand, and I am looking forward to this new chapter for me and the Alma Rosa team once the winery is completed. 

Buy the wines at: https://shop.almarosawinery.com/Wines/New-Releases