James can trace his California roots back to 1781, when Josef Ontiveros rode on horseback into Alta California and the family became the recipient of a Mexican land grant. At one time, the Ontiveros Family owned over 36,000 acres in modern-day Orange county. They then sold El Cajon de Santa Ana and Los Coyotes and moved to Santa Barbara county. The 1837 Rancho Tepusquet grant – nearly 9,000 acres bordered by the Sisquoc and Cuyama Rivers – was passed to Don Juan Pacifico Ontiveros, who constructed the Ontiveros Adobe on the property in 1856. He and his wife raised horses, cattle, sheep, several grain crops and grapes.
Over the eight generations that came before him, this cattle and farm land was divided and passed down until the mid-nineteenth century, at which point it had been completely sold off and none of the original land grant remained in their name.
Rancho Ontiveros Vineyard, one of the vineyard sources for Alta Maria, was not inherited; it has been built over the last 20 years. Mark and Louise, James' mother and father, worked to buy the ranch in 1986 with a wistful view of the original property of Rancho Tepusquet that once had been their own. James was the first in his family to go to college and became interesed in viticulture and winemaking while at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
James grew up ranching, but the wine business was fast becoming James' new love. The irony was that his family were cattle people with a little bit of a farming background; they were cowboys, not winemakers; over time that has changed.
James attendeed California Polytechnic University San Luis Obispo working on dual degrees in Fruit Science and Crop Science. While in college in 1997 James planted 8 acres of Pinot Noir at Rancho Ontiveros Vineyard.
James has worked with Kendall-Jackson as a Field Supervisor throughout the Central Coast, with Gallo-Sonoma in grower relations in the North Coast and vineyard manager in Sonoma Coast and the Russian River. Most importantly for Alta Maria’s evolution, James took a position with the Miller family as Director of Sales and Marketing for 10 years which included over-seeing the Bien Nacido Vineyard, Solomon Hills, French Camp, CCWS and Paso Robles wine services. This was the property where his great, great, great, great grandfather Juan Pacifico Ontiveros had built the adobe on their original land grant.
With the 2004 vintage, James joined forces with Paul Wilkins, winemaker and long-time college friend, to start Alta Maria focusing on important sites for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from only the Santa Maria Valley AVA. They wanted to make genuine, honest and authentic wines that were inspired by the old world wines they loved. Much like James’ family history in California, Alta Maria reflects the heritage when times were simpler, people worked with the earth and were fulfilled personally and professionally by hard work.
Since 2005, Paul and James Ontiveros have been making Alta Maria Vineyards wines and in 2011 opened a much-anticipated joint tasting room for Alta Maria Vineyards and Native9 in Los Olivos, California. Alta Maria wines are sold in over a dozen states and export markets.
1744-1798 – Josef Antonio Ontiveros
1772-1834 – Juan Patricio Ontiveros
1795-1877 – Don Juan Pacifico Ontiveros
1835-1930 – Ramon Guillermo Domingo Ontiveros
1855-1919 – Alejandro Miguel Ontiveros
1895-1964 – Roman William Ontiveros
1927-present – Alexander Roman Ontiveros
1950-present – Mark Alexander Ontiveros
1974-present – James Rey Ontiveros