Imagine you’re at home in Ladue, getting dressed to attend a garden wedding at the Missouri Botanical Garden. It’s a cloudy, chilly, foggy June afternoon with a temperature of 69 degrees. You put on a light wool cocktail suit and hop in the car for the 20-mile drive to the Garden. No wind, no northern front. When you arrive the sun is ablaze; the temperature, 89 degrees. The fog has lifted, there’s no humidity and you’re wishing you had worn your sleeveless floral sheath hanging in the closet back home.

Such is the unique, idyllic ecosystem of California’s Santa Barbara County, where vintners Jim and Mary Dierberg are producing an outstanding array of award-winning wines. Cooler climates along the Pacific Ocean at Santa Maria and Santa Rita produce their pinot noir and chardonnay grapes. A warmer inland climate 20 miles to the east in Happy Valley (often a 20-degree differential) produces their acclaimed cabernets, bordeaux and sauvignon blancs. In France, one must drive seven or eight hours to find such different climates for vineyards. With this unique triangle of locations, the Dierberg wineries (Dierberg Estate and Star Lane) boast the longest ‘hangtime’ for their grapes of any vineyard in California, yielding fruit with the finest maturity, color, flavor, aromatics and tannins.

Wine experts must agree. A few of the many accolades awarded to Dierberg wineries include a 91-point rating for the 2008 Dierberg chardonnay and a 90-point rating for the 2008 Dierberg pinot noir, both from Wine Enthusiast; and Best New Cabernet honors for its 2007 Star Lane Cabernet from Food & Wine magazine.

Hermannhof in Hermann, Mo., was the couple’s first foray into serious wine-making. It was 1974, and they were just getting started. In 1996, soon after purchasing the Star Lane Ranch in California, they were able to realize their long held dream of constructing a 26,000-square-foot cave for barrel aging. Dug into the surrounding Happy Valley hillsides, the stunning cave maintains a constant temperature of 56 degrees.

“Wine is like a person,” Jim will tell you. “A person who begins life struggling to grow, encountering all sorts of problems as he or she ages, and then ripening, maturing and reaching a peak and eventually mellowing.”

It’s evident that great pride is taken in the all-natural process of producing a Dierberg wine. From soil to bottle, each step of the way is in harmony with nature, Mary says. “The finest grapes need to struggle to grow.” Again, just like people.