Sta. Rita Hills Wine & Fire
Sponsored by the Sta. Rita Hills Winegrowers Alliance, the 2nd Annual Wine & Fire event was held June 22-24,
2007. The title refers to the featured wines and fire-grilled foods served at the celebration. The Grape Radio
crew consisting of Mark Ryan, Eric Anderson, and myself hunkered down in Lompoc which abuts the western
edge of the Sta. Rita Hills appellation. Lompoc will never be confused with affluent Santa Ynez, which is more
synonymous with Santa Barbara wine country, and located 30 minutes east by car along Hwy 246. However,
Lompoc, the “City of Arts & Flowers,” is renowned for its affectionately termed “Wine Ghetto,” where many of
Sta. Rita Hills’ finest producers craft Pinot Noirs of great distinction. Close by is the “Wine Prison,” also known
as “Pinot West,” which is another industrial park that is close to the federal penitentiary and home to several
other notable winemakers. A few wineries do make wine within the Sta. Rita Hills appellation (Lompoc sits just
west of the appellation - see map on page 2), such as Babcock Winery & Vineyards, Foley Estates Vineyard &
Winery, Lafond Winery & Vineyards, Melville Vineyards & Winery, and Sanford Winery & Vineyards. There
is a new winery complex ( Rancho La Vena Winery) being constructed on
Santa Rosa Road in the appellation that will be a shared home to several
We had a ton of fun at this event, and as I unravel the story of the weekend,
you will see why. Mark (right with Eric and Peter Cargasacchi)
handled the camera duties as we videotaped many interviews of
winemakers and winegrowers for a later program on Grape Radio
(www.graperadio.com). Being a young, good looking and unattached
guy, he also was on the prowl for young available talent in the area. Eric
can always be recognized by his hefty backpack which is stuffed with still cameras and more high-powered zoom lenses than a anyone should reasonably possess. He is often
seen with his cap backwards in his photography mode (left). Look for Eric’s photos on his website,
www.grape-nutz.com. I held no distinction among the trio other than that I lent some royalty and seniority
to the group.
This map of the Sta. Rita Hills Winegrowers Alliance is also available for viewing or purchase on the
website at www.staritahills.com.
The Santa Rita Hills is a western subdivision of the much larger Santa Ynez Valley Appellation. Officially,
the Santa Rita Hills Appellation is Sta. Rita Hills, since Vina Santa Rita, a 123-year-old winery in
Santiago, Chile, filed suit in 2001 to stop California vintners from using the Santa Rita Hills name. Sta.
Rita Hills is pronounced the same, but reads a little awkwardly. The Sta. Rita Hills Appellation is one of
the few areas along the California Coast where the mountains run east-west instead of north-south. The
result is a gap that allows cooling Pacific Ocean winds to flow inland. When it is hot in Santa Ynez
which is 10 miles to the east, it is 10 degrees cooler in the western Sta. Rita Hills. Fog hovers over the
vines until mid-morning, and the temperature barely rises above 75 degrees in the western reaches of
the appellation. Well-draining calcerous soils (limestone, chalk and clay) combine with the cool
climate to make this area ideal for growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The appellation spans 30,720
acres of which 1,647 acres are planted to grapes, mostly Pinot Noir with smaller amounts of
Chardonnay (300 acres), Pinot Gris and Syrah. The photo below is looking north across the Fiddlestix
Vineyard on Santa Rosa Road towards the hillside Sea Smoke Vineyards in the Santa Rita Hills.
This map of the Sta. Rita Hills Winegrowers Alliance is also available for viewing or purchase on the
website at www.staritahills.com.
Day 1 The event kicked off on Friday evening with the “Wine Reception Under the Stars” held at
the historic La Purisima Mission in Lompoc. La Purisima was the eleventh of the twenty-one Spanish
missions built in what became California. Misión de La Purisima Conceptción de Maria Santisma was
founded in 1787 by Franciscan Padre Presidente Fermin Francisco Lasuén. The 1812 earthquake destroyed
several of the mission buildings and the mission was subsequently relocated four miles to the
northeast where it was officially established in 1813. Today La Purisma Mission is a State Historical
Park and is the most completely restored mission in California. Historically the Mission grape was
planted here by the padres, but currently there is no vineyard on the property. Deborah Hall, owner
of Gypsy Canyon Winery in the Sta. Rita Hills, has been donating cuttings for the establishment of
Mission grape vineyards in a number of missions in California and hopefully La Purisima will follow
suite in the future (see feature on Deborah Hall and Gypsy Canyon on page 14).
The evening was quite enchanting with winemakers pouring among the La Purisima Mission gardens,
pathways glimmering with candles, ranchero-era music filling the air, and the heady aromas of firegrilled
delights including gourmet flatbreads, paella espana, and rosemary pomegranate roasted
Rinconada Dairy lamb all prepared by local chefs. 29 of the winery members of the Sta. Rita Hills
Winegrowers Alliance were presenting their Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines. Some notes on the
participating wineries follow.
Alma Rosa Winery & Vineyards The founders of Sanford & Benedict Vineyard (1971) and Sanford
Winery (1981), Thekla and Richard Sanford started their own new winery in 2004 with a commitment to
sustainable farming and green business practices. When Richard left Sanford a few years ago, he retained
over 100 acres of certified organic estate vineyards. On July 1, 2007, Richard will return to his
roots when Alma Rosa takes over the original Sanford tasting room at 7250 Santa Rosa Road. It is an undistinguished
and well-worn small building with a corrugated aluminum roof, but it has become legendary
for its prominent part in the early scenes of the movie Sideways. As Miles
and Jack sip a 1999 Sanford La Rinconada Pinot Noir, Miles waxes, “Lovely, big and
gamy, almost irreverent for a Pinot. I like it. A perfect beginning to this weeklong
adventure.” The long time friend of Richard’s, Chris Burroughs, will continue to be
The wines are available on the website at www.almarosawinery.com. 805-
ampelos cellars A few years ago, Rebecca and Peter Work started this small family operation focusing
on Pinot Noir and Syrah. The wines are crafted with loving hands at “Pinot West,” and biodynamic
farming is employed at the estate vineyard in the Sta. Rita Hills. Ampelos is Greek for “vine.” The
Works have close ties to Greece, having been married on a small Greek Island and fell so much in
love with the island, they created a small bed and breakfast there (www.ampelosresort.com). Peter’s
son, Don, is the assistant winemaker at Sea Smoke Cellars and assists at ampelos as well.
2005 ampelos vineyard Lambda Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir $35, 2004 ampelos
Vineyard Rho Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir 98 cases, $45 (the two wines are from
the same vineyard but the Lambda is aged in 33% new French oak and the Rho
is 4 select barrels that are aged longer in 50% new oak), and 2005 ampelos
Fiddlestix Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir $35. I tasted the wines briefly at
Sunday’s Open House and I feel this is a producer worth your interest. The 2005
Lambda Estate Pinot Noir (Pommard 4 and Dijon 115) was quite nice with a remarkably
spiced fruit compote finish that lingered an eternity. Terrific! The wines
are available on the website, www.ampeloscellars.com. 805-736-9957.
Arcadian Winery Winegrower Joe Davis is a believer in Old World (Burgundy) methods of crafting
fine Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. A classicist, his wines often need a few years to really offer their
charms. As writer Dennis Schaefer has said, “Almost every winemaker who makes Pinot Noir professes
to follow the Burgundian model. And, more or less that’s true. But with some winemakers, the
‘less’ part is apparent, and plenty of shortcuts may be employed. With winemaker Joe Davis, everything
is always ‘more’ Burgundian.” Joe owns no vineyards, but spends considerable time in his contracted
vineyards, making him as much a farmer as a winemaker.
2002 Arcadian Fiddlestix Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir
$50. Joe says the grapes from
Fiddlestix can have considerable structure and tannin and it takes some clever
skill to “tame the beast.”
This is a current release and shows off what Joe’s wines
do with a little bottle age. Plenty of complexity here with charming earth, leather
and soy notes and dusty tannins.
Joe’s lineup of wines may be ordered from
the website at www.arcadianwinery.com. 805-686-5501.
Babcock Winery & Vineyards Bryan Babcock has been crafting terroir-driven wines in the Sta. Rita
Hills since 1984 when he joined his father, Walt Babcock who had purchased 110 acres of land in the
Santa Rita Hills region in 1979. Today, Babcock Winery & Vineyards is a 20,000-case-a-year winery
with 80 acres planted to multiple varietals including Pinot Noir. Www.babcockwinery.com.
BADGE Bruno D’Alfonso has been making Pinot Noir from the Santa Rita
Hills for over 17 years. While working at Sanford Winery, he developed his
private label, Di Bruno, which focuses on Italian varietals. In 2003, he added
BADGE to his portfolio. The name comes from a song sung by the band
Cream, written by George Harrison and Eric Clapton. I thought the 2004
BADGE Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir was very good.
2005 BADGE Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir
Has not warmed my heart. I have sampled
it at home and at the event and found it to have green pepper among the fresh fruit aromas in the
nose with oak and herbs dominating the finish.
The wine is distributed to fine retail
Cargasacchi Winegrower Peter Cargasacchi farms two vineyards, the Cargasacchi
Vineyard at the western end of the Sta. Rita Hills Appellation (planted in 1999),
and the Jalama Vineyard outside of Lompoc. He crafts Pinot Noir, Syrah and a Rosé
of Sangiovese under his own labels Cargasacchi/Pt. Concepcion, and supplies
grapes to several fellow Alliance members. He is known as a meticulous farmer
and his wines to date have been well-crafted.
Peter’s Point Concepcion Pinot Noirs tend to be less muscular and more
elegant in style, intended to be very food-friendly. The website is www.pointconcepcionwines.com.
The wines are distributed to retail stores. 805-736-7763.
Carr Vineyards & Winery A small boutique winery that focuses on Pinot Noir
from vineyards in the Sta. Rita Hills Appellation managed by Ryan Carr. The
winery grew out of a partnership between Ryan Carr and Andy Kahn (Kahn Winery)
who formed a vineyard development company. Together they manage 100
acres of vineyards in Santa Barbara County including the Ovation Vineyard and
Turner Vineyard in the Sta. Rita Hills Appellation. The winery was established in
1999 in downtown Santa Barbara. A 1940s-era Quonset hut with a faux cave interior
tasting room is located at 414 N. Salsipeudes and is open 11-5 daily. The
wines are available on the website, www.carrwinery.com. Current Pinot Noir
releases are 2005 Carr Three Vineyards Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir 445 cases, $30, 2005 Carr Clos
Pepe Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir 98 cases, $40, and 2005 Carr Turner Vineyard Sta. Rita
Hills Pinot Noir 217 cases, $35. My tasting experience is limited.
Casa Cassara Winery & Vineyard This estate sits high atop a wind-swept knoll
in the heart of the Sta. Rita Hills appellation, just off Santa Rosa Road. Bernie
Cassara bought this property as a family retreat back in 1981 and planted the
first 8 acres of vines in 1990. The winery was bonded in 1997, and in 1999, 40
cases of Pinot Noir were produced. A modern winery was constructed and utilized
for the 2004 vintage. I visited some time ago and at that time there was still a
winding and steep dirt road heading up to the residence and winery. I tasted
with sales manager Alicia Summers and winemaker Brian Freeborn and thought
the wines were quite decent. The emphasis is on the Estate Pinot Noir.
Since the winery is inaccessible, a new tasting room, scheduled to open this month, is at 291
Valley Station in Buellton, on the south side of Hwy 246. The website is www.casacassaracom. 805-
Clos Pepe This 28-acre vineyard lies in the heart of the appellation on Hwy 246. Small quantities of
Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are produced and grapes are sold to several members of the Alliance.
Vineyard manager and winemaker Wes Hagen is a believer in the New World
“Caliesque” style of Pinot Noir characterized by prodigious extraction. Noted
winemaker Ken Brown has called grapes from his vineyard, “grapes on steroids,”
but some wines, notably from Ken and A.P. Vin, seem to temper the
muscular fruit. The vineyard is named after operations manager Steve Pepe.
2004 Clos Pepe Estate Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir
A masculine and firm
wine with concentrated fruit and notable oak and tannins. What some might call
“power to thrill,” the wine is generous and fruity rather than complex. The lingering finish is tinged by
some heat. Aging will mellow this wine.
The website, www.clospepe.com, is very informative including
photos of a year in the vineyard. Wines (including a Chablis-styled Chardonnay) may be purchased
from the website.
Demetria John Zahoudanis, a native of Greece, purchased land from two established sites in Santa
Barbara County. The Demetria Vineyard (formerly the Andrew Murray Vineyard) is located in Santa
Ynez Valley and is suited to Rhone varietals. The Gaia Vineyard (formerly Ashley’s Vineyard planted
in 1999 to Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc) is one of the coolest sites at the western boundary
of the Sta. Rita Hills Appellation. You may continue to see the name Ashley’s Vineyard on labels from
wineries that source grapes from the Gaia Vineyard. The Gaia Vineyard label is dedicated to Burgundian
varietals. The vineyards are managed by Jeff Newton of Coastal Vineyard Care. The Mediterranean-
styled winery (purchased from Andrew Murray in 2006) is located in Los Olivos at 6701 Foxen
Canyon Road. The inaugural releases from the 2005 vintage were carefully crafted by winemaker
Mike Roth who has experience in California’s Napa, Sonoma and Santa Barbara
2005 Demetria Sta. Rita Hills Le Bélier Pinot Noir
alc., 297 cases, $45. Dijon clones 114 and 777.
The shy nose can be coaxed
with swirling to reveal black cherry and spice. The flavors feature dark fruits
with soy, tea and tobacco. The texture is soft and alluring, the finish taut and
2005 Demetria Sta. Rita Hills Cuvée Sandra Pinot Noir
14.9% alc., 247 cases, $55.
Pommard and Dijon clone 777.
Earthy, smokey and forest floor aromatics lead to satisfying black cherry
and anise flavors. The tannins are fine-grained and the overall impression is finesse. The alcohol can peak
out as the wine warms in the glass.
2005 Demetria Sta. Rita Hills Jours de Bonheur Pinot Noir
alc., 725 cases, $35. Dijon clones 114 and 777.
This is a beautifully crafted wine that grows on you over
time. The nose is flush with woodsy and barnyard aromas. A charming cherry core of fruit is enhanced by
spice and mocha. Nicely balanced and easy to drink, this is the most approachable wine of the trio. The
first two wines are still reticent and will reward reassessment in a few years.
The wines may be
purchased from the website at www.demetriaestate.com.
Flying Goat Cellars Master winemaker Norm Yost , with a quarter of a century of vintages under his
belt, specializes in producing limited quantities of vineyard designated Pinot Noirs from the Central
Coast region of California. He has recently also made a sparkling wine called Goat Bubbles. As the
chief goat herder, Norm tries to downplay the pretentiousness often found in
wine circles. His vineyard sources include Salisbury Vineyard in San Luis
Obispo, Dierberg Vineyard, Solomon Hills Vineyard and Nielson Vineyard in the
Santa Maria Valley, and Rancho Santa Rosa Vineyard and Rio Vista Vineyard in
the Sta. Rita Hills.
Clones 115, 667 and 777. The wines
are available from the website, www.flyinggoatcellars.com. Tasting by appointment, 805-688-1614.
Foley Estates Vineyard & Winery This is a showcase
property in the Napa mode located along Hwy 246 in the
northern part of the appellation. The beautiful tasting
room is open daily from 10-5. Owner William (Bill) Foley II
purchased the Rancho Santa Rosa in 1998 and planted 230
acres to Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah. The winemaking
team consists of Alan Phillips (most recently of Byington
Winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains), assistant winemaker
Maurice Boyd, and enologist Colin Murphy (all of
whom also produce wine for Lincourt Vineyards in the
Santa Ynez Valley which is also owned by William Foley
II). The Rancho Santa Rosa Vineyard has 32 different
blocks of Pinot Noir. Both composite wines and single clone wines are produced. Alan Philips has
reported an experiment in which every other row of a particular vineyard block was picked at either
24 or 27 brix, then fermented separately and after finishing, given blind to tasters to evaluate. None of
the tasters preferred the overripe versions of the wine. The large acreage here and the extensive
winery resources allow for considerable experimentation which
should pay off down the line in the quality of the wines emerging
from this winery.
The lineup of wines are available
on the website, www.foleywines.com.
The Gainey Vineyard Gainey is located in Santa Ynez, but owns the
Evan’s Ranch cool-climate vineyard on Santa Rosa Road in the south-west
region of the Sta. Rita Hills Appellation. Established in 1984, Gainey is a
pioneer in establishing the Santa Ynez Valley as a world-class wine region.
For a number of years, Rick Longoria was the winemaker here. The
current winemaker is Kirby Anderson. The website is
Hitching Post Hartley-Ostini Frank Ostini a chef, and Gray Hartley, a fisherman, make handcrafted
Pinot Noirs from vineyards in Santa Barbara County. The Sideways movie really put this label in the
limelight but these two nice guys deserve all the notoriety they receive. 4700 cases are produced annually
at Central Coast Wine Services in Santa Maria.
2005 Hitching Post Fiddlestix Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir
325 cases, $50. 4 clones, 2
different rootstocks, picked in separate passes through the vineyard.
wine is meaty and thick with lavish and rich, mature dark fruits. There is plenty of
earthiness and mushroom flavors. A fruit bomb with judicious use of oak.
The Hitching Post Pinot Noirs are available at the Hitching Post II
Restaurant on Hwy 246 in Buellton and distributed widely to fine wine shops. They are also available
from the website order form, www.hitchingpostwines.com. 805-688-0676.
Huber Cellars This is a small family-operated estate specializing in Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The
estate vineyard was planted in 1986 making it one of the oldest vineyards in the Sta. Rita Hills Appellation.
The proprietors, Norm and Traudl Huber, debuted their first wines in 2000 with Norm Yost as the
winemaker. They bottle a barrel and stainless steel fermented Chardonnay, both of which are quite
good. The estate Pinot Noir has been well-received by the wine press. The Pinot Noir block in the
vineyard was planted to clone 115 in 1995. The German red varietal, Dornfelder, is also grown here.
Www.hubercellars.com, Tasting at the winery in the Lompoc Wine Ghetto is by appointment . 805-
Ken Brown Wines Ken Brown is one of Santa Barbara County’s originals. He has been crafting wine
in the area since 1977 and was the founding winemaker at both Zaca Mesa Winery and Byron Winery.
Ken was one of the first to realize the potential of Santa Barbara County to produce fine Pinot Noir and
Chardonnay. He was also the first to introduce Pinot Noirs relatives, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc, and
Syrah, to the area. After leaving Byron Winery in 2003, he started his own label, and crafts his wines in
the Pinot West facility in Lompoc. He has downsized considerably, with only himself and his wife,
Deborah, running the show. The 2005 Ken Brown Wines Santa Barbara
County Pinot Noir ($30) and 2005 Ken Brown Wines Sta. Rita Hills Pinot
Noir ($38) are very drinkable now. The 2005 Ken Brown Wines Cargasacchi
Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir ($50) is more un-evolved at present
and needs a couple years of cellar time. At Ken’s Open House, I tried the:
2003 Ken Brown Wines Clos Pepe Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir
I have sampled this on several occasions when young. As Ken said, the wine
“drank like a Cab, but oh what a ride!” However, with a few years of age, the
wine now showed more restraint and polish. The rough edges had disappeared, the tannins had
softened, and the aromatics were more bright and persistent. It is still a hulk of a wine, but more calm and
Ken Brown Wines are sold through the website at www.kenbrownwines.com. Tasting
by appointment, 805-688-4482.
Kenneth-Crawford This label is a collaboration between two young and talented winemakers, Mark
Crawford Horvath and Kenneth (Joey) Gummere. Pinot Noir and Syrah are sourced from top vineyards
in the Sta. Rita Hills appellation.
are available from the website at www.kennethcrawford.com. 805-693-1340.
Lafond Winery & Vineyards The original Lafond Vineyards were planted in 1972 and with subsequent
planting the total acreage now is just under 100 acres off Santa Rosa Road in the south-west corner
of the appellation. Talented and affable winemaker Bruce McGuire works with
eight different Pinot Noir clones and bottles an Estate Pinot Noir as well as single
clone wines, 113 and 777. The winery and tasting room are beautifully designed to
take advantage of sweeping views over the adjoining vineyards.
2005 Lafond Vineyards Clone 777 Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir
14.7% alc., 164 cases, $38.
777 is considered a complete clone in the sense that it can often make a good wine
on its own. This wine has the typical black fruit profile of 777 with nice integration of
oak and alcohol. The finish shows a tangy acidic edge.
Owner Pierre Lafond maintains
a very informative website at www.lafondwinery.com. The winery’s tasting is open daily from 10-5 at 6855 Santa Rosa Road. 805-688-7921. A very nice map of the Lafond Vineyard
is on the website and is reproduced here for your reference. Bruce McGuire is pictured below.
Longoria Rick Longoria is a veteran winemaker in Santa Barbara County. He appeared on the local
scene in 1976 after spending two years at Buena Vista Winery where he developed a lifelong friendship
with Andre Tchelistcheff. He crafts 3,500 cases of several varietals from his winery in Lompoc
under the Longoria label (established 1982). His featured Pinot Noir is sourced from his 8-acre estate
Fe Ciega Vineyard located in the south-west part of the appellation. He also sources grapes from
Rancho Santa Rosa, Bien Nacido Vineyard, and Sanford & Benedict Vineyard. I can remember way
back in the early 80s when I first became really captivated by Pinot Noir and Longoria Pinot Noir was
one of the labels I sought out as one of the few at the time to show the promise that has eventually come
2005 Longoria Fe Ciega Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir
770 cases, $48.
Rick believes in a diversity of clones and planted Pommard, 115, and 667
here in 1997.
The nose is rich and flamboyant with attractive toast, spice and
dark cherry aromas. There is a nice follow through with dusty tannins and a
touch of herbalness and oak on the finish. This vineyard produces concentrated
fruit, and this wine has what the French call croquent, a concentrated
core of flavor much like a crunchy hard candy.
You can shop online at
www.longoriawine.com. Check out the “Blues Cuvee” lithographs for sale. 866-759-4637. The tasting
room is open daily at 2935 Grand Ave, Los Olivos, 805-688-0305.
Loring Wine Company Brian Loring crafts multiple vineyard designate Pinot Noirs (14 at last count)
from notable growers throughout California. A self-admitted “Pinot Freak,” Brian was one of the first
boutique Pinot Noir producers to enter the business “cold” so to speak (he was a software engineer).
He started humbly, with 150 cases in 1999, and has never looked back. His Pinot Noirs have never
been bashful and have led the charge for a style that shows off deeply extracted and flamboyant fruit.
He has definitely had his critics among the classicists, but he has stood firm and pursued his vision.
Read more: PinotFile Vol 6, Issue 25.
Loring wines are sold primarily through a
mailing list. The website is www.loringwinecompany.com. The winery is
located at 1601 W Central Ave, Unit F, Lompoc. Tasting by appointment.
Melville Melville has large plantings of Pinot Noir and Northern Rhone varietals along Hwy 246 in the
more easterly portion of the Sta. Rita Hills Appellation. The modern winery and hospitality center is
quite striking. Greg Brewer (also of Brewer-Clifton) shares the winemaking duties here with Chad
Melville. An estate Pinot Noir is reliable and four special bottlings feature specific clones and/or
blocks of the vineyard are snapped up by pinotphiles. There is also a Verna’s bottling from Melville’s
Los Alamos vineyard.
The wines are sold to a mailing list that can be accessed at www.melvillewinery.com. The winery
tasting room is open daily from 11-4 at 5185 E Hwy 246, Lompoc. (it can be crowded on
weekends with large groups of tasters). 805-735-7030.
Ortman Family Vineyards This label is led by the father-and-son winemaking team of
Chuck and Matt Ortman (Chuck Ortman was the long time winemaker at Meridian).
Located in the San Luis Obispo Appellation, they source Pinot Noir from Fiddlestix Vineyard.
The tasting room is located in Edna Valley at 3080 Biddle Ranch Road, San Luis
Pali Wine Company This newer producer is a collaboration between multiple wine enthusiasts who
agreed to finance a new winery in Lompoc in exchange for Brian Loring’s winemaking skills. The Pali
wines are made in Lompoc by Brian Loring and are similar in style to Loring’s own label.
Pali wines are
distributed to fine retail stores and are sold to a mailing list at www.paliwineco.com. The winery is
located at 1601 W Central, Unit F2, Lompoc. 805-736-7200. BTW, the 2005 Pali Wine Company Shea
Vineyard Pinot Noir is a killer.
Rozak This 14-acre estate vineyard planted to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay is in the northern part of the
Sta. Rita Hills Appellation. The vineyard is named Rozak Ranch Vineyard and the winery is called
Rozak Vintners. The winemaker is Randy Rozak. Tastings by appointment. 805-736-1184.
Rusack This beautiful winery in the hills above Solvang features a husband and
wife winemaking team, John and Helen Falcone. The wines here have improved
dramatically since they took over the reigns. The owners are Geoff and Alison
Rusack (Geoff is pictured left below and John on the right). Output is now 7,500
cases. The tasting room and adjoining picnic area is located at 1819 Ballard Canyon
Road (see website for directions) and is open daily from 11-4.
2005 Rusack Reserve Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., 445 cases, $38. This wine is composed
of the best barrels from Fiddlestix Vineyard (50%) and Rancho Santa Rosa
Vineyard (50%). 35% new French oak in the élevage.
This wine was one of my favorites
that I tasted at the event. Deep red fruits with cinnamon and earth drive the
flavors and a nice sweet cherry finish leaves a lasting impression. The texture is silky
and comforting. A little heat peaks out on the nose but it is not obtrusive.
wines are sold through the website, www.rusack.com, and are sensibly priced. 805-688-1278.
Sanford Sanford Winery was started in 1981 by Richard Sanford, but financial and corporate issues led
him to leave the winery a few years ago. Sanford has chosen to expunge all mention of Richard on
their website. The focus of Sanford, now owned by the Terlato Wine Group, still remains Pinot Noir
and Chardonnay. This month, Sanford opened a new tasting room at the La Rinconada Winery and
Vineyard at 5010 Santa Rosa Road in Lompoc (open 11-5). The winemaker is Steve Fennell.
2005 Sanford La Rinconada Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir
This is a superb vineyard and Pinots I have had from
here have been outstanding and very age worthy. This wine is no exception. Fabulous aromatics of spice
and bright ripe cherries, meaty flavors of toasty Pinot fruits highlighted with licorice, and a finish that leaves you asking for more. There is a certain pedigree to the fruit here
(the vineyard is adjacent to Sanford & Benedict Vineyard) and this wine
struts a certain charisma that is other worldly.
The Sanford wines are sold through the
website at www.sanfordwinery.com. 805-688-3300. The 2005 vintage of
this wine has not yet been released.
Sea Smoke Has there been another producer of Pinot Noir in California that has caused as much buzz
among Pinot enthusiasts? The emphasis here is on meticulous management of the vineyards using a
combination of cutting-edge technology and a highly skilled vineyard team. The winemaker is Kris
Curran, who also produces Rhone varietals and Sangiovese under her namesake label in Lompoc
Owner Bob Davids began the development of Sea Smoke Vineyard in 1999 on the south-facing hillsides
of the estate situated above Fiddlestix Vineyard. 10 clones are planted in multiple blocks on the
100-acre estate vineyard (detailed on the website). The first vintage was 2001 and production is now
up to 3,000 cases per year.
2005 Sea Smoke Southing Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir
The wine had been bottled only one month previous and was still a little closed.
Despite this, it was obvious there was terrific stuffing here. The aromatics are very
expressive of ripe fruit, and the tannins are reigned in. This is definitely a large scale,
fruit-powered Pinot Noir that will appeal to lovers of a hedonistic style.
are two other bottlings, Botella and Ten. A Chardonnay is given away to faithful
mailing list members. The Sea Smoke lineup of Pinot Noirs are a hot ticket and
sold primarily through the mailing list at www.seasmokecellars.com. Allocations
are tight and there is a waiting list to get on the mailing list. No tasting.
Other producers using fruit from the Sta. Rita Hills Appellation worth trying: A.P. Vin, Au Bon Climat,
Brewer-Clifton, Carlson, Drew Family Cellars, Foxen Vineyards, Margerum Wine Company, Ojai Vineyard,
Paul Lato, and Samsara.
Day 2 A day-long seminar, Trial by Fire, was held under a big tent at Rancho La Vina, in the heart of
the Sta, Rita Hills. Rancho La Vina has been in the same family since 1868. The bottom land is farmed to
walnuts, beans, mustard, alfalfa and flowers, while the mesas are planted to vineyards. Four individual
sessions were conducted with panels of winemakers. Audience members were encouraged to participate
as jurors (put the winemakers “on trial,”) and the winemaker-panelists presented their Sta. Rita
Hills wines to support their positions. There was a lot of spirited banter and laughter throughout the
The first panel was “Chardonnay and Oak: A Marriage Made in Heaven or Hell? Although the Sta. Rita
Hills is best known for Pinot Noir, Chardonnays from this region are excellent. Both oaked and nonoaked
types were presented for tasting by Alma Rosa, Huber, Demetria, Gainey, Melville and Babcock.
The unoaked varieties have bright acidity and a wet stream bed minerality. The oaked styles
have softer acidity and more cheesy, buttery and creamy tones. It was pointed out that wine critics
like oaky Chardonnay, but sommeliers prefer non-oaked Chardonnay, yet sommeliers often retain a
few oaky high-scoring Chardonnays on their restaurant wine lists for customers. Regardless of the
style of Chardonnay you prefer, look to the Sta. Rita Hills as a reliable source for fine Chardonnay.
The second panel was “Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noirs on the Table.” Kris Curren made a very important
point at this session. She said “that white wines are often served way too cold and red wines are
served way too warm.” The ideal temperature for both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay is 58 degrees. As
Pinot Noir warms above 58 degrees, the volatile esters which add so much to the aromatics disappear
and alcohol and earthy features take over. I would add that Chardonnays are almost always served too
cold in restaurants. Ask the waiter/waitress to put your filled glass into the microwave for about 10
seconds. This will warm it up to an acceptable drinking temperature without harming the wine. Nix
the ice bucket. There was quite a lot of discussion over bottle closures but when the audience was
polled, most preferred cork stoppage on red wines.
The third panel was titled “Clones and Terroir.” In the early days of planting of Pinot Noir in Santa
Barbara County, Martini Clone 13 was widely used. Today, in the Sta, Rita Hills, Dijon clones 667 and
777 are very popular along with 113, 115 and some 828 and 459. There are also substantial plantings
of 2A and Pommard 4. So far, heritage clones have performed well, but they are sparsely planted.
The conclusion of this panel was that clones are not the trump card, the site is the trump card. A poor
site will not allow even the best clones to perform well. Clones are very expressive of the site, so flavors
in the wine will vary depending on the site.
The fourth panel was a discussion of “The Vineyardist and the Winemaker - Nature or Nuture.” Needless
to say, with Bruno d’Afonso, Wes Hagen, Joe Davis, Brian Loring and Peter Cargasacchi on this
panel there was a lot of sniping and friendly bickering.
A gourmet, ranchero-inspired luncheon feast was prepared over an open oak fire and served under
the majestic oaks. Among the treats were spit-roasted baron of Santa Rita Hills beef and oakbarbecued
Cal Poly capon.
Day 3 There were a number of Sunday Open Houses at wineries. I attended the Fiddlefest at
Fiddlestix Vineyard. All 14 producers of Pinot Noir sourced from Fiddlestix Vineyard were pouring
their wines in Kathy Joseph’s barn. Outside there was bluegrass and fiddlin’ music (see the Pink
Fiddler below), and delicious barbecue catered by Hitching Post II was savored by all.
Fiddlestix Vineyard is located at mile marker 7.28 on Santa Rosa Road. Located on the north side of a
tight east-west running valley across from the Sanford & Benedict Vineyard, fog hangs over the vines
until mid-morning, the temperature barely rises above 75 degrees, and the coastal breeze blows through daily, ensuring cool grapes receive a lengthy day of sunshine. The soil is well-drained Gazos
and Botella clay loam, loaded with chirt and Monterey shale. The Fiddlestix property was purchased
in 1996 and planting began in 1998. There are 97 acres of Pinot Noir in 34 individual blocks, planted
with six different clones - Dijon clones 113, 115, 667, 777, Pommard clones 4 and 5, and a Swan selection.
Fiddlestix is farmed by Coastal Vineyard Care under the leadership of Jeff Newton and Larry
Finkle. The vineyard foreman, Rafa Medina, has been at Fiddlestix from the beginning.
The participating wineries included Anglim Winery, Arcadian Winery, Bonaccorsi Wine Company,
Dragonette Cellars, Fiddlehead Cellars, Gainey vineyard, Harley-Ostini Hitching Post Wines, Ortman
Family Vineyards, Pali Wine Company, Paul Lato, Prodigal, RN Estate, Rusack, and Summerland
Winery. A few wines really stood out to me.
Kathy Joseph was pouring a vertical of her Fiddlehead Lollapalooza, 2001 through 2004. The wines
are all sensual and delicious, but the additional aging on the 2001 and 2002 has worked wonders and
these were startling good. The lesson to be learned here is be patient with some of your Pinot Noirs as
they will benefit from a couple years of cellaring.
RN Estate is a winery in Paso Robles that specializes in red Rhone and Bordeaux varietals. Owner and
winemaker, Roger Nicolas, is a former restaurateur whose Fiddlestix Pinot Noir has a French sensibility
and breeding. Roger was born in France and came to the United States at the age of 20. During his
years of working at and owning prestigious restaurants, he dreamed of crafting his own wines. With
the 2005 vintage, his dream has been realized. The 2005 RN Estate Fiddlestix Vineyard Sta. Rita
Hills Pinot Noir 175 cases, $45. Very, very good and the 2006 barrel sample is following instep. The
fruit had great purity and several layers of flavor. There was finesse and gossamer tannins and a clean
finish. Sometimes you find great Pinot when you least expect it.
To order, contact Roger at rnicolas@
rnestate.com or phone 805-610-9802. The website is www.rnestate.com.
Prodigal Wines is a new Pinot Noir specialist located on Santa Rosa Road founded by Steve and Mary
Russell. They make Pinot Noir from their own estate Quinta Santa Rosa Vineyard as well as other
premium vineyards in the appellation. Steve was pouring his 2006 Prodigal Fiddlestix Vineyard
Pinot Noir Barrel Sample. Like his 2005 Pinot Noirs (2005 Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir, 2005 Sta. Rita
Hills Estate Grown Pinot Noir) which I have tasted and will be released later this summer, this wine had
considerable charm and refinement. Steve has a way with Pinot. He will be crafting his wines at the soon
to be opened Rancho La Vina Winery on the site of a former walnut grove on Santa Rosa Road. Join the
mailing list on the website at www.prodigalwines.com. Call Steve or Mary at 805-688-0476 for an
appointment to taste.
In 1999, Michael and Jenne Lee Bonaccorsi formed the Bonaccorsi Wine Company. Since Michael’s
untimely passing, Jenne has carried on. Both the 2004 Bonaccorsi Wine Company Fiddlestix Vineyard
Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir and the 2005 Bonaccorsi Wine Company Fiddlestix Vineyard Sta.
Rita Hills Pinot Noir were poured at the event. Both wines were impressive, seductive and just plain
delicious. On August 5, in Los Angeles, Jenne is hosting a Central Coast Wine and Food Festival at
Wally’s Wine Store in West Los Angeles to benefit her deceased husband’s scholarship fund at the
University of California Davis. For information and tickets, go to www.bonaccorsifoundation.com or
www.wallywine.com. More details in the PinotFile, Volume 6, Issue 31. The winery website is
Other wines of note were the 2002 Arcadian Fiddlestix Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir
(previously reviewed in this issue), the 2006 Paul Lato Fiddlestix Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir
Barrel Sample (50 cases - a total of 6 barrels were made but only 2 barrels lived up to his strict expectations,
so 4 barrels were declassified. Paul is a perfectionist and his wines always show his passion
and commitment.), 2005 Rusack Reserve Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir (previously discussed in this
issue), and the 2005 Summerland Winery Fiddlestix Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir.