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TTB Official Announcement Proposes Expansion of the Sta Rita Hills

The TTB released its official proposal yesterday to expand the Sta Rita Hills AVA to include an additional 2,296 acres. The public comment period for this issue is open until October 6, 2014.

To see the official announcement: http://www.ttb.gov/announcements/announcement_proposal-expand-sta-rita-viticultural.pdf

To see the official proposed expansion rule: http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2014-08-07/pdf/2014-18705.pdf

To comment on the notice, and proposed expansion: http://www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=TTB-2014-0007

To read more on the arguments for and against expansion: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2014/08/06/an-in-depth-look-at-the-proposed-sta-rita-hills-ava-expansion/

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TTB Notice to Open Comments on the Proposed Expansion of the Sta Rita Hills AVA

It was announced today (August 6, 2014) that the TTB will open comments tomorrow in approving a petition to expand the Sta Rita Hills AVA. The comment period will open for exactly two months allowing interested parties to submit information and perspective on the matter until October 6, 2014. Information on how to submit comment, as well as the full press release from the TTB are copied below.

The proposed expansion of the Sta Rita Hills AVA has proved a hugely controversial topic. The Sta Rita Hills Winegrowers Alliance has publicly declared its opposition to the proposed expansion. Alliance members include producers growing and/or sourcing fruit from throughout the appellation, as well as many of the individuals that worked on and submitted the original AVA proposal for the Sta Rita Hills.

The petition for expansion of the AVA was submitted March 2013 by Patrick Shabram on behalf of both John Sebastiano Vineyards, and Pence Ranch Vineyards. Shabram works as an academic geographer with a background in the study of viticultural areas. Notably, he helped define and submit the successful AVA proposals for Fort Ross-Seaview and Moon Mountain AVAs in Sonoma County.

In the discussion back and forth around the issue, Pence Ranch Vineyards has received the most direct criticism for the proposed expansion. However, John Sebastiano Vineyards would also be directly affected if the boundary change is approved as the vineyard currently is bifurcated by the Northeast appellation boundary. Visiting the site one can stand at the top of the hill and literally jump in and out of the Sta Rita Hills while still surrounded on all sides by Pinot Noir. The economic value of clusters from just inside the boundary far outpace those from those just outside of it (even with them growing mere feet apart) thanks to the high dollar value placed on Sta Rita Hills fruit.

Defining the Sta Rita Hills

Wes Hagen stands as the most vocal proponent of preserving the current definition of the American Viticulture Area (AVA), Sta Rita Hills. Hagen helped successfully define and submit the original proposal.

In considering the value of the appellation itself, Hagen names topography as the definitive element of Sta Rita Hills growing conditions. The Sta Rita Hills are defined by a unique East-West transverse mountain range that sits open-mouthed to the Pacific Ocean, effectively funneling maritime elements inland. It is this topography that generates unique temperature, wind, and fog throughout the growing region.

Hagen describes the shape of the Sta Rita Hills as essentially closely spaced hills that concentrate ocean influence. What is important in this account is the manner in which the landscape of the region intensifies the cooling–both in terms of temperature and air flow–and humidity of the growing region when compared to areas through the rest of the Santa Ynez Valley. As you drive over the crest of the hill on Highway 246 that delineates the Northeastern boundary of the AVA, the topography changes from the closely spaced hillside-to-valley proportion that holds in the ocean influence, to the much more open valley formation of the greater Santa Ynez Valley. For Hagen, this geographical change illustrates the features central to the growing style of the Sta Rita Hills versus the Santa Ynez Valley more broadly.

Studying the Expansion

Together John Sebastiano Vineyards and Pence Ranch Vineyards hired geographical consultant, Patrick Shabram to do a thorough going study of the Sta Rita Hills and the area just outside its Northeastern boundary, as well as portions of the Santa Ynez Valley more broadly. The purpose of the study was to determine whether or not it was reasonable to consider a possible expansion to the AVA.

Shabram drew on data from weather stations throughout the appellation in comparison to similar data from further east in the Valley, soil analysis from within the AVA and to the East of it, and on vegetation patterns (both vines and otherwise) from throughout the region as well in order to determine the best recommendation for articulating a coherent appellation boundary. An important difference from Shabram’s study versus the definition of the original AVA proposal rests simply in access to an increase in information today.

Since the original Sta Rita Hills appellation approval in 2001, there has been a significantly large increase in vineyard plantings through the region. One of the affects of such a change includes the increase in weather stations collecting climate data throughout the region. The volume of information available today about the area, then, proves to be significantly greater. According to Shabram, access to such data legitimates the currently proposed expansion of the AVA.

Climate Considerations

Sta Rita Hills Vineyard Map

Sta Rita Hills Vineyard Map found: http://www.staritahills.com/appellation/

Temperature changes and wind patterns prove central to both sides of the Sta Rita Hills debate. Hagen points out that the Northeastern boundary delineates a climate change for the Santa Ynez Valley. In Hagen’s view, overall temperatures increase past the crest of the hill on Highway 246, and wind patterns dissipate lessening the concentration of maritime influence through the rest of the Valley. It is not that fog or wind disappears beyond the crest of the hill–spend any significant time in the region and it quickly becomes clear that a daily pattern of both stretches all the way to the warmest reaches of Happy Canyon–according to Hagen it is that they become measurably less concentrated. For example, according to Hagen, the temperatures to the West of the Northeastern boundary of the appellation is measurably less than those East of the boundary.

According to Shabram, the relevant temperature features are more subtle than that. The Sta Rita Hills appellation is essentially bifurcated into two unique subzones. On the Southern side, the Santa Rosa-to-Sweeney-Rd portion of the Sta Rita Hills is separated from the Highway 246 corridor on the Northern side by a central hill formation. Shabram points out that those central hills generate two unique wind patterns with one funneling in from the ocean on the Santa Ynez River on the Santa Rosa-to-Sweeney Rd portion, and the other funneling in over the Highway 246 corridor.

Within the existing appellation, Rio Vista Vineyards sits at the central-Eastern boundary of the appellation along the Santa Ynez River. According to temperature data studied by Shabram, temperatures just prior to Rio Vista Vineyards, within the current appellation boundaries, are actually noticeably warmer than those within the proposed expansion area.

Looking at the wind patterns through the region explains the temperature comparison. According to Shabram, Hagen is right that ocean winds dissipate towards the Eastern side of Sta Rita Hills. The warm zone prior to Rio Vista Vineyards reflects this reduced wind pattern. However, according to Shabram, right around Rio Vista Vineyards, the Santa Ynez wind pattern combines with the Highway corridor wind pattern effectively increasing the overall wind effect, and decreasing overall temperatures. The result is that within the proposed expansion area temperatures are lower, and wind is higher than the zone to the southeast within the current appellation boundary.

To the extent that the question of a proposed expansion rests in temperature and wind patterns, then, the area within the proposed expansion area, outside the current Northeastern boundary, would seem to be consistent with the current appellation conditions. However, the appellation expansion is not dependent only on wind or temperature. As Hagen explains, the appellation is more centrally about overall topography. Topography directly impacts temperature and wind patterns but does not reduce to these elements.

Questions of Soil Consistency and the Now Proposed Eastern Boundary

Soil series types within the Sta Rita Hills are notoriously varied. Extensive discussion of the value of the mixed loams, Diatomaceous Earth, and shale on the Santa Rosa-to-Sweeney Rd side, versus the more consistently sandy loam of the Highway side has occurred. The well known soil differences through the Sta Rita Hills illustrate the peripheral nature of soil in defining what is key to the Sta Rita Hills appellation. Both Hagen and Shabram agree that soil is not central to the definition of the appellation.

The area within the proposed expansion of the boundary carries soil series types consistent with those directly West within the current appellation. In doing the regional study, Shabram did analysis of the series types throughout Sta Rita Hills, in the proposed expansion, and within the areas East within Santa Ynez Valley more broadly. What he found was that the six soil types within the proposed expansion area show as generally consistent with those to the West within the appellation. Moving East into lower elevations towards Buellton, however, the soil series types begin to change with proportions of some types greatly reducing compared to within the appellation, and the appearance of others that do not appear at all with the Hills.

Shabram emphasizes that soil types analysis does not play a central role in the new expansion proposal, but the analysis is included in the proposal. One reason for including the analysis is that the change in soil types assisted in delineating the Eastern boundary of the proposed expansion. Shabram suggested the expanded boundary in relation to higher elevation areas that include consistent soil series types.

The Value of a Name

Central to the question of expanding the Sta Rita Hills AVA stands the concern for integrity of the name Sta Rita Hills. Such issue is not trivial convention. Behind the project of the American Viticultural Area branding program is the articulation of a signature quality of grape growing uniquely generated by the overall conditions of the named region. What characteristics prove most central to that signature depends on the dictates of the region itself. The list of elements relevant for consideration, however, remains generally consistent and include historical precedent and practice, climatic conditions (including wind, fog, light, temperature, etc), topographical formation, and soil type.

According to the Sta Rita Hills original proposal, topography as it operates to concentrate the maritime influence on the growing conditions of the region centrally defines that region. In suggesting an expansion of the Eastern boundary along the Highway 246 corridor, the new proposal focuses in on the details within the topography bringing questions of temperature, wind, and fog, that is overall climate, to the fore.

Members of the Sta Rita Hills Winegrowing Alliance are adamant that the expansion should not occur. Their arguments against the expansion rest largely in the continued integrity of the appellation itself. The question of integrity here assumes the original articulation of the growing region is the more clear, appropriate definition of what makes Sta Rita Hills fruit unique.

Hagen points out that his fight against the proposed expansion is in no way a matter of whether or not an estate like Pence Ranch Vineyards is growing quality fruit. Instead, it is a matter of whether or not it is growing fruit consistent with that of the Sta Rita Hills. His view is that it is not. For Hagen, the topographical change does not reduce to whether or not wind and fog conditions show within the proposed expansion area. He expects that they do. Instead, it is a matter of their concentration in relation to the overall topographical layout of the Sta Rita Hills. For Hagen, the question of topography stands at the top of a defense for the maintenance of the original appellation. Historical precedent, and the concentration of plantings through the region also support his view.

Shabram, on the other hand, believes the proposed expansion offers a more coherent account of what is uniquely the Sta Rita Hills. In his view, by capturing the climate details, and, peripherally, recognizing the soil consistency, a more thorough going understanding of the signature growing conditions for the region has been made. Shabram points out the intuitive strength of the original proposal. In his view, at a time when thorough going climate data was not available, the original AVA writers did a brilliant job of defining the growing region. For Shabram, the new expansion simply fine tunes that.

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The TTB’s press release announcing movement forward on the proposed expansion follows. The expansion has not currently been approved. However, the TTB has taken a step closer towards finalizing this process. The key point is that the comment period on the matter is now open and will remain open until October 6, 2014.

The comment period allows interested parties the opportunity to weigh in on offering historical information, interpretive data, personal opinion, and social consensus that the reviewing committee might not otherwise be aware of, and can have a great impact on how the process moves forward.

Information on how to comment follows at the bottom of the original press release.

Updates on this issue including comments from other relevant parties will appear here.

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TTB PRESS RELEASE:

Proposed Expansion of the Sta. Rita Hills Viticultural Area

Washington, D.C. — The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau will publish a notice of proposed rulemaking in the Federal Register on Thursday, August 7, 2014, proposing to expand the existing 33,380-acre “Sta. Rita Hills” American viticultural area in Santa Barbara County, California, by approximately 2,296 acres. The existing Sta. Rita Hills viticultural area and the proposed expansion are located entirely within the established Santa Ynez Valley and Central Coast viticultural areas. TTB is making this proposal in response to a petition filed on behalf of several local wine industry members. TTB designates viticultural areas to allow vintners to better describe the origin of their wines and to allow consumers to better identify wines they may purchase.

You may submit comments on this proposal and view copies of the proposed rule, selected supporting materials, and any comments TTB receives about this proposal at the “Regulations.gov” website (http://www.regulations.gov) within Docket No. TTB– 2014–0007. A link to that docket is posted on the TTB website at http://www.ttb.gov/wine/wine-rulemaking.shtml under Notice No. 145.

Alternatively, written comments may be submitted to one of these addresses:

•    U.S. Mail: Director, Regulations and Rulings Division, Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, 1310 G Street NW., Box 12, Washington, DC 20005; or

•    Hand delivery/courier in lieu of mail: Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, 1310 G Street, NW., Suite 200–E, Washington, DC 20005.

Comments on this proposal must be received on or before October 6, 2014.

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Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

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This write-up appears as a follow-up to a previous article on Santa Barbara County wine growing.

Santa Barbara Wine Country

For more information on over-arching growing conditions for the region, such as climate and weather patterns, please see that article, which appears here: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2014/05/20/understanding-santa-barbara-county-wine/

Santa Maria Valley

Driving South through California on Highway 101 the sand dunes begin to appear as the road comes closer to the ocean. By San Luis Obispo (SLO) county (home to Paso Robles, San Simeon and its famed Hearst Castle, as well as Morro Bay) ocean succulents, and cypress dot the roadway, growing from sandy loam of the seascape. The highway hugs ocean through Pismo Beach, then cuts inland again lifting over a slight climb in elevation, through the drop on the other side. You’ve arrived in Santa Maria Valley.

Santa Maria Valley proves the second oldest appellation in California, after Napa Valley, and includes some of the oldest contemporary vineyards in Santa Barbara County (SBC), as well as some of the most distinctive Chardonnay plantings in the state. However, the area has received historically less attention for wine than its Southern siblings such as the Sta Rita Hills.

The Agricultural Richness of Santa Maria Valley

The Northern most appellation in Santa Barbara County, the land formation as well as the appellation of Santa Maria Valley include sections of San Luis Obispo county. From the North, it is the San Rafael Mountains that circumscribes the Valley floor, and the intersection of the Santa Maria River with the water flowing through North Canyon from Twitchell Reservoir that marks the SLO-SBC border. Bien Nacido Vineyards, for example, sits just inside the North-western edge of SBC while its strawberry fields on the flats sit just inside the South-eastern rest of SLO.

Santa Maria Valley proves one of the most agriculturally diverse, and active regions of North America hosting a range of berries, avocado, spinach, beans, squash, broccoli, cauliflower, and even a cactus nursery. With avocado entering the region in the 1870s, this section of California quickly became the primary supply for North America. It still hosts (one of) the largest groves in North America.

Grape growing through the region reaches back to the 1830s, with more contemporary vineyards being established beginning in the 1960s, many of those early own root vines still giving fruit. As a result of such agricultural diversity, the area includes one of the more residential farming communities in the country, with farm workers able to remain year round as they rotate between crops.

Local cattle ranching and indigenous beans find focus through the tradition of Santa Maria BBQ. It appropriately claims the title of Best BBQ in the West, offering a local-oak fired tri-tip that proves more spice-rubbed than sauced, coupled with a side of pinquinto beans. The beans stand as a reminder of the relevance of land formations in agricultural development. The small pink morsels originate from and grow only within this area of the Central Coast.

Winegrowing Santa Maria Valley

SMV map

click on image to enlarge

Santa Maria Valley AVA offers the only valley in North or South America with unhindered ocean influence. No hillside formations rise within the center line of the appellation to shade or shield portions of the valley floor. The mouth of the valley opens to the Pacific, with the West-East narrowing funnel of the region cut by the San Rafael Mountains to the North, and the Solomon Hills to the South squeezing together near Sisquoc. The center of the valley is defined by the open pull of the Santa Maria-Sisquoc river bench.

The shape of the valley generates a clockwork regularity of fog at night through morning, then wind by afternoon. It is the wind that balances disease pressure from the ocean humidity. Open valley floor also means temperatures average one Fahrenheit degree warmer per mile driven East. Some slight nooks along the river bench, or canyon formation along the Northern mountain and Southern hills offer variation.

Considering Soils

Soil variation within the valley can broadly be cut into four types. Along the Northern portion of the Santa Maria-Sisquoc River colluvial soils cover slope sides giving rocky freshness to grapes grown throughout. Moving towards riverside, soils become unconsolidated as mixed alluvial soils appear from old wash off ancient mountain rains.

Bien Nacido, for example, grows vines from hilltop, through slope-side, and into the rolling flats approaching Santa Maria Mesa Road. The absolute flats they reserve for other crops. Walking the midslope vineyards of Bien Nacido offers a mix of rocky soils rolling into Elder Series, and then finally sandy loam near the bottom. Bien Nacido, and Cambria (growing directly beside Bien Nacido to the East) both contain a mix of colluvial and Elder Series soils, with some dolomitic limestone appearing near the tops of slopes, and shale in mid-slopes further East in the Valley. By riverside, soils are entirely unconsolidated giving a mix of some Elder series, and some sandy loam.

Across the street from Bien Nacido, the soils change, becoming unconsolidated alluvial soils. Rancho Viñedo grows in entirely unconsolidated soils, Pleasanton Clay Loam. In broader context these sorts of unconsolidated soils are often treated critically when it comes to grape growing. After rains soils like Pleasanton Clay Loam act like cement, as the soils do not absorb water easily crops grown in such ground tend to flood. However, in a region where rain is rare, thanks to the rain shadow effect of the San Rafael Mountains, such concerns become almost irrelevant. The rare cases when flooding does occur in the region come from ocean storms hitting so hard and fast the question of soil has little to do with the result. Flooding would have happened anyway.

On the Southern portion of the Santa Maria-Sisquoc River soils dramatically change. The Western portion of the appellation rises from ancient sand dunes, once part of the sea floor. Sections of the valley, then are almost pure sand mixed through in areas with silt from mountain erosion. The South-western quadrant of SMV moves from almost pure sand, into sandy loam as you travel North-east, or silty loam as you move into the Solomon Hills.

Sections of the newer Presqu’ile Vineyard, for example, appear as incredibly sandy giving a sense of suave tannin to red wines. By the time you reach the Dierberg planting a touch closer to the river, however, it has become more sandy loam. On the plateau of the Solomon Hills North of Cat Canyon, overlooking the valley, Ontiveros Ranch grows in unconsolidated silty soils.

Moving East along the Southern side of the river, the valley squeezes closer to the river bench, and the ground changes to predominately mixed cobbles and rocky loam. Riverbench Vineyard, for example, includes blocks on rocky clay loam, approaching Foxen Canyon, or more rocky plantings approaching the riverside.

While the North-eastern section of Santa Maria Valley contains a predominance of colluvial soils and Elder Series from the Mountains, sandy soils appear mixed throughout Santa Maria Valley with some sections of these vineyards including sandy loam.

Though the valley’s soils can be described through four major types, and the region’s climate has an overall sense of regularity, throughout the appellation there are subtler distinctions within sites that must be expected. As examples, thanks to the ocean influence salinity plays unexpected while sometimes significant role in vine vigor. Slight rolling character in what might seem an otherwise flat vineyard site can create slight air pools that change growing temperatures for vines in those sections. Individual vineyards, then, have significant internal variation.

Establishing Santa Maria Valley Wines

Modern day viticulture appeared in Santa Maria Valley in 1964, with the planting established by Uriel Nielsen in what is now the Byron Winery and Vineyard facility. The area benefits from the cool climate of SMV while hosting the slightly warmer day time temperatures that give darker red fruit in comparison to plantings on the Western side of the Valley.

In 1972, Louis Lucas and Dale Hampton would establish what would become the famous Tepusquet Vineyard, simultaneously pronouncing the great viticultural promise of the region shown through the cool climate, the ocean influence, and the water availability even in desert conditions. The Tepusquet Vineyard now stands in the Cambria Winery and Vineyard facility at the Northern side of the Sisquoc River.

Soon on the heels of the Nielsen and Tepusquet plantings, in 1973 the Miller brothers would begin one of the most influential vineyards of the valley, Bien Nacido. The site would establish itself as what was at the time the largest certified nursery-service-plus-vineyard in the state. By maintaining soil testing on a regular basis and ensuring the health of the vineyard through FPMS certification, Bien Nacido could not only generating crop for area winemakers, but also vine material for future regional vineyards.

These three early vineyards served as what were essentially viticultural test plots surveying what grape varieties, clonal types, and rootstocks could prosper in the region. Figures such as RIchard Sanford, while known more for his original plantings in Sta Rita Hills, also played key roles in helping to identify the appropriateness for Pinot Noir in the region, the valley’s signature variety.

Other vineyards, such as SIerra Madre originally planted in 1971, would prove influential for their later replants. Santa Barbara County includes a long history of influence on the more well-known Napa and Sonoma counties. Well established winemakers known for their North Coast wines utilized grapes grown in SBC to blend and bring added dimension to their North Coast wines. Off paper, then, SBC’s grape quality has been long established.

In the 1990s, however, that reputation was backed up by a series of purchases from big name wineries such as Robert Mondavi, and Jackson Family. In the 1990s, Robert Mondavi took interest in the Sierra Madre site, and decided to use portions to graft newer Pinot and Chardonnay clones in order to study their viability. The unique quality of the site became inspirational force for a range of winemakers both within the region and without. Mondavi’s clonal changes predominately remain within Sierra Madre, some of which offer fruit unlike that seen anywhere else in the state.

Newer vineyards such as Solomon Hills, or Dierberg both planted in the 1990s, and Presqu’ile in the 2000s, expand insight on ripening in SMV. Set near or on the Western boundary of the appellation, each receives cold air, and afternoon ocean wind bringing ultra cool climate focus to their fruit development.

Pinot Noir of Santa Maria Valley

Pinot Noir proves Santa Maria Valley’s signature grape. The valley’s signature marks its Pinot with red fruit character integrated through with the classic blend of Chinese Five Spice and tons of juicy length. The subtle complexity of this flavor study, coupled with the region’s mineral tension, and juiciness give it a profile distinctive from its Pinot Noir neighbors to the North and South.

Within the appellation, soil and temperature changes give fine-tuned distinctions to wines grown from different vineyards. Fruit from the South-western quadrant, for example, consistently carries the suave tannin of sandy soils, and a brighter red profile than the wines of the warmer North-eastern section. The sandy soils have also shown the ability to manage a high portion of whole cluster during fermentation to good effect.

With older vineyards such as Bien Nacido still showcasing own-root original plantings of Pinot Noir, now inter-planted with comparatively younger grafted vines of the same vine material, SMV also offers unique opportunity for winemakers to experiment with fruit from older and younger vines grown side by side. At Byron, sections of the original clonal and rootstock experiment planting are maintained allowing winemakers there the opportunity over decades to separately vinify fruit by clone-to-rootstock combination.

The best Pinot Noir from Santa Maria Valley has also proven its ability to age well. The subtlety of the valley offers its Pinots what is an almost brooding even while red fruit character, that turns outward again as it ages giving slightly older examples a beautifully surprising energy and lift.

Chardonnay of Santa Maria Valley

While Pinot stands as Santa Maria Valley’s best known variety, some of the most distinctive Chardonnays of California herald from the region. Unique clonal material grows through SMV offering distinctive flavor profiles from vineyards such as Sierra Madre.

The underlying Santa Maria Valley Chardonnay character shows up as Meyer lemon curd on toasted croissant with a long ocean crunch finish. Depending on area of the valley you can imagine that profile dialing down towards more mineral at the Western-reaches, or up towards riper in areas like Cambria. The ocean influence often gives a distinctively pleasing saline crunch or slurry to the white wines, in some of the cooler and sandier vineyard sites it verges into olive.

The mineral presence plus ample juiciness of the fruit give a lot of room for successful oak integration, and/or more reductive character. The two techniques give breadth and length of presence to the juiciness of the region’s fruit without having to dominate its flavor.

Other Varieties of Santa Maria Valley

Rhone varieties appear in small but successful portion through Santa Maria Valley. Most famously, Syrah has done well through the Northern-middle portions of the appellation with producers like Qupe bringing attention to the quality possible from the grape grown in the valley.

At the furthest Eastern side of SMV, Rancho Sisquoc grows a range of grape types successfully producing the range of Bordeaux varieties in warmer pockets near the close of the SMV funnel, as well as unexpected successes such as Riesling and Sylvaner.

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Santa Barbara Wine

As some of you know, I’ve worked on a series of maps looking at growing conditions of Santa Barbara Wine Country. (the first of these SBC map can be found here: http://bit.ly/1nLhy1m ) There has been a delay getting back scans of some of the other maps so I’m not able to post those yet.

In the meantime, cdsavoia sent me their video interview of Greg Brewer. (You might recall they released a video of Abe Schoener here in the Fall. Here’s that link: http://bit.ly/1kAlUFq )

Cdsavoia produce short documentaries on work done in design, fashion, wine, and art. Their series is brilliantly done, offering several minute glimpses of the thought behind peoples’ work. Be sure to check out their site if you haven’t. Here’s that link: http://www.cdsavoia.com/

They read my work with Greg Brewer posted here previously and asked if I’d like to share their interview with him as well. It’s embedded below.

Talking Wine with Greg Brewer

Greg Brewer is one of the more fascinating winemakers I’ve been lucky enough to spend time with. His views of wine are synthetic, seeing thematic links between wine and other arts. He also brings a wonderfully open view of how style interplays with quality valuing difference more than dogmatism while maintaining refinement. It’s a view that proves refreshing.

Sitting down to listen to Greg Brewer inevitably includes discussions of art, light and space, music, and if you’re really lucky saké and food in Japan.

Brewer’s work both with Chad Melville at Melville Winery, and Steve Clifton at Brewer-Clifton brings admirable focus to social sustainability. Both wineries keep vineyard and winery employees year round, a reality that is uncommon in California. Their commitment is to making wine in a manner that allows not only the wineries to succeed, but their employees to comfortably subsist.

The film of Brewer made by cdsavoia gives beautiful glimpse into the complexities of Brewer’s approach. Check out it out below.

Please enable Javascript to watch this video

Cheers!

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Thank you to Miguel De La Torre.

To read my previous writing on Brewer’s work in wine:

Diatom: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2013/02/07/escaping-convention-calibrating-to-stark-conditions-a-conversation-with-greg-brewer/

Melville: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2014/01/29/a-glimpse-of-sta-rita-hills-highway-corridor-melville-estate/

Brewer-Clifton: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2014/02/19/the-taste-of-sta-rita-hills-tasting-with-over-200-years-of-winemaking-experience/

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Traveling Santa Barbara County Wine

As some of you know, I’ve spent a lot of time traveling and tasting Santa Barbara Wine Country. The area grabbed my fascination for multiple reasons. It’s a region doing a big range of interesting (and tasty) things in wine, that also has fantastic long-term potential for continued evolution of both style and quality. Still, the area has been comparatively under regarded.

Talking enough with people throughout Santa Barbara County wine, what becomes apparent is not only the passionate commitment that people in the area hold for the place. There is also a sense of historical necessity pushing the region forward.

Winegrowers there now can be seen as riding a sort of third-wave of influence through the area. Modern vines first started going into the region in the early 1970s in a try-and-see-what-grows crazy quilt of plantings. By the 1990s appellations were being defined and people had articulated general swaths of guidance like Cabernet and its kin needed to be further inland, whereas Burgundian varieties could sustain closer to the coast.

Today, wines of Santa Barbara County benefit from the work of those previous decades to now produce wines on the backbone of such established knowledge with the flesh of experimentation and fine-tuning pushing forward quality.

Part of my interest in Santa Barbara County rests too in its geographical complexity. Comprehending the wealth of environmental, geological, historical, and climactic influences factoring into winemaking in the region is no small feat. How these factors intertwine in Santa Barbara County wine differs significantly from other regions of California.

After returning from my most recent visit in March I began drawing a series of maps that compile information about the unique characteristics of the region. The originals are wall size pieces that I’ve had professionally scanned to present here (they’re too big for my little home scanner).

As a first installment in a series on the region, the following map of Santa Barbara County represents crucial climactic and geographical influences on the region’s growing conditions with a presentation of the County’s AVAs.

The Growing Conditions of Santa Barbara County

Click on the image to enlarge. You can then zoom in further with your browser. One small error on this map — I wrote “Alluvial Soils from the Mountains” along the Northern rim of Santa Maria Valley, and the Southern Rim of Sta Rita Hills. Properly speaking alluvial soils are left by water in riverbeds. Colluvial soils are dropped from erosion off mountainsides. The areas marked with this notation does have some of each but I should have been clearer in how it was noted.

The Role of Rain

Santa Barbara County (SBC) receives very little rain through not only the growing season, but the year in general. While it is possible to dry farm in the county, sites must be carefully selected to do so. In Sta Rita Hills, for example, some people have been able to dry farm along the Santa Ynez River. In Santa Maria Valley, some have been able to dry farm along moderate elevation areas of mixed loam.

The lack of rain occurs for multiple reasons. Storms from the North travel through Northern California into San Luis Obispo (SLO), then hitting the Sierra Madre and San Rafael Mountain Ranges at the boundary between SLO and SBC. The mountains effectively stop rains from the North in a rain shadow effect before they ever hit Santa Maria Valley or the rest of SBC.

Storms from the South will occasionally bring rain North from Mexico, but only on occasion. Such events can be problematic, however, as these usually represent hot rain and warmer temperatures that can cause trouble for agriculture.

The County stands unprotected from storms off the ocean as the Coastal mountains turn East through SBC leaving valleys open-mouthed to the Pacific. Ocean storms rush in quickly bringing intense weather conditions that often pass just as fast. The intensity of these storms comes partially from the weather effect hitting mountains on the Eastern side of SBC, as well as the North-South oriented range in SLO, then rushing skywards as a result. As the storms impact the mountains and rush upwards, water falls from the cloud fronts creating flash flooding through the region. Such occurrences happen only on occasion, however, as usually such storms will have resolved over water before arriving on land.

The Turn of the Coastal Range

Santa Barbara County represents the only place in North or South America where the Coastal range turns fully from a North-South orientation to an East-West one. (There are, of course, other American regions that have some maritime influence through gaps in the mountains.) While other major wine growing regions along the Western side of the two continents tend to be shielded from ocean influence by their Coastal range, SBC instead hosts direct maritime relation.

As the mountains turn East they create open-mouthed valleys through the county that effectively act as funnels bringing maritime influence from the Pacific inland in a consistent breathing pattern through the day. As inland temperatures rise, cool air from the ocean is pulled East over SBC. Westerly winds start just after lunch time on a daily basis, as a result, so that even on higher ambient temperature days vines are cooled by the breeze effect. As inland temperatures cool through evening, fog sets in all the way to the far Eastern side of the County.

With the ocean influence temperatures increase traveling East through the region. On average the thermometer can be tracked at a degree Fahrenheit increase per mile traveled East, though of course geographical variation creates more subtle differences in specific locales.

Fog Blankets and Wind

With the Eastern-oriented mountain ranges fog and wind both play significant influence through the region. With the predominately open-to-the-ocean valley formations throughout SBC, fog and wind reach all the way to the far Eastern areas of the county. As a result, even the warmer Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara appellation at the inland side of Santa Ynez Valley still receives that daily cooling influence, for example, though less directly than plantings on the Western end of Santa Ynez Valley.

Ballard Canyon, on the other hand, stands partially defined by its unique position within a North-South facing notch between Buellton and Los Olivos in the Hills that run East from Sta Rita Hills AVA through the Santa Ynez Valley. Thanks to nestling into the North-South notch, the fog and winds impact on the appellation is softened slightly, and some plantings at higher elevation in the Canyon receive less of the fog.

Fog generally increases disease pressure, raising worries of mold and mildew. Within nestled Western pockets of the area growers must especially track for disease. However, at the same, thanks to lack of rainfall, overall humidity levels remain lower thus keeping disease pressures lower than other regions with comparable levels of fog.

Fog also coincides with diurnal shift, appearing as a symbol of the cooler nights of the region that support up-acidity for super juicy wines.

Pacific Ocean Currents

Proximity to ocean as well as particular placement along the Pacific offer moderate temperatures throughout Santa Barbara County. The California Current carries a strong cooling influence along the coast to the North.

SBC is the Southern most part of the State to receive direct influence from the California Current as below the County the North American land mass cuts further East with the current moving back out into the Pacific. Instead, coming up from the South, the more moderate Davidson Current brings warmer water temperatures September through February. The two currents meet and mix along the beaches of SBC creating a mild climate, and nutrient rich waters.

Soil Variation

Soil types vary significantly through the County with a full range from beach-type sands or sandy loams, abundant clay or clay loams, to unconsolidated rocky soils the result of mountain erosion, as well as rocky shale or Diatomaceous Earth. Limestone and chalky bands also paint through sections of the county visibly appearing in swaths of Ballard Canyon, for example. Even within single AVAs very different soil types appear, sometimes side by side.

Within the Sta Rita Hills, for example, overt soil changes visibly appear along roadside with more sandy loam showing through the Highway 246 corridor, and completely different profiles appearing on the Sweeney-to-Santa Rosa Road side. There, soils change by elevation with clay loam along the riverbed, shale appearing through the mid-slopes, and Diatomaceous Earth at higher elevation. Sta Rita Hills may be the only wine growing region in the world that plants in Diatomaceous Earth as the rock is rare on the planet (if not the only such growing region it is one of the few).

The soil variation through SBC supports a huge range of planting choices and wine styles.

What This Means for Growing Grapes

The reality of grape growing in Santa Barbara County is admirably varied. The region as a whole carries impressive up-acidity through the wines, meaning even naturally richer profile grapes grown in the warmer inland temperatures offer the promise of real juiciness.

Taking a simple one-hour drive West to East through any portion of the County will result in significant viticultural change. At the far Western portions of SBC even cool climate grapes like Riesling, Gruner Veltliner, Pinot Noir or Chardonnay can struggle to ripen. Cool climate Rhone varieties do beautifully through the area, as do warmer style Rhone wines further inland. At the far Eastern sides of the County, Bordeaux varieties prosper, with most appearing through Santa Ynez Valley, though some also showing in the Sisquoc section of Santa Maria Valley.

The viticultural variation of Santa Barbara County offers growers and winemakers the opportunity to work with a range of wines in short distance, a situation unique in the state. While many winemakers in California currently produce wines of similar grape types grown from a range of terroirs, or wine styles grown in differing conditions, few are able to do so in such compact driving proximity.

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To read more on Santa Barbara County conditions:

Eric Asimov’s look at Chardonnays of Santa Barbara County: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/24/dining/reviews/rehabilitating-the-image-of-chardonnay.html?_r=0

RH Drexel’s excellent first volume of Loam Baby, entirely on Santa Barbara County wine: http://www.loambaby.com/v1.html

Richard Jennings on Santa Barbara County: http://www.rjonwine.com/santa-barbara/exploring-terroir-and-balance/

Climate in the County, and Ocean Influence: http://www.countyofsb.org/pwd/pwwater.aspx?id=27904

Sashi Moorman on the importance of Soils of Sta Rita Hills: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2014/01/28/a-glimpse-of-sta-rita-hills-climbing-the-mountain-w-sashi-moorman/

Stay turned for more on Santa Barbara County with hand-drawn maps…

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Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

Tasting Nagy Wines with Clarissa Nagy

Nagy Portfolio

click on image to enlarge

Focusing on two whites and two reds, Clarissa Nagy offers wines with a focus on fresh aromatics, clean fruit presentation, with tons of juiciness. Nagy’s touch as a winemaker is wines with a lot to give through a delicate presentation moving with a heart of strength.

While also making Syrah from Los Alamos, her Nagy Wines showcase the style of Santa Maria Valley — pretty and feminine floral fluit notes carrying an integral spice element on a body of juicy mineral length and easy, while present, tannin. The wines throughout are beautifully clean, and fine, with lovely concentration, expressive while retaining that delicate touch.

Giving crisp and fresh floral aromatics with a hint of wax, Nagy’s 2011 Pinot Blanc moves into crisp, fresh length through the palate. The wine offers a vibrant stimulation of citrus through the mid-palate rolling into touches of wax and white pepper on the finish, with a seaside mineral crunch throughout.

Nagy’s 2012 Viognier carries mixed floral notes coupled with a present and mouthwatering citrus element and mineral crunch that bring a dynamic balance to the wine.

The reds from Nagy are my favorite. The 2010 Pinot Noir gives nicely open, pretty aromatics with wild edges touched by sea sand. The palate carries a pretty balance of juiciness and length to light tannin traction, giving the integrated spice room to touch the mouth. The fruit here is clean and juicy.

I really enjoy Nagy’s 2010 Syrah from White Hawk Vineyard. The site produces incredibly tiny berries and low yield, with Nagy taking fruit from a hillside section. The combination leads to an inky, almost brooding Syrah lifted by Nagy’s utterly clean, fresh fruit focus. The wine hits the balance of lightness with genuine concentration on the nose brought into lots of juiciness and length on the palate. This Syrah is all red rose with mountain violet, dark rocks, and sea sand texture with a Shawarma core, that touch of bbq crackle spice that brings something to chew on. It’s a natural spice integral to the fruit itself.

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The Nagy Wines website: http://nagywines.com/

***

Thank you to Clarissa Nagy.

Thank you to Sao Anash.

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

3

I am traveling and as a result, relying on a different scanner than usual. The color quality of the drawings posted here, then, are different than I would normally expect. Please excuse the change.

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Three Santa Maria Valley Chardonnays

Last week I took the full 7 days to focus on a cleansing diet, eating only vegetables for the duration. By the end of my week without wine, sugar, salt, or coffee I’d stopped craving chocolate chip cookies, and realized the thing I looked forward to tasting again was finely crafted chardonnay.

Chardonnay at its best is an almost perfect grape. Grown in the right location, made with the right hands, it gives a balance of fruit expression on mineral drive, with light phenolics and juiciness for days that is hard to argue with. (In fact, good chardonnay obliterates argument as it hums through your mouth with juicy joy.) The grape’s recent history of shame cannot cover over the potential for the genuine beauty it offers.

Santa Maria Valley, in the northern portion of Santa Barbara County brings together the ripening flavor potential of ample UV exposure with a climate that carries a persistent inland wind, and daily fog movement, as well as unique soils. The result is lean focused, mineral-laced chardonnay with a presentation moving from floral through fruit on juicy juicy length.

Recently I was able to taste through a number of Santa Maria Valley chardonnays. Following are four of my favorites from three labels.

Falcone Family Wines

Falcone 2012 Chardonnayclick on the image to enlarge

The Falcone Family Wines focuses their winemaking primarily on fruit from their own Templeton Gap-influenced property in San Luis Obispo. However, they also make one chardonnay from the Sierra Madre Vineyard of Santa Maria Valley. The site carries unique clonal plantings for California. The Falcone Family’s chardonnay celebrates the uniqueness of the site, bringing long mineral lines to a wine with layers of flavor on a clean, focused and juicy palate. The citrus aspects move through the whole range of blossom, to zest, accented by smooth nut notes, all cascading through mineral length.

Paul Lato Wines

Paul Lato 2010 Chardonnayclick on image to enlarge

Paul Lato Wines offer focused intensity humming on the rich side of finesse. His Santa Maria Valley chardonnay deepens into savory notes with age, holding onto its core of vibrancy and length. His “le Souvenir” shows off the advantages of the Valley, also drawing on the unique Sierra Madre site, bringing both a lot of juiciness and sapidity through an ultra long finish. The flavors are surprising as they give notes of olive leaf and lemon salt touched by hints of beeswax. The mineral crunch throughout couples with juiciness to keep the palate watering through a long finish.

Riverbench

Riverbench 2012 Chardonnayclick on image to enlarge

Clarissa Nagy stepped into the winemaking at Riverbench with the 2012 vintage. She brings to Riverbench her talent in winemaking, with her wines consistently carrying a delicate presentation moving through a heart of strength. Nagy’s wines celebrate the structure and juiciness of Santa Maria, while also bring the focus to the Valley’s pretty flavors. The Estate and Bedrock chardonnays bring a slightly different style focus to the Riverbench fruit, with Bedrock focusing in on the clean, lean juiciness offered by stainless steel fermentation, and the Estate giving the textural, ultra light toast touch possible with barrel fermentation. Both wines are beautifully made, with the focus on a range of feminine citrus elements and lots of length.

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

6

IPOB Panel on Ripeness: Considering the question of ripeness

The admirable Jamie Goode flew in from Britain to moderate a panel at In Pursuit of Balance this year. In participating he was able too to select the panel topic. With his wealth of knowledge and experience in wine, bringing him to the event proved a smart addition. He selected the topic of Ripeness for discussion, and immediately broadened perspective on the issue. While conversations around ripeness levels in the U.S., and especially California wine, have tended to quickly steer into discussion of alcohol levels, Goode immediately placed the question of ripeness within a broader context.

In explaining what led him to select the subject, Goode said, “I think ripeness is one of the most important factors in terroir.” The insight behind this statement came in him discussing his views of terroir. “There is no single interpretation of terroir. We can have several different intelligent interpretations of a site. The question is if this [particular wine] is an intelligent interpretation of the site.” He then went on to compare the idea of interpreting terroir to a conductor directing an orchestra’s performance of a composition.

I appreciate the insight offered by Goode here as it brings the appropriate complexity to an idea — terroir, or site expression in wine — that is often treated overly simplistically. To belabor the point behind Goode’s comments, the composer has written a piece, but with the music merely noted on paper, the conductor must interpret the best presentation of those notations. There are multiple possible ways to make such an interpretation. It is impossible to decide which is the best interpretation without having first assumed a collection of values that allow one to judge the success or failure of the performance.

Similarly in wine, when discussing ripeness levels, there is a range of potential picking decisions that could be made that fall after overtly green fruit and before the onset of dehydration. How one determines the point of optimal ripeness depends on what kind of wine a person wants to enjoy, that is, what kind of wine they value.

In the ways we talk about wine, it can be easy to insert judgments of optimal ripeness as if it simply is true that a certain style of wine is the best style. Goode’s point that there are multiple intelligent interpretations gets at the point that such judgments are not simply true, they are a matter of preference. It’s a matter of what we want to drink, not of what it’s right to drink. Still, his point retains the importance of parameters as well. That is, the implication behind Goode’s statement that the question is whether this is an intelligent interpretation of site retains the important point that a winemaker can easily go too far and lose site expression in their wine as a result. Some wines just needs grapes, they don’t care for where those grapes came from.

To give example to how a wine can go to far, Goode discussed the role of alcohol in relation to esters. “Certain levels of alcohol masks the aromatic expression of the wine. Alcohol masks the esters.” He then went on to compare such a phenomenon to drinking whiskey. Some whiskey lovers add a bit of water first because doing so changes the alcohol proportions slightly, and in lowering the overall alcohol level the whiskey shows a different aromatic effect. He also explained that studies have been done changing the alcohol levels on the same wine. The study showed that at different alcohol levels the same wine showed distinctly different flavor and aroma.

Ultimately, he stated that wine experience depends upon a synergy of elements — mouthfeel, flavor, alcohol, acidity — and no one factor is adequate to summing up our expectations with wine. In looking at ripeness, Goode selected a kind of galvanizing rod for other aspects to discuss in wine.

The Wines and Winemakers for Discussion

Tyler

Justin Willett of Tyler Winery presented two 2011 Pinot Noirs from Santa Barbara County with the goal of showcasing the distinctness between two appellations of the region, as well as to show what a cool vintage in California looks like. Both sites offered older vines from own rooted plantings.

His Sanford & Benedict Pinot, planted in 1971, offered the intense juiciness and core of strength signature of the Sta Rita Hills with light fruit spice and pepper integrated through raspberry bramble and fruit. The Bien Nacido Pinot, planted in 1973, showed restraint with still ample juiciness compared to the Sta Rita Hills, giving the focus on fruit known to the Santa Maria Valley. The wine offered raspberry and strawberry with hints of rhubarb and integrated fruit spice.

In discussing how he makes his picking decision, Willett explained that he is definitely looking at the juice, rather than just raw fruit. As he points out, in Santa Barbara County the focus is more often on letting the acidity soften, as it is naturally so high through that area, rather than looking more singularly at sugar levels.

Calera

Josh Jensen of Calera in Mt Harlan brought two 2013 barrel samples from the same vineyard picked at different times, as well as his intensely vibrant Versace jeans. (His pants were the ripest wine of the tasting.) As he explained, he likes to dip his toe in at harvest and pick some fruit earlier than he expects to pick in general just to see how its developed. With this in mind, he offered a barrel selection from his 2013 first pick, clarifying that he felt it showed flavors from jumping the gun too early.

The first sample, picked at 22.9 brix, had a nice acid to tannin balance and lots of length showing through flavors of strawberry and crushed green strawberry and strawberry leaf. The overt green notes Jensen felt showcased the idea of picking too early, though he also pointed out that in time such flavors do actually fade (though he implied this would happen over decades).

The second sample, picked at 24.2 brix, gave a strawberry perfume with herbal, red currant touches through the palate. When asked which the attendees preferred, the room overwhelmingly voted in favor of the second, with people also commenting the second wine seemed more complete.

In discussing his views on alcohol and age-ability in wine, Jensen emphasized that the question is still a work in progress. His belief is that higher alcohol levels likely do inhibit age-ability in wine. In considering how he determines picking times he admits they do look at the numbers but the decision is largely based in the flavors of the fruit.

LaRue

Katy Wilson of La Rue brought two different vintages of Pinot from the Rice-Spivak Vineyard on the Sonoma Coast in order to showcase vintage contrast, with the 2010 being a markedly cold year for the region, and 2012 comparatively more normal.

The 2012 Pinot offered peach perfume, with a raspberry-peach and peach skin palate moved through with red cherry and strawberry accents. There was a pleasant acid-tannin balance, and nice length. The 2010 carried a more red-pink focus with strawberry-cherry floral nose followed by a strawberry-cherry mouth with kirsch accents and a touch more pepper. The 2010 offered a stronger core of tension, a ton of juiciness and length.

In explaining her picking decisions, Wilson explained she is not picking based on ripeness and numbers as much as considering each vineyard in relation to the particular vintage and location. She states that she’s turned out to make different decisions each year but one that responds to the fruit showing in that year. For Wilson, the flavor development of the fruit turns out to be an important guide. She says she is looking to pick somewhere between strawberry and cherry in the flavor development of the grapes, but then she jokes that the most important part is getting on your grower’s picking calendar.

Copain

Wells Guthrie of Copain Wines offered two differing vintages of Pinot from the Kiser en Bas Vineyard in Anderson Valley. The 2010 gave raspberry and evergreen aromatics leading into a perfumed palate with dark edges and light fruit aspects of cherry and raspberry. Though none of the wines on the panel were overtly fruity, the Copain wines proved the most enigmatic of the selections also giving a bit more tannin, while still in good balance to acidity, than the other wines.

The 2007 Pinot showed a light cigarbox and cedar aromatic followed by good tension with dark edges and rubbed raspberry oil leaf with strawberry and raspberry backnotes on the palate moved through a long juicy finish.

Guthrie explained that when picking he likes to think of the grapes as fruit you’d be happy to eat. If you’re trying to pick too early you don’t want to eat the fruit — it’s too pert and firm — but at the moment of ripeness the grapes become something you want to bring home and eat. Past that point and the fruit has become shrunken.

***

To watch the full discussion: http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/44749809

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Thank you to Jamie Goode, Jordan Mackay, Josh Jensen, Wells Guthrie, Katy Wilson, and Justin Willett.

Thank you to Jasmine Hirsch and Raj Parr.

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

 

2

Tatomer Wines

Tasting with Graham Tatomer is an experience in site expression. His Tatomer wines are built to age, full of tautness, and length with flavors that uncoil into ample presence with age and air. Combining hands-on attention in his vineyards with winemaking built for stability, Tatomer wines are an expression of excellence in craftsmanship. They’re also unique for the state of California as he funnels his years of winemaking experience through a genuine dedication to the quality of Austrian grape heritage. To deepen his knowledge of the grapes of that country he worked his way into not only an interest in the wines there, but also wine work there over several years. Such grounded follow-through of intention shown in Tatomer’s winemaking history expresses the sense of authenticity felt while tasting the wines. Tatomer wines are just plain well-made, and a pleasure to drink.

Gruner Veltliner and Riesling are not common in the state of California, though plantings can be found.

Tatomerclick on image to enlarge

Gruner Veltliner

For Gruner, Tatomer sources from two uniquely different sites. His only San Luis Obispo vineyard, the Paragon in Edna Valley, gives him a clean and delicate, while present, aromatic expression of the grape. The wine is wonderfully textural, with a sense of quartz crystal crunch though the palate, giving touches of almond paste and pear blossom, accented by cracked white and green pepper corn. The Paragon carries a core of clean and poised strength. I really enjoy the ultra clean length of this wine.

The Paragon drinks like alpine water to the Meeresboden Gruner Veltliner’s ocean water. Where the Paragon is ultra clean, refreshing, cold water from the mountains, the Meeresboden carries the touch of sea sand slurry, and saline element only found at oceanside. The Meeresboden Vineyard rests within Santa Barbara County. It gives peach blossom and beach grass aromatics with that ocean shore note already mentioned. On the palate, the flavors roll into yellow flowers with ground almonds through an ultra long finish.

Riesling

Planted in 1968, the Sisquoc Vineyard in Santa Maria Valley gives textural white and clear aromatics, rolling into a palate showing notes of wet sand and river rocks, an inner core of faint petrol surrounded by crisp bread, all touched by tons of juiciness with red cherry and lime through a long textural finish. The Sisquoc carries the most intensity of the Rieslings. I love the texture. I love this wine.

The Vandenberg and Kick-on Rieslings both come from Kick-on Ranch, an incredibly cold vineyard site so far west in Santa Ynez it falls outside the Sta Rita Hills boundaries. Tatomer explains that he is able to implement viticultural knowledge learned in Austria especially at this particular site, and focuses a good amount of energy on the farming practices used on his block. The two wines are distinguished in selection and vinification methods. The Kick-on Riesling draws from only ultra-clean fruit with a little bit of skin contact picked a bit earlier. The Vandenberg takes advantage of hints of botrytis before real flavor concentrating impact, to give the final wine deepened flavor.

The Vandenberg Riesling offers white and yellow aromatics with hints of golden raisin bread moving into the most breadth of flavor showing almond and peach leaf through a smooth rolling palate, lots of juiciness and length. The Kick-on Riesling carries mint accents on almond leaf and dried jasmine flower, with the most focused flavor of the three Rieslings moving through tons of juiciness, and length with a strong but easy focus.

Looking Ahead for Tatomer

In 2013, Tatomer also started making Pinot Noir. In moving into red wine for the label, he chose to work with a dark, more tannic vineyard expression of the grape, and then treat it with a lighter touch in the cellar. The combination brings a lot of structure to the wine, with a more elevated palate. Keep an eye out for Tatomer Pinot Noir.

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For more on Tatomer Wines: http://www.tatomerwines.com/pages/wines

To read more on Graham Tatomer and his wines check out Jon Bonné’s recent article naming Tatomer one of 2014’s Winemakers to Watch: http://www.sfgate.com/wine/article/Winemaker-to-Watch-Graham-Tatomer-5174137.php

***

Thank you to Graham Tatomer.

Thank you to Sao Anash.

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

6

Continuing the Conversation with Tyler Thomas

Tyler Thomas

Tyler Thomas, Jan 2014, standing in Dierberg Sta Rita Hills

Tyler Thomas, winemaker at Dierberg and Star Lane in Santa Barbara County, brings a strong foundation in plant physiology to all his decisions as winemaker. His background includes work in Botany with him doing what was essentially an extended Masters in the field, before then going to earn another Masters in Viticulture and Oenology. In moving into his work at Dierberg and Star Lane he has chosen to spend as much time as possible observing the vineyards themselves, and also to increase small lot vinifications from the sites. Both choices, for him, are a matter of getting to know the site more intimately.

Last week I posted a portion of a conversation I had with Tyler Thomas during my recent visit to Santa Barbara County. That section of conversation focused on the controversy around ripeness in relation to site expression, and the idea of how a winemaker can get to know a particular site. These are ideas I’ve been lucky enough to speak with Tyler about on multiple occasions. In the post last week, I chose to offer quotations from Tyler’s side of the conversation, rather than offer my interpretation of his ideas.

Gratefully, the comments on the post have continued the discussion even further, giving interesting consideration of the problems with pursuing a sense of terroir in the New World, as well as what it means to work with and get to know a site to then show in its wine. If you haven’t looked back at those comments, check them out on the original post here: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2014/02/20/capturing-variability-as-capturing-opportunity-a-day-with-tyler-thomas-star-lane-dierberg/

Because of how the conversation has continued in the comments, and also my own experience in having these extended discussions with Tyler, I am choosing to post more from our conversation during my recent trip to Santa Barbara County. The following excerpts show more of Tyler’s views on the relevance of plant physiology, and how he thinks about getting to know a site.

Tyler Thomas

Tyler Thomas, Jan 2014, standing in Dierberg Sta Rita Hills

We’re driving to Dierberg Drum Canyon Vineyard in Sta Rita Hills. I’m asking Tyler about a conversation we’ve had before — how we can bring together scientific views of winemaking with the more transcendental views of winemaking. He responds, “When you have the opportunity to make good wine, having the opportunity doesn’t mean you will. It’s this idea we’ve talked about before that the person that can be most successful at winemaking is the one that can have a foot in both worlds, who can reach towards the ethereal, and yet also be tethered by a deep understanding of technique.”

I ask Tyler about how he is bringing his knowledge from previous winemaking experience forward into this newer position at Dierberg and Star Lane. “As a winemaker stepping into a new situation, I can lean on my understanding of how particular vineyards grow, and my understanding of the architecture of wine. In wine building, if you will, I can make decisions on what I think the mouthfeel should be like based on the standard varietal characteristics, and also my assumptions of what a site will be like. You can take over a place, and not have made any of the decisions about what varieties are there, and yet still make beautiful quality wine.

“In winemaking, it’s like wanting to have a vision for the wine, while also expressing the site. It’s like having a vision for your children doesn’t mean you box them in. You are trying to understand who they are, and help them be the best person they can be. In winemaking, you draw on your technical training, and that provides a baseline for being creative. Like being a painter, artists didn’t just do Cubism because they didn’t know what they were doing. They were pushing the boundaries of their training.

“I definitely leaned on my understanding of how a grape vine grows in moving here. You just go back to the basics. All of the training helps me make presumptions about what a wine is and how it tastes. It doesn’t mean you’re always right, but it give you a base line. Like, fermentation temperature, for example, it has a big impact on how a wine is going to taste. If I can get that right it simplifies the other variables.”

Dierberg Drum Canyon

looking over the top through Pinot vines at Dierberg Drum Canyon

We arrive at the Dierberg vineyard in the Drum Canyon portion of Sta Rita Hills. Drum Canyon branches off the Highway 246 stretch of the appellation, wrapping North in a notch pulled back from the highway. The vineyard climbs a slope side growing from the rolling flats at the bottom, all the way to the crest of the hill. Tyler and I drive to the top, stopping in a couple places along the way, and he describes to me his walking the vineyard to try and identify naturally differing sections within it in order to articulate appropriate vineyard blocks. He believes really knowing the vineyard will take years but he’s been able to recognize some elements already. The top of the slope (shown in the image above) is basically pure sand. The bottom flats are sandy loam. The mid-slope is mixed. The further up the slope, the more the vines are exposed to wind.

Tyler begins to describe how he approaches thinking through the Dierberg Drum Canyon property. “Knowing how to separate out the impact of the wind here versus that of the sand is difficult. It’s incredibly windy here to the point that if there is not a wind screen on every fifth row the shoots won’t grow more than a foot.

“I love plant physiology. Part of what I love about wine is that we’re tasting the result of a plant interacting with its environment. A plant can’t just run inside when it gets cold.

“We can think of wind as a form of touch. The shoots being so short are a result of wind impacting the plant’s physiology. So, if we can accept that, it isn’t a stretch to say it impacts the berry physiology too. How it might impact the fruit flavor is much harder but we do know that flavors are impacted by stress, so does the wind impact the flavor?

“Still, I don’t worry about the flavor so much as I tend to focus on how these factors impact vigor and how that connects to quality. In winemaking, my focus is not on flavor as much as on the architecture of the wine. When it comes to architecture and vine physiology, the journey the berry takes is more important than where the berry ends up.

“If you understand the science, basic plant physiology, you have a lot to work with. We’ve known this stuff — that we can manipulate vines for varying results — since the 1980s. In the vineyard you can simply change the ratio of leaf to grape, of source to sink. The leaf provides nutrients the leaf uses. I don’t care about tons per acre. What is the ton per vine that the plant can support? This is our whole idea of balance. Balanced pruning equals balanced vines. Balanced vineyards equal balanced wine. The more in tune with plant physiology you are, the more readily you can reinterpret your experiences with the vine.”

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To read the previous post on Tyler: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2014/02/20/capturing-variability-as-capturing-opportunity-a-day-with-tyler-thomas-star-lane-dierberg/

To read guest posts from Tyler Thomas that consider his winemaking philosophy, and views of wine further:

A Winemaking Philosophy: Guest Post by Tyler Thomas: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2013/01/29/a-winemaking-philosophy-guest-post-by-tyler-thomas-donelan-wines/

The Humanness of Winemaking: Faith, Hope, and Love: Guest Post by Tyler Thomas: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2013/01/28/the-humanness-of-winemaking-faith-hope-and-love-as-the-core-of-life-and-wine-guest-post-by-tyler-thomas-donelan-wines/

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Thank you to Tyler Thomas.

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