One of the criticisms levied against Santa Barbara County wines is that they seem to lack a clear focus and identity. Unlike the classic wine producing regions of Europe, where each has particular varietals identified with it (e.g. Burgundy = Pinot Noir and Chardonnay), SBC seems to be all over the place. Sure, there’s great Pinot Noir and Chardonnay coming out of the Sta. Rita Hills appellation, and equally excellent Rhone varietals from the Santa Ynez Valley. But then there’s just about every other kind of wine you can imagine popping up, executed with varying degrees of success: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling, Zinfandel, and on and on. Can one region really produce great wines from all of these varietals? Without a clear focus, can SBC be vaulted into the highest echelons of international wine reputations?

And then there’s these crazy people focusing on Italian varietals. If there’s ever been a wine that consistently fails to meet expectations, it’s a U.S. grown Nebbiolo. We’ve had our fair share of “Cal-Ital” wines – let’s just say we’ve generally been underwhelmed.

But then we came across Palmina. Headed by the husband and wife team of Steve and Chrystal Clifton (Steve is also a partner in the Brewer Clifton winery), they’ve managed to pull off what we thought was previously impossible – making Italian varietal wines that astound the palate and leave you begging for more. There’s something different under foot here than just trying to copy the Italian wines that have become so famous. Palmina wines have a freshness and acidity that says “old world”, while also expressing great depth and volume of fruit character that’s more typical of a California wine. In short, they’ve tailored the viticulture to the SBC region, and the wine making to more modern sensibilities. The end result is some really fantastic wines.

The 2009 Honea Vineyard Arneis ($18) we sampled recently was a great example, with a floral, citrusy nose;  initial tastes of crisp green pear and lime that quickly give way to a very balanced, honeyed texture and full mouth feel that has a nice rounded finish without a hint of heaviness. This multi-faceted wine is a clear exception to our aforementioned experiences with California Italian varietal wines which have often been one dimensional, and frankly quite sad representations of some of our favorite Italian wines.

The 2009 Santa Barbara County Pinot Grigio was another surprisingly vibrant and pleasant wine. Crisp and refreshing citrus and pear, but again with a depth and volume that balances the wine very nicely. This is a slam dunk wine for pairing with a wide variety of lunch foods, and could easily accompany a pork or fish dinner as well.

The red wines are no slouches either. While the 2009 Dolcetto ($20) was basically an enjoyable, easy drinking wine (just as Dolcetto should be), the 2006 Santa Barabara County Nebbiolo ($30) showed dark fruit and robust plum and raisin flavor that was complemented by distinct acidity and nicely fine-grained spice tannins that once again provided real depth of character and complexity to the wine. This is a Nebbiolo from America we could finally look forward to drinking. Is it comparable to the great Barolos of Italy? Probably not. But at $30, it’s not trying to be. What it’s trying to be, and what it succeeds at, is being a great wine that is enjoyable and affordable. Well done!

Many wine experts are skeptical about American producers of Italian varietal wines. And for good reason. Why bother with a substandard copy when you can have the real thing? Palmina is a clear example of why skeptics might need to take a second look.


1520 East Chestnut Court, Lompoc CA 93436


Open Thurs – Sat 11 to 5, Sunday and Monday 11 to 4