Santa Barbara Wine Futures Tasting presented by The Wine House

Combine many of the top names in Santa Barbara County with an opportunity to get exclusive tastings of unreleased wines, and we knew this was one event not to miss. The whole idea here is to get tastes of pre-released, often limited allocation wines, and not only taste before you buy, but buy before it’s released and gone! With over thirty producers pouring wine, The Wine House had assembled an admirable selection and diversity of top-notch wine makers from the best little wine region in Tex… er Southern California.

Peter Cargasacchi

Not only were many of our favorite labels pouring, but as is always the case at events featuring SBC wines, the winemakers themselves were in abundance, including Greg Brewer representing Melville, Joshua Klapper of La Fenetre, Peter Cargasacchi of Cargasacchi  and Point Concepción, Paul Lato of his namesake label, and Norm Yost of Flying Goat. Having the opportunity to speak with the winemakers themselves about what they’re looking for when making wines, and why they take the approach that they do is, for us wine geeks, very cool and interesting.

One big takeaway from the event – watch out for the 2009 vintage! Several winemakers all said the same thing – definitely the the best growing season out of the last few years, and may top 2007, which was an outstanding vintage. The longer, cooler growing season coupled with small yields showed off intense, but well balanced wines that represented a majority of our tasting, although some ‘08s and ‘10s were outstanding as well (read on…).

Of course there are always some wines that are just that bit more delightful than the rest at events like this. Here’s our picks for the standouts:

Paul Lato – This represented a long-awaited opportunity to try these wines, mostly because the ultra-limited production (most releases are about 100 cases) are either sold out through his mailing list, or quickly gobbled up by restaurants and high-end wine shops. For a winemaker who’s only been around a few years, this guy has certainly received a lot of hype. So would the wines live up to the hype? Most definitively – Yes!

The 2010 “le Souvenir” Sierra Madre vineyard Chardonnay from the Santa Maria Valley reminded me more of a Sonoma wine than SBC, with a floral, carmelized pear nose that led to bright apple and pear flavors, a bit of minerality, citrus and touch of vanilla. This was a beautiful wine with a refreshing fruit profile, unencumbered with heavy oak influence. At $55, this better be good, and it truly delivered. Outstanding!

The 2010 John Sebastiano vineyard Pinot Noir from Sta. Rita Hills had a nose of ripe raspberry and strawberry with a light spice background, but on the palate had a deeply charactered, classic black cherry and wild strawberry base with the perfect touch of fine-grained tannins that, while distinct today will only become more beautifully integrated with time. Elegant structure, silky texture, and gorgeous fruit all combine to make this wine one of the best Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noirs I’ve had in a long time. $65.

 

Jonata – It’s a bit unfortunate that many of my favorites of the day also represented some of the most expensive wines at the event, but I think in the end, the quality of wines will justify the high prices. Jonata has been another wine label on the rise, and I was quite fairly stunned by what I tasted from this Ballard Canyon estate winery.

The 2008 La Sangre do Jonata Santa Ynez is a Syrah with a touch of (2%) Viognier à la my personal favorite Syrahs of France – Côte Rôtie. Intensely aromatic nose of green spices, violet and blackberry. Bold, but precisely cut blackberry and boysenberry fruit, with fine-grained white pepper tannin and a medium finish. This is a delightful wine with deep character and refinement. The sharp edges of this wine will certainly become more beautifully integrated with age. At $125, this is definitely at the very high end of the  price spectrum for SBC wines. Clearly, Jonata is looking to differentiate themselves from the pack. Wines like this make the case that they’ve succeeded.

The 2008 El Desafio de Jonata Cabernet Sauvignon is actually a Bordeaux blend which I found to be beautifully balanced with a freshness and acidity that provided a solid foundation from which to carry a rich combination of ripe red plum, raspberry, dark chocolate and licorice, with cedar and smoke notes and a light but firm tannin structure. The nose was complexly layered with floral, spice, leather and blackberry – seemingly something different with each smell. I generally find Cabernet Sauvignons of SBC to be a bit of a struggle to enjoy, but not this one. Complex and rich, with layers of aroma and flavor that is very satisfying. Another $125 wine that may be hard to justify for many, but for those who take the leap, this will not disappoint.

Greg Brewer - Melville

Melville – As always, Melville was showing very well, although I was so late to the table that winemaker Greg Brewer was down to one wine – but what a great one at that – the ’09 Donna’s Syrah. While most Syrahs in SBC come from the hotter regions to the East, Donna’s is a block on the estate vineyard of Melville in the heart of Sta. Rita Hills. This cool climate Syrah is consistently a lighter expression of fruit than many of the big bomb, spicy and smoky Syrahs from the east.

Two trademarks of Melville wine play an important role here – stem inclusion and neutral oak. The decision to go with all neutral oak brings out a freshness and simplicity to the fruit expression, with nothing to get in the way. This is also a bold choice to make as a winemaker, as the expression of the wine is most truly an expression of the work in the vineyard. The decision to go with whole cluster fermentation (stem inclusion) has sometimes been derided as a practice for its tendency to bring a green tannin to the wines, but I found this Syrah to have a distinct buoyancy brought on by the light tannin structure. When I asked Greg about this, he confirmed that he felt the stem inclusion actually lightens, lifts and brightens the fruit flavor profiles of the wines. All-in-all a very pretty, fruit forward expression of Syrah that may surprise some, but will most certainly delight the palates of a wide variety of wine drinkers. $38.

Joshua Klapper - La Fenêtre

La Fenêtre – The 2009 Bien Nacido Chardonnay from Joshua Klapper was a nicely balanced Chardonnay, with crisp apple and pear fruit profile with a light stone background that was offset by just the right amount of posh oak influence. Acidity was also clearly present in this wine, which brought a vibrancy that’s often missing from Chardonnay. Great example of a SBC Chardonnay that relies on a sun-kissed fruit profile for its backbone, but brings a sexy combination of playfulness and sophistication to the wines as well. Excellent stuff! $60.

 

The 2009 Le Bon Climat Pinot Noir carried gorgeous, silky black cherry fruit on top of a spicy, mineral backbone. The light color of this wine does not transfer into the flavor profile, as it is a pleasantly rich, nuanced and balanced Pinot Noir. $60.

 

 

Other excellent wines from the event to watch out for (in no particular order):

2009 Jaffurs Upslope Syrah

2009 Flying Goat Salomon Hills Pinot Noir

2009 Flying Goat Rancho Santa Rosa Pinot Noir

2009 Cargasacchi Pinot Noir

2009 Cimarone Estate 3 Creek Syrah Reserve

2009 Margerum M5

 

Where: The Wine House

2311 Cotner Avenue

Los Angeles, CA 90064

310-479-3731

winehouse.com

map

Foxen


A long time favorite of regulars to the area, Foxen remains a “must taste” destination along the Foxen Canyon wine trail. The famous roadside shack, which served as the tasting room for many years, is still preserved, but has been renamed as “Foxen 7200”, and is reserved for featuring Bordeaux and Cal-Ital style wines, with the new winery and tasting room a few hundred yards down the road dedicated to Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Rhone style wines. There’s a lot going on at this winery, but founding partner and winemaker Bill Wathen has maintained a simple but meticulous approach to viticulture and winemaking that brings vivacity and elegance to his wines. While they’re not all home runs, there’s plenty here to be very, very happy about.

Luckily, Foxen knew better than to mess with it’s shack, and 7200 retains every ounce of character and charm that we remember from our first trips to SBC many years ago. Walking in, you instantly absorb the history of this former blacksmith shop, and the decades of casual revelry in wine goodness that’s taken place within this tiny room. The kitschy wine shrine only adds to the funkiness of the place. This is not a glossy tour bus stop for the brazilian blow-out crowd (although we did see an overtly car proud Aston Martin owner during our last visit who wasn’t even tasting – oh boy!), but a no-foolin’, no frills stop for soaking in the quiet beauty of this back country road.

The wines here don’t disappoint, either. One surprising standout from our recent trip was the ’08 Rock Hollow Vineyard Cabernet Franc. I can’t remember the last time I was excited about a California Cab Franc, but this wine was packed with spicy ripe blackberry and blueberry flavors atop a backbone of dusty earth and leather with muted tannins and a nice long finish. While it sounds powerful, this wine carries its weight very well, and offers up a richly balanced package of punch and grace.

Another great offering at 7200 was the ’08 Range 30 West, a nicely complex Bordeaux blend from the Vogelzang vineyard in Happy Canyon that features a beautiful round raspberry fruit tone that’s expertly balanced with pepper, cedar and fine-grained tannins.

What the new Foxen tasting room down the road lacks in charm, it makes up for in the bottle. This is definitely a winery where it pays to be in the wine club, since many of their best Pinot Noir wines are sold out through the club. But there was still plenty to get excited about without the Pinots. The ’09 Tinaquaic Vineyard Chardonnay we tried was outstanding, which, while maintaining an understated classic California Chardonnay character due to the oak barrel fermentation, was nonetheless crisp and almost lean. The Tinaquaic vineyard is the classic Foxen estate vineyard, and receives no irrigation, which accounts for the stony backbone that was layered with delightful pineapple and ripe apricot fruit.

The 2010 Rosé of Mouvedre was a dry and crisp wine with beautiful strawberry and watermelon fruit and an ultra lean and clean finish. A great summer wine that will complement just about any food, with just enough body and character to keep things interesting.

Foxen really has everything we love in a SBC winery – history, character, great people, beautiful setting, and outstanding wines. Are we happy yet?

Foxen

7600 Foxen Canyon Road
Santa Maria, CA 93454

map

805.937.4251

Open daily 11 to 4

www.foxenvineyard.com