Sunday, April 12, 2009

A Trip Through Santa Barbara County: Day 2

Our second day of tasting in Santa Barbara brought us to the Santa Rita Hills and Lompoc. Descriptions and notes follow.

Our initial stop was at Melville Winery. Melville primarily produces big Pinot Noirs (power-Pinot) with varying levels of earthy-funk. In particular, they produce multiple bottlings focused upon terroir and clone specific expression, several of which I have noted below. However, the tasting room experience was one of the worst we've had. Although it wasn't busy since we were there in the late morning, the pourer ignored us and instead discussed the wine with other customers. What separates a $50 Pinot Noir from a $30 Pinot Noir is typically that it is produced from a specific vineyard site and expresses some unique characteristics. Thus, it is important to connect the source of the grapes to the wine in a customer's glass. The server, unfortunately, was inattentive to the point of rudeness. I contacted the tasting room manager afterward; she was apologetic and wanted to ensure future visits were more enjoyable. Nonetheless, it's still hard to recommend a tasting room with one of the highest tasting fees in the area that did not engage all of its customers. Hopefully I'll be able to post about a better experience in the future.

Wines of interest:

2007 Clone 115 Pinot Noir - Deep earthy nose, heart of darkness. Herbs and earthy flavor. Top notch.
2007 Terraces Pinot Noir - Herb nose, tarragon? Something green and delicious. Spicy finish.

Next we made a stop in the 'Lompoc Wine Ghetto' to taste at Palmina Winery. Despite the tasting room's location in an industrial park, this was a much more satisfactory and intellectually stimulating experience than our prior stop at a beautifully manicured estate. (Perhaps it is true that beauty and personality are negatively correlated!) Although Palmina's wines can pretty much sell themselves, one has the opportunity to taste the wine sitting down, paired with cheese and prosciutto. It certainly makes sense to place the wines in the context in which they should be enjoyed. Palmina is focused on Italian varietals, which seem to have intrinsic streak of earth and minerality, but their wines also show the extroverted fruit one would expect of California wines. Although the single varietal bottlings were uniformly excellent, their blends were the most interesting aspect of the tasting as they represented the sorts of wines that can only be produced in regions like Santa Barbara County with great geographic diversity over small distances. There aren't many wine regions that can produce a blend of Refosco, Cabernet Franc and Merlot or a blend of Nebbiolo, Syrah and Barbera. There's a certain feeling of 'rightness' to a winery producing unique wines that express its region, especially when so many wineries attempt to emulate a model that is ill-suited to their climate and geography.

Wines of interest:

2007 Dolcetto - Floral, medium body. Minerals and wet earth. Tannic.
2004 Mattia - Refosco, Cab Franc and Merlot blend. Plum and red fruit. Big fruit attack, then mineral finish. Alisos Vineyard and Bien Nacido Vineyard fruit.
2005 Savoia - House of Savoy simultaneously ruled Piedmont and the Rhone, hence the name for Nebbiolo, Barbera and Syrah blend. Big blueberry and floral. Round; tannic finish. Structured.

Our last stop was at Cold Heaven Cellars, a winery devoted almost exclusively to cool-climate Viognier. Although tastings are by appointment only, winemaker Morgan Clendenen took the time to meet us at the winery and pour her favorite selections from the current releases. How often does a winemaker pour his or her own wines, especially those that are respected as some of the best Viognier in California, and chat informally with common folks? It's experiences like these that allow one to learn a lot. For example, Morgan Clendenen explained that the historical purpose of blending Viognier and Syrah in the Northern Rhone was largely pragmatic. Although Viognier's aromatics lift up Syrah, it also reaches high sugar levels earlier than Syrah and can be used to 'fix' under ripe Syrah in tough years. As far as the wine is concerned, Cold Heaven's Viognier is unmistakable aromatic in that flower blossoms and peaches way, yet it is retains lively acidity. Often a lack of acidity is the largest failing of Viognier from warmer regions.

Wines of interest:

2007 Viognier Santa Rita Hills - Initially found it crisp with an orange cream-sickle aroma. Drinking it again as I type now, that's not nearly enough credit for this wine, the "basic" cuveé from Cold Heaven. The wine smells like springtime hillsides in bloom, fresh peaches, green apple and orange cream-sickle. It's fully dry, yet tastes like nectar; the flavor lingers for minutes.

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