My wife and I love Santa Barbara. It’s an architecturally significant and cool town, a fun drive 4-hour from the Bay Area and unlike Napa Valley, its un-crowded and very welcoming. If you go mid week, chances are you may be the only person in the tasting room.
The other reason I like Santa Barbara is the diversity of the wine produced in the area ranging from cool climate Burgundian style Pinot and Chardonnay toward the Pacific Ocean to full throttle Rhone and Italian varieties
The epicenter of the Santa Barbara wine-growing region is the fun little town of Buellton, which boasts two breweries, (Figueroa Mountain, Firestone-Walker Barrel Works), and two outstanding restaurants.
Los Olivos about 10 miles away is more popular, has many dozens of tasting rooms, mainly Rhone styles, but it’s crowded and in the afternoon on weekends it can get a little rowdy
If you saw the movie Sideways, you will be familiar with the Hitching Post II restaurant in Buellton. If you have not been there, the Hitching Post is an iconic place. The interior is authentic 70’s and renovation long past overdue, however it’s not about the décor, this place is about beef. Fantastic steaks and the best barbeque – if you like eating steak, this is the place.
The other side of town and Hwy 101 is Industrial Eats, which is modern, always hopping, wines out of the keg, great wood-fired pizza’s and a variety of interesting dishes cooked in the pizza ovens. I’ve closed this place twice and it’s a great visit for lunch or dinner.
Drive a couple of miles West of Buellton on state route 246 and you enter the Santa Rita Hills AVA. SRH is in the Santa Maria Valley, which runs East-West. The cooling Pacific Ocean marine influence creates a low diurnal range (difference between maximum and minimum temperature) in the ripening season, ideal for growing great Pinot Noir.
I love the Pinot and Chardonnay coming from this area. Only Russian River produces comparable fruit and consistently outstanding Pinot. Like Russian River, SRH wines have a characteristic nose. It’s not as stinky as Russian River, but unmistakable nevertheless.
I’m grateful to David Fainberg, sommelier at The Wine Cask restaurant for his suggestions on winemakers to seek out on our trip down Route 246 to Lompoc.
This winery is in Lompoc, near the Wine Ghetto. I’d never heard of this label, but so glad we visited Tyler first up. If you read my prior post, A Balancing Act, you will know that I value balance in wine above full-throttle flavor. Tyler wines were all around 13% alcohol and had wonderful balance, lively acidity and drinkability, with potential to age. My new favorite wines in Santa Barbara County.
2013 Santa Barbara County Chardonnay
Pale green tinge on this blend of SRH and Santa Maria Valley fruit. Nose showing melon and apples flowing onto palate, minerality, and a fine oak, acid balance. An amazing wine first up and a serious food wine. $36. Alc. 13%
2013 Zodovitch SRH Chardonnay
Again, a green tinge to pale straw color. Riper than the SBC, some citrus, melon and bracing acidity. A fantastic chardonnay with a really long finish and a great food wine. $45. Alc. 13.3%
2013 SBC Pinot Noir
Light Garnet color, lovely aromatics of strawberry, raspberry and some cracked pepper. Palate showing minerality and lovely Burgundian complexity and understated fruit and oak in balance with lively acidity. This wine needs time and reminded me a lot of a very good Cote de Nuits. $40 Alc. 13.3%
2013 Bien Nacido SMV Pinot Noir
A cracking wine, again light in color showing complex aromatics of strawberry, violets, cherries and pepper. Much richer and more forward than the SBC, lovely round, elegant and long, a delightful wine. $50 Alc. 13%
2013 Dierberg Block 5 MV Pinot Noir
Wow, highly perfumed nose with floral, cherry and spice notes. Darker, slightly more extracted, but in no way bitter or over-done, with more intensity on the finish, but still perfectly balanced with lovely acidity. $50 Alc 13%
2013 La Enacantada SRH Pinot Noir
Darker than the Dierberg and showing lovely spicy dark berries, cherries and a palate that won’t quit. Some earthiness, cherries and spices follow onto a balanced and a gorgeous mouth feel. Too good to spit out. $56 Alc. 13.1%
These are fantastic, feminine Pinot’s, made the way that expresses terroir and the quality of the fruit… not the hand of the winemaker. I can’t say I’ve had a more surprising and pleasant tasting of California Pinot and Chardonnay.
Winemaker Justin Willett is garnering a lot of praise from the wine press and it is well deserved. Tyler is a must visit and it makes sense to start here on your tasting trip as these are the lowest alcohol wines you are likely to see in a day’s tasting.
In our next blogs we will review tastings of wines from Brewer Clifton, Melville, Moretti , Longoria and Babcock.
Written By: Mark Gibson